Notes from Occupy Toronto: We are the queer and poz 10% of the 99%!

At this moment, in Toronto’s St. James Park, sits nestled a tent city, one of many in cities worldwide making up the “Occupy” movement. Occupy Toronto, a camp of well over 150 tents, has been my home away from home now for several days. Friends and family alike have admonished me for heading out to a damp, cold park to huddle in a tent all night while I have been getting over what is perhaps the worst cold in medical history. Being as I am, Hepatitis C and HIV-positive, I tend to feel I’m made of tougher stuff than average and can handle it. So worry-warts aside, I’ve made a point of discovering my place in this historic and unique event and within the greater global movement.

It can be difficult amongst the discussions of “we are the 99%” to understand what relevance this movement has to me as a queer man living with a dual diagnosis. Is this not just another “protest”? Something about economic disparity and the financial crisis? Mass rage against capitalism? Also, white folks have occupied these lands for hundreds of years already and the language of “occupation” is linked to colonization and war. Well, the truth is as it always tends to be, ephemeral and ever-changing, and my reasons for being here have changed as I have experienced the people’s Occupation first-hand.

My initial reasons for going to St. James Park were in part motivated by how I have seen austerity measures, social service cuts and attacks on minorities come down from federal, provincial and municipal governments. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford cut’s agenda shook me enough to become aware of how corporate interests of the 1% could easily vilify marginalized groups as an excuse to make cuts and further wealth accumulation to create a widening gulf between those with and those without. Specifically, Ford proposed cuts that would take away funds from AIDS Service Organizations, and this shocked me into consciousness. So often as LGBTQ2S, and/or people living with HIV and AIDS, and Hepatitis C we are in the low end of the 99%, and are the first populations to bear the brunt of cuts and slashes in times of hardship. To paraphrase our mayor, we are the ones most easily targetted and stigmatized as just “gays and IV drug users”.

As my first week in the park progressed and I allowed myself to reflect, I wondered, where is “my tribe”? Was this simply a labour or student movement? Safe spaces for other communities have developed, so how come there was nothing for queers?  I often feel that our LGBTQ2S voices are not heard demanding justice in traditional movements. We can often be silenced from within and never taken as more than a small element. At Occupy, again I felt that way - this wasn’t a place for me, this was a movement of others, the majority, the 99%. Then I wondered how many other queers were feeling the same way, and if they were, then what could we do to change that?

In keeping with that, a few of us came together to make our queer and poz presence known  in this Occupy movement. Our call was sounded via Twitter, and 19 assorted LGBTQ2S and poz folk gathered in a tent on Saturday night this past weekend to form Occupy The Rainbow TO (#OccupyRainbowTO), the working group for queers at Occupy Toronto. Poz voices were amongst us, and we discussed how we could make our community of queers and people living with HIV and Hep C safe and known within the broader occupation – after all, we are “10% of the 99%” and we need to be heard. We have started off as a small group, and we need more voices and ideas to grow. Discussions have been bandied about of holding a die-in, a queer march, and a “pink block” in official actions, Overall, there is a consensus that more has to be done. Wednesdays at noon and Saturday evenings at 7 PM we meet. I extend an invitation to you to come and be part of the work we are doing, to ensure the voices of our community are acknowledged and part of the greater whole.

The ACT UP slogan from the 1990s, ‘Silence = Death’ has taken on a new meaning for me at Occupy Toronto. Silence is consent, and personally, I am no longer consenting. I want something better, and I now know many of us do. That’s a pretty exciting feeling, and I hope more of us jump in and add your thoughts to the ongoing dialogue at the Occupation. Oh, and by the way, all the cuties are at the Occupation, so if you can’t bring yourself down for economics and justice, there are other perks to living in the tents!

See you in the park!

By Jordan B.G., AAN member

Check out Occupy The Rainbow TO on Facebook


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AAN Deputation to the Board of Health

On September 13th, Nicole Greenspan made a deputation to the Board of Health on behalf of AIDS ACTION NOW, calling for a strong and vocal opposition to any cuts to social services proposed by Ford that affect the health and wellbeing of Torontonians. Watch it online now!

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Die-in to stop the cuts videos

Thanks to and to GraemeBacque for the great video coverage!

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You are invited to: The funeral for those whose lives will be lost due to the cuts agenda

Dear Councillor:
Rob Ford, Mayor of City of Toronto,
Doug Ford, Ward 2 Etobicoke-North,
Michael Thompson, Ward 37 Scarborough Centre,
David Shiner, Ward 24 Willowdale,
Jaye Robinson, Ward 25 Don Valley West,
Cesar Palacio, Ward 17 Davenport,
Denzil Minnan-Wong, Ward 34 Don Valley East,
Peter Milczyn, Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore,
Giorgio Mammoliti, Ward 7 York West,
Norman Kelly, Ward 40 Scarborough-Agincourt,
Doug Holyday, Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre,
Mike Del Grande, Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt,
Michelle Berardinetti, Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest, and
Paul Ainslie, Ward 43 Scarborough East

You are invited to: The funeral for those whose lives will be lost due to the cuts agenda
When: Friday September 23, 2011
When: Noon

AIDS ACTION NOW invites you as a City Councilor who supports the Ford agenda to the funeral of Toronto residents who will die as the result of your actions in proposing to cut vital HIV and Hepatitis C and harm reduction services and grants.

The Mayor says that his Core Service Review recommendations are just “scratching the surface of what’s needed”. The cutting of grants and programs will have negative health impacts, and marginalized residents of Toronto will suffer substantially!

There are currently over 17,000 people living with HIV in Toronto. Many people who have HIV also have Hepatitis C. People who are co-infected with HIV and Hepatitis C face much higher mortality rates. These people come from all different walks of life, they are taxpayers, voters, and live in the suburbs and downtown, and invest in this city. Many are from disadvantaged and marginalized populations and face a great deal of difficulties. This makes life for them, their families and their children, uncertain.

Toronto has done an excellent job in the past at providing services and outreach programs to keep the HIV and Hepatitis C epidemics under control and support those who are living with the viruses. We can assure you that if these funding cuts occur there will be a significant increase in infection and residents of Toronto will die as a result. Toronto needs to keep these programs strong!

While many cuts were recently deferred, AIDS Service Organizations along with daycares, long-term care homes, social services, community grants and the arts are still facing the threat of devastating cuts in the upcoming 2012 budget process. The 2012 budget for Toronto Public Health was cut by 10% as a result of the Ford agenda. Cuts to the Community Partnership and Investment Program (CPIP) have been deferred, and have not been voted down. They are still coming and we will continue to fight to keep them every step of the way.

While you say you demand respect for taxpayers. We demand respect for our communities, our public services, and good jobs and to continue the fight against HIV and Hepatitis C!

If you vote to cut services and city grants you can count on losing in the next election. You can also count on the lives of residents of Toronto living with HIV and Hepatitis C being lost. This isn’t just about balancing a budget. This is a life and death situation for marginalized residents of our city. Continuing with the cuts agenda will never leave your political record and our strong community will actively ensure that you will never be re-elected.

AIDS ACTION NOW is part of the strong and coordinated Toronto Stop the Cuts Network and encourages you support the People’s Declaration, which was democratically drafted by over 600 Torontonians on September 10, 2011, and since endorsed online by nearly 3,000 residents.

We hope you do the right thing and chose life over political games.


We are committed to improving access to treatment, care and support for people living with HIV and AIDS in Canada and around the world; fighting for effective HIV and AIDS prevention that respects human rights; and working to improve the social determinants of health for communities struggling against the AIDS epidemic.

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