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!


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.


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!

June 27, 2009: Stonewall uprising’s 40th anniversary

In a matter of weeks New York, if not the whole gay world, will mark the fortieth anniversary of what came to be known as The Stonewall Riots. (The link takes you to a great panel discussion moderated by Charlie Rose.)

The riots (a response to the latest in a long series of police raids and other harassment of ‘homosexual’ bar patrons, including the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village) have long been viewed as a major starting point in the equality movement for those of us somewhere in the LGBTTIQQ2S community. (That abbreviation looks more Welsh the more I see it.)

We perhaps owe the last straw to the death and funeral that week of Judy Garland, something I grew up in the movement believing, though there is not unanimity on the connection. It does not take much to imagine the emotional upset of New York fans over the death of such an icon. The police could not have picked a worse week to cross the local gay community which, given the times, included a lot of other leftist allies – and still does.


This sculpture celebrating the gay liberation movement is at Sheridan Square Park across from the former Stonewall Inn.

Seems to me like a good time for the United States – be it the President, Congress, or Judiciary – to take a bold move toward equality. Enough of that ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ bullshit, stop firing Armed Services interpreters (and others) who happen to be gay and, whether state-by-state or not, President Obama should begin to weigh in a little more on the equal marriage questions. Right now he’s in the same camp as Rush Limbaugh and Miss California and that’s not becoming of a ‘change’ President.

If Obama and legislators don’t move on this, it seems to me inevitable that the Supreme Court will eventually – I’m not saying it won’t be quite a while – come down on the side of equal marriage as a constitutional matter, as was the case in Canada.

Circle June 27 on your calendar, Mr. Obama, or tap it into your Blackberry.  It’s an important date.   Come out…out from under that protective shell some nominally supportive people wear, saying they agree with sexual equality but doing little or nothing to help advance it in areas of discomfort.

Tell us how you’re going to move equality – for everyone – forward.

If not you, then who? If not at the beginning of your term, then when?

Maybe it will, like in Canada, take court action – all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.  Equality, however, is not negotiable.  It will prevail…eventually.

Judy Shepard rejects Rep. Foxx’s apology

It would be easier for North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx to drive a school bus through a subway turnstile than to try and explain herself via an attempted apology.

Appearing on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, the mother of Mathew Shepard, Judy, said the Congresswoman was apologizing for semantics, not the sentiments expressed.

The bill ultimately approved by the House, after the debate in which Foxx’s remarks were made, would expand a federal hate crimes law to include acts motivated by sexual orientation. Mrs. Shepard was in the House gallery when Foxx spoke.

At this link you can find video of the Maddow-Shepard interview, a report NBC did last year on the tenth anniversary of Matthew’s murder, and who Keith Olbermann picked as the ‘worst’ on Wednesday’s Countdown broadcast.

Beatrice (Bea) Arthur: May 13, 1922 – April 25, 2009

A great scene from “The Golden Girls”, although I remember Bea Arthur from her 70’s show “Maude” and her first portrayal of that character on “All in the Family”.

The hilarity of Bea Arthur, and the rest of “The Golden Girls” helped get me through some of the roughest moments in the early years of AIDS.

What a contribution to life to have made so many people laugh, while never shying away from taking courageous stands on so many social issues!

As an aside May 13 was my brother Craig’s birthday, 33 years after Bea’s. There were definite similarities.

McCain’s generals need to hide their privates – or at least calm them down

While I will probably never get my wish that Chris Matthews speak more softly, it was worth the shouting to see this discussion with Joan Walsh of and former Bush I staffer Ed Rogers.  It seems that I have been able to watch coverage of both the Canadian and U.S. elections without getting confused. I can’t get over the number of Jerry Springer McCain fans who seem to be insaneoverly “enthusiastic”. 


Matthews on Obama’s debate performance: “Did it surprise you that he was so un-ethnic tonight?”


First of all slow down. Our generation doesn’t talk as fast as our children. Second, slow down. Third, lower your voice. When you shout in that high tenor voice you sound hysterical (as in crazy not funny). Fourth, slow down. Your saliva is a huge distraction and you need to take time to let your mouth dry out a bit.

You seem to think you speak on behalf of the working person…er…man (like he can be type-cast). You go for “the guy with a lunch-pail in Philly, trying to pay off his mortgage, give his kids a chance at college…” Chris, not everyone who gets paid by the hour thinks the same way. I wish you’d stop trying to homogenize us.

Now as for your “ethnic” crack…I just don’t get it. Was he too white for you, is that it, your Al Jolson in reverse? Or did he not use enough tough-side-of-your-Philly street language, the sort of talk ‘those people’ use?

Really, Chris, it’s too bad you’ve become a persona that your former boss, President Carter, would barely recognize.

Leave the right-wing shilling on MSNBC to Pat Buchanan.

Now I’m going back to following the Canadian election.

More on Presidential Debates

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost