We Talk About HIV/AIDS

h/t Amanda


“It Gets Better” tops 2010 list

Dan Savage and husband Terry Miller started something in 2010 that Mark Kelley and the CBC Connect crew put at the top of Connect 10: A  Countdown of the most popular stories online in 2010.

Responding to highly-publicized cases of bullying and suicides of gays and lesbians, the “It Gets Better” project was launched with this video on September 21.

It is difficult to watch this and not remember, with horror, the pain of high school.

I have heard of at least two suicides this autumn by people closer to my own age still haunted by bullying, present-day homophobia or other trauma in their youth.

There are, of course, many others who do not attract the same attention as did those in the United States which, in rapid succession, followed a similar pattern: homophobic violence or harassment and then suicide.

LGBT community activists in Toronto chimed in with an “It Gets Better” video of their own:

A simple gesture over the holidays that could make a world of difference


I know that I was not the only Canadian very proud a few years back when Parliament passed legislation designed to make it easier for generic pharmaceutical companies to ship life-saving AIDS medications, and others, to developing nations of the south.

So it was rather shameful to learn that, so far, only one shipment – to one country – has been made.

As someone who has benefited from every advancement in HIV treatment since my diagnosis in 1989, even when that was just grasping to hope in 1992 with careful attention to symptoms by my HIV/AIDS specialist, I find it extremely offensive and immoral that this wealth of research and hope has not been shared with people no less entitled than me to the best possible health.

We can do something about this.

(1) Share this video far and wide.



(2) Visit Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network .

(3) Contact your Member of Parliament (information is provided at the above web site).  Feel free to tell them Kenn sent you!


All of this can be done in the time it would take to wrap one gift – and what a meaningful gift it would be!

Now with pictures: Activists warmly received – okay met with mild bemusement – during very cold “Die-in” for Bill C-393

Feel free to share the video below. With Parliament now on Christmas recess, we have the entire month of January to make our views known.

It was such a cold walk down to Yonge-Dundas Square this morning I was glad to be able to walk the full block south from Gerrard to Gould Streets through the corridors of Jorgenson Hall at Ryerson University.

I was dressed for the outdoors reminiscent of my childhood in Quebec.  Fluorescent red earmuffs, attached to a head band, were topped off with a black toque.  Beneath a red nylon ski jacket I wore a light turtleneck sweater underneath a warm fleece sweater.  I wore my usual blue jeans but underneath was a pair of what I call Truro trousers (Truro, Nova Scotia being the home of Stanfield’s underwear) also known as long-johns or long underwear.  My feet were covered with a pair each of cotton and wool socks, and I wore my dependable snow boots for their warmth, despite a total lack of snow.

Arriving at Yonge-Dundas Square, crossroads of the inner city and obscene consumption, I was greeted by a number of the organizers of today’s event – Bill C-393 Student Coalition, AIDS Action Now! and the HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

photo: Andrea Houston

Yonge-Dundas “die-in”

“Die-in” protest stops traffic at Yonge and Dundas

Toronto AIDS drug protest gets attention in Ottawa

Even with instructions having been emailed out and uploaded to the Facebook event page, we were handed index card-sized pieces of paper recapping how we would flood the intersection during its pedestrian scramble phases.  (Every third pedestrian signal is one in which anyone can cross from any direction to any corner of the intersection.)

photo: Claudia Medina

A whistle blew each time and about thirty of us headed to the centre of the intersection, with our signs supporting C-393, and for about ten seconds we either lay flat on the pavement (the classic die-in position), or got down on one knee or sat down with our legs straight out.  I was determined to lie flat, despite concerns I wouldn’t get up fast enough.  I succeeded for several consecutive scrambles, even starting to get up before the whistle blew, but eventually I just went down on one knee (as in the above picture) – that is until the end of this half hour exercise when we had decided, that during the final die-in, we would refuse to get up when the lights changed, leaving honking motorists to wait for several minutes.

photo: Claudia Medina

This was so well organized that the handful of police keeping an eye on things were in-the-know and assured our safety when bewildered motorists began honking their horns.

photo: Claudia Medina
photo: Claudia Medina

Bill C-393 is a private member’s bill in Parliament aimed at fixing “Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime” (CAMR) by cutting through the red tape blocking its effectiveness. The bill’s “one-license solution” would allow makers of low-cost, generic AIDS medications to distribute them to multiple countries in need. The House of Commons must restore this key provision, gutted from the original legislation,when debate on the bill resumes.

Because of too much red tape only one shipment of AIDS drugs has made its way to one country since the original bill was passed during the Paul Martin government.

Music therapy – after which you may need some (without the music)

I cannot remember a time when music was not a vital part of my life.  Music is in my genes, especially from my mother’s side of the family, with my grandparents having been matched up in the early 1920s as a violinist/fiddler being accompanied by his pianist.  What I wouldn’t give for a cell-phone video of one of their evenings together at a Depression-era house party in rural eastern Ontario!  My mother studied piano throughout her childhood, later graduating from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, then earning her qualifications to teach the subject in Ontario schools.  With probably fifty years of teaching individuals, coinciding with thirty-plus years on the pipe organ at church, and I’m sure you’d agree that it was inevitable my siblings and I would also have some natural gifts in this area.

Anytime I am asked what types of music I like the only genres not on the list, with the exceptions of a few crossover songs, are country and today’s pop.  This, of course, leaves me with a vast array of music to choose from but the music player in my head doesn’t shuffle the same way that an iPod can, but goes from mood-to-mood, sometimes lingering on and repeating, over and over, the same song.

As a teen I would play and sing along to songs such as Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”, the Beach Boys’ “In My Room” and “Hide In Your Shell” by Supertramp in my basement bedroom, no Karaoke machine required, at the top of my lungs.  I know this experience was not unique to me and, while the examples cited were just a part of my record library, my tastes were generally not too mainstream – certainly not for a guy!

All of this is to prepare you for a sampling of the YouTube video-jockeying I did late last night, prompted by two guys posting two different songs by Josh Groban.  The first was a memorial tribute, from a man who had lost his partner to AIDS several years ago, while the second was a Christmas season favourite passed on to his Facebook friends.

Then I was swept away, again, by this.

And by this.

The next selection, a lot less video than audio, was such a blessing to find recently (and another artist does sing it on camera but at a much jumpier pace than I was accustomed to.)  Years ago, when the AIDS Committee of Toronto offices were at 464 Yonge Street, there was a group of us who gathered each Sunday evening for a healing circle.  It always concluded with a slower, studio version of this song, and hearing it again sends through me chills of so many emotions:

André Gagnon – whose every recording I have possessed in formats ranging from 45s to LPs, and from cassettes to CDs and mp3s – composed this particular song in homage to beloved French Canadian poet  Émile Nelligan (1879-1941). The poetry, and tragic life, of Nelligan inspired many Québec-based composers, authors and playwrights.  In fact Gagnon, along with the legendary Michel Tremblay, later penned an opera based on Nelligan’s life and work.

These pictures hardly do his Québec notoriety justice.  Having always fascinated me in my adult years, I often pass some of his haunts whenever I am in Montréal although, to the best of my knowledge, the boutique hotel which bears his name in the Vieux-Montréal quarter has no direct connection.  (The first two images are from his home, on Laval Avenue at rue Du Square St-Louis, and the bust in the fourth picture is in that square across the street.)


And now, as I prepare to conclude, here is my favourite Christmas carol – bar none!



For Betty Ann

BA and me at Pride 2009


I’m the only one, I dare say, who can appreciate at this very moment – Tuesday, November 23, 2010 at 04 04 06 01 EST – both the frustration and the ‘been punk’d’ feeling I have after experiencing countless “(Not Responding)” messages from any number of programs I’ve successively tried to employ in writing what will ultimately be a simple, but sincere, blog.

In the denouement of an evening during which I absorbed much, enjoying some, of the day’s news from a variety of sources I scrolled through my Facebook page – in reverse order of course – until I came upon a message from my friend Betty Ann which included the YouTube video below.

When I have often least expected it, I have been told that something I’ve said, written or passed along has touched another deeply.  This is just such an occasion except, in this case, it is I who has been touched by Betty Ann’s forwarding of this message – to countless friends and contacts I reckon.

Be it the time of night I received it, the mood I was in, the feelings it evoked – or all of these – I was reminded of the empathy, trust and love which Betty Ann embodies at depths which make the oceans seem like single drops of rain.  I have known “BA”, as she invites her friends to call her, since her earliest days of her work with the AIDS Committee of Toronto.  I cherish every single mile of life’s journey that we have walked together, however haltingly at times.

From ACT, BA went on to gift the people she met at Bereaved Families of Ontario – Toronto.

Nowadays, BA enthusiastically invites and responds to life at Shalom Mountain Sacred Retreat and Study Center in the Catskill Mountains of Livingston Manor at what looks to be about the half-way point, maybe not quite, between here and New York City.

Betty Ann knows, more often than she may be told, how the divine mystery of our inner selves works.  While she may not be familiar with these two illustrations their essence remind me of her.

When I saw this video I soon thought of my father, who died in his garden in May of 2002.  Two vignettes sprung to mind.

Once, as we talked about some cathartic moment in what could have been any number of contexts, he quietly said, “Not all of us has had the chance to try to ‘find ourselves’” (I’m recalling that he was quoting that phrase back to, and in reference to, me.)  For many of his generation, he could not have been more right.  This was not a reflection, by any means, on the best-friends-for-life relationship he so richly enjoyed with my mother for fifty-plus years.

The second occasion came at the end of a weekend visit with Mom and Dad, not long after his first heart attack.  I had brought with me a scrapbook-sized photo project someone had done about me in the genre of a day in the life of a person living with AIDS.  Under each photograph was a hand-written note in which I simply commented on the picture or recounted a brief story.  Accompanying one, showing Dad and me shaking hands as I prepared to leave, I wrote something to the effect that it reminded me of an occasion early in school when he set me down off his lap and told me that I was too grown up to kiss him now. Of course – of course – he meant no harm, and my jotting down the story was equally free of malice (I could not have had a stronger advocate for a father throughout our time together), and after seeing the finished photo project Dad never greeted me, nor said good-bye, without a warm, two-armed hug!

Thank you for posting this BA.

Ever-developing story – Clint “I-like-it-when-gays-die” McCance speaks to CNN’s Anderson Cooper: brain farts maybe?

I’m keeping this post open to add more developments.  Suffice to say, to begin, that Clint McCance’s so-called apology on CNN’s AC 360 is not going over very well.  (As I wrote at the time it seemed like Anderson had to pull out the nature of his wrongs.  They weren’t forthcoming from McCance himself.)

David Pakman of Midweek Politics with David Pakman (my favourite podcast) was having none of it and was also critical of Anderson.

Dr. Phil called McCance’s performance “a non-apology apology”.

Thursday night Anderson Cooper interviewed the Vice-President of Midland School District in Arkansas whose Facebook rants against gays, “fags”, “queers”, the recent rash of publicized gay suicides of five young men and boys, and his mocking of a day to remember them, touched off such a storm earlier in the week.

Whether it was the glare of the television lights, or the endless stream of upset his comments caused, Clint McCance was, at least, very soft-spoken. It seemed as though Anderson Cooper had to feed him reasons why he should be sorry, other than the fact that his father took him to the proverbial woodshed:

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres joined Anderson and called for people from a wider cross-section of society to become involved in counteracting homophobia and other sorts of bullying.

So, in a whirlwind twenty-four hours or so, Clint McCance has announced his resignation.  That would be enough for some people, as would his words – however laboured – with Anderson.  It’s too bad there wasn’t some community council way of restorative justice which would compel Mr. McCance to work, supervised of course, with gay kids.  He would learn a lot from them, I am sure, as long as his presence didn’t terrify them.  Instead he will be able to, should he choose, keep the company of good ol’ boys (and gals) to whom his incendiary, wounding ramblings on Facebook were anything but offensive.

Maybe one day he’ll have the opportunity to speak with a Dad and Mom who’ve lost an LGBT kid to suicide, although I can’t imagine them wishing to speak to him.

Then again, since  Mr. McCance has already had a terrible influence on children maybe these ideas are just too creepy and that the focus should remain on the kids he has lorded over with such hateful thoughts and words.