AIDS Activist History Project: Collecting stories of our activism, struggles, and victories

Less than thirty years ago, ordinary people living with HIV/AIDS, alongside allies, took action to resist stigma, change harmful government policies, and save one another’s lives. These people’s stories deserve to be remembered and learned from, and a new project seeks to recover histories of AIDS activism.

Over the next five years Gary Kinsman, a professor emeritus at Laurentian University, and Alexis Shotwell, a professor at Carleton University, will be interviewing people involved in AIDS activism in the late 80’s and early 90’s in the Canadian context. They’ll talk with people who took action to change their medical, social, and political circumstances.  Starting with groups such as the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), AIDS ACTION NOW!, the Nova Scotia Persons With AIDS Coalition and other organizations, Shotwell and Kinsman aim to collect as many in-depth accounts of this time as possible. While some academic writing might come out of this project, the main product of these interviews will be a publicly-accessible website with transcripts of interviews that will be an accessible resource for understanding the history of this movement and why it matters to us today. Shotwell and Kinsman welcome contacts from anyone interested in being interviewed, or suggestions for people they should contact.

The first year of the project has focused on preliminary research and locating stories and materials that have already been collected. The project has also begun their partnership with the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, where there is a contract archivist now working on the materials relating to AIDS activism. The CLGA will also hold much of the interview material and ephemera the project collects.

This summer and fall the project organized showings of United In Anger on the history of ACT UP New York City in Halifax and Sudbury to spark discussions about AIDS activism. The project has also been working with AIDS ACTION NOW! in Toronto on recovering the history of activism against coercive public health and quarantine measures. In early 2014 (Jan. 31st-Feb. 2nd) the project is hosting a conference at Carleton University in Ottawa called “Vitalizing Movements:  Bodies, Environments and Biopolitical Struggles.” Keynote speakers will be Sarah Schulmann of the ACT UP NYC Oral History Project and Gary Kinsman. The project is also working with AIDS Action Now! on a gathering critically reflecting on the history of “Public Health Interventions Shifting from Quarantine to Criminalization” in the Canadian context, which will take place the evening of February 7th, 2014. Shotwell and Kinsman will be doing interviews in Toronto in the winter and spring and in Nova Scotia in the summer. In future years, they’ll travel to Vancouver, Montreal, and elsewhere.


For further information:

phone: 613-520-2600  ext 3082


Alexis Shotwell: 613-882-7727

Gary Kinsman: 705- 523-2205