Lunch with Vito Russo


Disclaimer:  My memories have been assisted by Google and a piece of paper, 8-1/2″ x 11″ divided in half, on which is written the following:



After signing up for The Movie Network again recently, I came upon the film Vito: A Man For All Seasons.  I was immediately transported back to the early summer day in 1982 when I met the celebrated author, filmmaker and activist Vito Russo. It was at a very ambitious conference, at the U of T perhaps, put on by, among others, The Body Politic collective called “DOING IT! Lesbian & Gay Liberation in the 80s”.

Vito put to words, and obviously used film clips, what he had done in the book but had us riveted with laughter during the presentation and in the question and answer period which followed.

Because I was staying with a couple of the conference organizers for the weekend and, I’d like to recall, at 22 among the younger guys there I was invited to lunch with Vito – then in his 30s and a real looker!

We walked to a patio along the north side of Bloor, I’m guessing near Brunswick, perhaps Dooney’s.

This sheet of paper protrudes from my copy of Vito’s book “The Celluloid Closet – Homosexuality In The Movies” which had come out the previous year (as had I).  I described to him how upset I was that I had not remembered to bring the book along on my break from my then-dreary existence in St. Catharines.  Such, apparently, was the extent of my troubles back then!  He thought nothing of just folding a sheet of copy paper in half and writing the cute note.  This story goes with it whenever the opportunity presents itself.

While I’d like to launch into a tale of love unleashing itself into a passionate, long-distance relationship, as we sat across from one another, I can’t even allow my “based on actual events” note to take me there, as much as I’d like to.

He vented about Ronald Reagan.  (By comparison we were experiencing the second go-round of Pierre Trudeau, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms round at that, with Conservative Brian Mulroney only in our nightmares.)

The documentary inevitably moved to the beginning of the AIDS crisis and its eventual taking of his partner Jim Sevcik in his thirtieth year.  That same year, 1985, Vito himself was diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma and died in 1990, just a year-and-a-half or so after my diagnosis.  But what a difference there has been, both in opportunistic infections and in our respective treatment options.

Vito went on to become a founding member of the media-monitoring group Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

In 1987 Vito, Larry Kramer and ten others founded ACT UP!, the AIDS activist organization which has been at the centre of some of the biggest developments in AIDS anger, compassion and care.  A clip in the film is of Vito shouting,

“People are dying of homophobia.  They’re dying of Jesse Helms.  They’re dying of Ronald Reagan…AIDS is a test of who we are as a people!”

Given all he went on to do in his AIDS-shortened life I count it a privilege to remember the joy of that day on a patio in Toronto and the personal touch of his autograph.

The American health-care debate from an HIV patient’s perspective


I do not understand all the ins and outs of the American health-care system, neither that which existed before today’s vote in the House of Representatives nor the one after.

Here’s what I do know.

Canada has a single-payer health system for hospitalizations, doctor’s visits and related expenses such as most diagnostic tests. Coverage of pharmaceuticals remains a gap with only private insurers, usually with co-pays, covering employee benefits and only provincial governments paying for drugs for those on social assistance or those in need of “catastrophic” coverage. (In most jurisdictions, the thousands of dollars for HIV/AIDS and related drugs each month fits the definition
of “catastrophic”.) These provincial plans only came about as the result of hard work by coalitions, led by AIDS activists, in the 1990s and they vary from province to province which is why a national pharmacare plans remains a dream.

Such a plan only makes sense with hospitals, where patient drug costs are absorbed, treating only the sickest of people. Most of us are able to stay out of hospitals thanks to medications.

This month my eleven prescription medications cost $2589.72, nearly all of which the government pays (to be clear). The most expensive, because they are new and freshly-patented, are the four HIV treatments. However, with buyers as large as the governments of Canadian provinces, bulk prices are negotiated to everyone’s benefit.

My single-payer health-care allows me to visit any hospital emergency room in Canada, as well as my taxpayer-financed family doctor, my HIV specialist, my psychiatrist and my dermatologist with nothing more than the swipe of a provincial government health card.

Are there ‘uninsured’? Sure but people such as the homeless are treated in emergency departments and in street clinics as necessary.

I’m curious to know how I might have fared, these past twenty-one years of living with HIV, had I lived in the United States. I am very optimistic that the system there will change – even if not all at once – in the next few years.

Sarah Palin has a tough first week on the “Going Rogue” book tour


The #2 and #1 stories Friday on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” (Lawrence O’Donnell filling in) were a major public relations glitch for Sarah Palin at a book-signing in Indiana and then a montage of the late night comics – Steven Colbert, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Craig Ferguson and Jimmy Fallon – having great fun at Palin’s expense this week.

Bookstore by bookstore, this may be an even tougher slog than any political campaign – although leave it to her to claim it as good practice.

So now it may be the lame-duck phase before Obama moves. Pat Robertson will like the duck tie-in. Shame on you Obama!


It seems as if even the worst whispers from the Clinton presidential campaign last year, concerning Barack Obama and LGBT rights, may not be too far off the mark. Shame!

johnberry

Obama’s highest-ranking gay official says DOMA and the military gay ban currently have no chance of being repealed

Daily Kos: Flashback – Obama campaigned on pro-equality agenda, elected after supporting civil rights for GLBT Americans


wenn2238173__oPtI’ve posted on Rachel Maddow’s coverage of this here, and many others have been weighing in.

Now Jed Lewison of Daily Kos has put together some video evidence of President Obama’s promises to LGBT voters and supporters.

Click here to view the video.

These are urgent matters, Mr. Obama. Stop taking LGBT votes for granted and patronizing us. Proposition 8 in California showed you the tightrope you walk. Many who voted against Prop 8 voted for you. We all know that.

Proclaiming Pride Month was a nice gesture but you have the political capital, and lots of time before future elections, to live up to your campaign promises with integrity – particularly when the courts hand opportunities to you on a platter.

Don’t disappoint any longer.

Please.

There are many things you can get to work on that cost little or nothing.

If necessary, your Secretary of State could lend a hand as she brought many LGBT supporters over to you last November, after you began courting them big-time a year ago.

President Obama takes support of gays for granted – shame!


What a disappointment. An otherwise principled guy (so many of us thought) sides with the ball-scratchers and Prop 8-backers who voted for him. Will it take multiple trips to any number of combinations of Supreme Court Justices of the future to wrest equality from the government, as it did here in Canada? I hope not.

“Sex With Ducks” creators interviewed; Robertson ‘clarifies’ comments that started it all


CNN’s Jeanne Moos finds out that Pat Robertson was not talking about gay marriage in his reference to ducks a while ago. He was talking against the Mathew Shepard hate crimes bill that extended that legislation to include crimes of violence involving sexual orientation. Gee thanks, Pat, that makes it much better!