CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — George Clark-Dunning began planning his personal funeral as quickly as he acquired the information in 1992 that he was HIV constructive.
“You might have six months to stay,” the physician stated.
Clark-Dunning joked that it would not match his schedule, however the physician didn’t snicker. He stated no when Clark-Dunning requested for a hug. The physician had a household at dwelling, and didn’t need them to get HIV, he stated.
When Clark-Dunning instructed his mom, she wept and stated to not inform his father. However Clark-Dunning refused to stay a lie and would inform everybody in his personal time.
He acquired in contact with AIDS P.E.I. (now often known as PEERS Alliance) which operated out of the Polyclinic in Charlottetown. Via that group, he discovered his prognosis of six months to stay won’t have been optimistic sufficient. HIV might kill him, however there have been many elements that made every particular person’s case completely different.
Whereas AIDS P.E.I. was not precisely a help group, it had help components. A lot of the males have been on the identical HIV drug, so they might share tales and commiserate about unintended effects.
Clark-Dunning made associates and acquired extra concerned, becoming a member of advocacy teams at each stage of presidency. He went to conferences in Ottawa and noticed individuals like Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the U.S. president, discuss creating AIDS medicines.
With all this information and expertise, Clark-Dunning acquired concerned with lobbying for higher medicines with fewer unintended effects, together with dosing regimens that sufferers might truly keep.
As a topic within the new Dave Stewart documentary “Optimistic: When HIV/AIDS hit P.E.I.,” Clark-Dunning is now sharing these tales with Islanders.
Educating individuals about this historical past is essential, Clark-Dunning stated in a Nov. 30. SaltWire Community interview.
“What I went by means of and the issues that have been stated to me and the way in which individuals handled me, is totally unacceptable in my world.”
The brand new documentary is meant to inform an essential, however little spoken about, a part of P.E.I.’s queer social historical past, stated a press launch from Stewart, who additionally made the documentary sequence “Earlier than Grindr: The Secret Social Historical past of Homosexual & Lesbian P.E.I.”
Many years after his prognosis, Clark-Dunning has far outlived the six months he was given. He has many tales to inform concerning the years since then, however with this, he feels he didn’t “die on schedule,” like so lots of his friends.
“Survivor guilt is one thing that I undoubtedly nonetheless have,” he stated.
Rising up homosexual
Troy Perrot-Sanderson was one of many individuals Clark-Dunning met and labored with by means of AIDS P.E.I., and can also be featured in “Optimistic” as somebody who has been dwelling with HIV since 1993.
Within the movie, he talks about rising up homosexual in Montague and first listening to about HIV/AIDS by means of snippets of stories and rumours. Generally identified then as G.R.I.D. — gay-related immune deficiency — it was additionally extensively known as the “homosexual plague,” together with by individuals in P.E.I., Perrot-Sanderson stated.
“I bear in mind the times once they have been nonetheless speaking about having everyone that was recognized with AIDS and placing them on an island someplace and letting them die off. I keep in mind that (being) very, very actual.”
Like Clark-Dunning, Perrot-Sanderson was raised Christian and located himself surrounded by small group church-goers who handled the queer group as evil sinners. To them, gays have been getting what they deserved, Perrot-Sanderson stated.
This led to myths and stigmas, like individuals refusing to the touch the crockpot owned by somebody who had a member of the family who had died from AIDS, Perrot-Sanderson stated.
“I bear in mind the times once they have been nonetheless speaking about having everyone that was recognized with AIDS and placing them on an island someplace and letting them die off. I keep in mind that (being) very, very actual.” – Troy Perrot-Sanderson
With such poor info circulating within the public, Perrot-Sanderson feared he would contract HIV robotically by merely being homosexual, he stated.
“In my mind, I used to be getting these messages from the media that, in case you’re homosexual, you’re going to get this illness. So, I form of had that behind my thoughts, that I used to be in all probability going to get (HIV/AIDS) sooner or later. It was simply going to seem in me as a result of I used to be homosexual.”
Whereas this was false, Perrot-Sanderson and Clark Dunning did each discuss how they contracted HIV over 30 years in the past.
Every had left P.E.I. of their 20s, with Clark-Dunning shifting to Toronto and Perrot-Sanderson going to Calgary. They have been each sexually assaulted by individuals they knew of their new houses, they stated.
For Perrot-Sanderson, speaking about this sort of trauma took many years, solely turning into ready to talk about it in recent times. Nevertheless it’s essential to inform the reality, just because it’s what occurred, and nobody else can inform it, he stated.
“That’s what this complete (documentary) was arrange for, was the social historical past of the homosexual group in P.E.I. and to have that documented in order that it’s not misplaced. And I believed, if we’re going to try this, I should be as trustworthy as I may be.”
Stuart Hickox, the third topic of “Optimistic,” additionally is aware of the stigma of HIV/AIDS, although he has a unique perspective on its hurt. His cousin, Allan Hickox, was the primary particular person to overtly die of AIDS in P.E.I. in 1987.
Trying again now, Stuart, who was 18 when Allan died, remembers the harassment of journalists, neighbours and individuals who known as themselves Christians.
The spiritual aspect was significantly exhausting for Stuart to swallow, he stated. He got here from a household of church leaders and anticipated to enter ministry himself. However what was he, a younger homosexual man, to make of a group that damned him for being who he was?
The outcry from individuals his household had trusted is a part of what pushed Stuart into the closet for many years, he stated.
“The best way the group responded to (Allan’s demise) was terrifying. His mom was hounded by the media on the hospital, within the grocery retailer. The church and all of the group helps that she relied on disappeared. His siblings have been shunned. And other people talked very disparaging about Allan, even within the household, with robust phrases suggesting he was a disgrace to the household.”
“You’ll be able to’t stay prior to now, however I feel it’s essential to know the place that e-book is, so if you wish to return and test one thing — ‘Yup, that occurred’ — then you might have a greater decision-making capacity going ahead.” – George Clark-Dunning
The stigma additionally saved Stuart from turning into himself in different methods. He admired the creative youngsters he knew in class, however was terrified to affiliate with them in case his friends would possibly assume he was homosexual simply because he was completely different, he stated.
Nonetheless, Stuart additionally noticed the energy of the queer group, and he noticed allies in his circle of relatives.
Allan’s mom, Jean, all the time stood by her son, even in a time when it might have been much less painful to remain quiet and bow to public disgrace, Stuart stated.
“It might have been very easy for her to only put her head down and simply let it blow over. However she didn’t do this. She was fairly open about the truth that she nonetheless cherished him. … That’s the form of braveness that made it potential for all the remainder of us to thrive and turn into our full selves. It’s these folks that put themselves in danger.”
As one of many individuals who has taken these dangers for many years, Clark-Dunning stated studying from these tales is the one method to not repeat the hurt.
“You’ll be able to’t stay prior to now, however I feel it’s essential to know the place that e-book is, so if you wish to return and test one thing — ‘Yup, that occurred’ — then you might have a greater decision-making capacity going ahead.”
Logan MacLean is a range reporter with the SaltWire Community in Prince Edward Island. He may be reached by e-mail at [email protected] and adopted on Twitter @loganmaclean94.