During the crisis years of the ’80s and early ’90s, humour and advocacy were the two things that carried me through.
A native Winnipegger, I began volunteering and working at various AIDS service organizations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario following my diagnosis. In response to overt stigma and discrimination, I went public to the media in 1988 and sought out speaking engagements in order to put a real face on HIV.
After years of front-line advocacy, I took a long break in the late ’90s, becoming a makeup artist and still volunteering behind the scenes. For example, I coordinated makeup for DQ97, a fundraiser for Casey House, a Toronto home for palliative care.
In 2005, I came back on the scene as a Canadian Treatment Action Council (CTAC) board member. I satt on that council as the representative for gay men and, over the course of my tenure with CTAC, I had the experiences of a lifetime.
During the 2006 International AIDS Conference in Toronto, I was only three weeks into a grueling anti-retroviral regime but, with the help of my co-op, I organized and staged the successful pillow-case demonstration against federal health minister Tony Clement during the conference’s opening ceremonies.
This successful protest was recorded in the Ontario HIV Treatment Network’s documentary, Positive Voices: Leading Together, where I am one of five conference attendees followed throughout the Toronto 2006 conference.
But it was my experiences working in Rwanda that were truly pivotal and transformative. Noone has ever touched my life as much as the women, children and men of Rwanda. Their story inspired my Toronto co-op to raise over $5,000 for the We-Act Microcredit project, which employs disenfranchised HIV-positive survivors of the genocide and gives them back a meaningful life. As a result, we received the Jim MacDonald Award for Social Change from the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada.
After travelling across Canada and then the world, I finally went multimedia on the World Wide Web last year, as I and my esteemed colleagues (including one PositiveLite.com blogger) joined the HIV stigma campaign’s www.hivstigma.com in 2009, following my long standing blog Acid Reflux, created in 2005.