On August 28th, 2011 on Pride Day in the Nations Capital, I had the honour of speaking at Queer Ontario’s We (Still) Demand Rally on Parliament Hill about HIV and AIDS.
40 years ago to the day, the first large scale gay rights rally was held on a similarly dark and rainy day by queer men and women who demanded changes to the discriminatory laws that were then restricting their lives. We commemorated the anniversary by making new demands of our Government for further equality and social justice and observed a moment of silence in remembrance of our ally Jack Layton, and those we‘ve lost over the last 40 years. Below I share with you my speech.
“Hello Everyone, welcome. I’d like to thank Queer Ontario and Casey for making this rally happen and allowing me the privilege to speak to all of you today about a subject that I am passionate about.
Men who have sex with men accounted for 44% of estimated new HIV infections in 2008. In 2011 we have seen a spike in new HIV infections. I have a single demand to make of our Government in response to these statistics. I demand evidence trump ideology. I want to see a Public Health response to HIV and AIDS that isn’t about politics, but about doing what is in the best interest of our community’s health and well-being. Because all the information is there, the sociological studies, the epi-data, the testimonials and science, to dictate what course of action to take against HIV and AIDS in Canada. Prevention efforts have failed, and rates have grown to ’beginning of the epidemic’ numbers not because we haven’t learned from our mistakes as Health Care Providers, AIDS Service Workers, Volunteers, and Social Justice Advocates, but because we are not allowed to adopt the changes that need to be made to successfully curb our transmission rates!
Such as comprehensive, sex-positive, pleasure-centric, sex education in schools. Challenging sex-negative societal views and embracing STI and HIV/AIDS campaign materials that are sexually explicit and on point. Allowing AIDS Service Organizations to do more than just 10% advocacy work within a year without threat of losing their Government funding. Creating safer injection sites in Ottawa and removing red zones. Having our Community Centres, Police, Health Care and Service Providers work from an anti-oppression/anti-racist framework. Allowing prison tattoo programs and ending the Criminalization of HIV-non disclosure (You’ll hear more about that from my friend and college Brent Bauer but I‘d like to encourage everyone here to continue to press the Attorney General to draft prosecutorial guidelines as quickly as possible. We are asking community members to contact the Attorney General, the Honourable Chris Bentley, and urge him to draft prosecutorial guidelines by the end of August! He needs to be challenged on what constitutes significant risk and be reminded that HIV stigma and discrimination is bullshit!)
I have a long list of changes that the Government has repeatedly failed to champion, of programs they have repeatedly failed to allow, that truly WOULD make a direct impact on HIV rates in Canada.
I want people gathered here today to know, that it is not so-called irresponsible, sexually reckless youth, promiscuous back room barebacking homo’s, or men on the ‘down low’ who are driving our rates of HIV infection, it’s the fucking Government and our social determinates of health! Did you know, if everyone in the world had access to shelter, nutrition, health care, and treatment, we would see a 75% decrees in HIV transmission in 3 to 5 years? Sounds like the Government has its work cut out for them, huh!
We are all capable of demanding more from our Government, Leaders, Public Figures, and Police. This year Ottawa’s Dyke March made a powerful statement when they refused to give community money to the Ottawa Police Services to marshal their walk. Amongst cases of sexual abuse against women, the labelling of an HIV+ man as a sexual predator and releasing his name, sexual-orientation, and status to the media, police arresting demonstrators at the Trans Day of Remembrance, conducting monthly sweeps of street-based sex workers, police brutality, and their hostility toward harm reduction, the Dyke March made a strong declaration that we are a criminalized community and that the Police have long not been our friend. No revisionist history on the part of the media or Police should blind us to our persecution.
As a result perhaps of their stand, the cops were aggressive yesterday at the Dyke March, yelling at marchers, making fun of the marshals, charging someone, harassed homeless people in Dundonald Park and just generally being jerks.
Our LGBTQ Police Liaison committee has failed to improve our relations with law enforcement. I encourage everyone here to contact the Ottawa Police Chief directly and share with him your concerns about the direction and actions of our Police. I also encourage everyone to write to our Pride Committee and ask that our Police are not included in our Pride. We do not have to work with, or support our Police when they do not represent the ideals of Pride and continue to harasses queer, poor, non-status, trans, racialized, sex-workers, indigenous, disabled and the homeless.
Queer men and women are resilient. We are gathered here today because we recognize that Pride is political, and not just a corporate kegger, and we want to see change. We have come a long way in the last thirty years fighting HIV and AIDS, and we have even longer to go, but if we start to speak openly and honestly about sex and HIV, and hold our Government accountable, we can truly bring change to our community and make our futures healthier. Thank you.”