Tag Archives: Calgary Olympics

AIDS vs. the ’88 Olympics

{The Calgary Gay History Project is writing a series about AIDS history reflecting on how Calgarians and Canadians reacted to this earlier pandemic.}

If you lived in Calgary in 1988, you would remember the heightened sense of reality and esprit de corps that was the Winter Olympics. It was a time of Hidy and Howdy, sun ice jackets, and the frequent repetition of Calgary’s Olympic colour palette: teal, purple, orange, red, and pink. It was also a time of AIDS.

Gay bus driver, Mark Perry-Schaub, was a volunteer driver for the Calgary ’88 Olympics Committee (OCO). For three years, he participated in transportation planning with the OCO but was ousted from his position in December 1987 when he informed them of his then-recent AIDS diagnosis. He fought to be reinstated and, when denied, took up his cause through local media. The 25-year-old Perry-Schaub was told by volunteer manager Paul Taylor that he could no longer work on the transportation committee because in case of a traffic accident, OCO did not want him to either administer first aid or bleed on anyone.

The media pressure worked. The OCO managed to find Perry-Schaub a different volunteer job after a significant amount of public scrutiny. The OCO’s press secretary Bill Payne said: “We have an obligation to minimize the risk at any time. Some might say it’s a slight risk, but at what point do you take action?”

Perry-Schaub told reporters after his closed-door meeting with OCO officials: “I would rather be in transportation where I was trained. In my opinion, I think OCO has over-reacted. I felt I’d been railroaded into a new position.”

AIDS Calgary Executive Director, Doug Morin, was critical of the OCO. He stated: “It’s a decision based on inaccurate and incomplete information. Mark is not a threat to himself, OCO staff, or volunteers. There’s no significant risk that can’t be dealt with through adequate precautions.” Morin also noted that the OCO refused an AIDS Calgary offer to provide educational materials to the organization.

A week after the meeting, the OCO offered Perry-Schaub the choice of a dozen new jobs. He selected a position in the main press centre’s video distribution office. It turned out that the job was the last big project of Perry-Schaub’s life; he died just a few weeks after the games concluded in February 1988.

Despite being weakened by illness, Perry-Schaub put in long hours in the media centre video library, distributing cassettes of Olympic events to journalists. “It was really important to him to be an Olympic volunteer,” said Terry Steward, manager of OCO information services and Perry-Schaub’s boss. He added that OCO officials had reservations about letting Perry-Schaub work in the media centre for fear that visiting journalists might complain – however none did, even after learning about his situation.

By mid-March, Perry-Schaub was admitted to hospital with pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (his third bout). He died on April 1st, 1988. More than 200 people attended his memorial service, but his parents stayed away. They had disowned their son because he was gay.

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Mark Perry-Schaub’s panel (left), part of Section 24 from the Canadian Aids Memorial Quilt website.

When the AIDS memorial quilt made its stop in Calgary in July 1989, 14 local panels were added to the 1000 visiting ones. They were hung in layered sections in the Calgary municipal building atrium. One of the new panels was in tribute to Mark Perry-Schaub made by his friend Dave McKeen whom he had met at AIDS Calgary.

Perry-Schaub’s panel is adorned with a huge heraldic lion, draped with a banner bearing his name as well as the symbols of the Calgary Winter Olympics where, according to his friends, he had the time of his life.

{KA}