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we are here. Often it can be easy to forget that people are more alike than we are different. We all hope to be loved, and to give love. We all want good health, a safe home, and plenty of good food and laughter. And we all want to be seen, valued, and celebrated. We all want to be a part of creating a warm, vital community. As people living with HIV, we struggle with stigma and discrimination because we are often seen as different, and we are often treated as less than because we are living with HIV. We work hard to live ful lling lives, despite the stigma that is placed upon us by an all too often uncaring world. We don’t believe HIV de nes us. These are our stories.

We Are Here.

The ‘We are Here’ Project is a joint partnership with the Greater Victoria Public Library-Central Branch and the Vancouver Island Persons Living with HIV/AIDS Society (VPWAS), Victoria AIDS Resources & Community Services Society (VARCS) and AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI). Each story will be on display at the Public Library Central Branch through the middle of December 2012 and online at www.avi.org


www.varcs.org and

Vancouver Island PWA Society


we are here. Hi, I’m Andrew Beckerman, and I have lived through the entire North American AIDS Pandemic and I am still here! I was infected by a virus in 1980. At the time, it had no name. In November of 1995, when they diagnosed the virus as HIV, I had an immune cell count of 2 (healthy is 500-1500), a million viral particles per millilitre of my blood (this is dangerously high), and 2 or 3 days to live. Then I received a place in the rst HIV medication trial in North American history—the drug was named “Crixian”—and I came back from death’s door.


In 2005 I immigrated to Victoria. In researching support, I came to AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI). The program where I had received AIDS services before immigrating had a 300 person client roster composed almost completely of gay men. There were no injection drug users. In 2006 I became a volunteer at AVI. On my rst morning reception shift a young man practically threw himself through the door to obtain a clean needle. When I got home that night and told my friends where I had been, their knee-jerk response was “Why don’t those people get jobs?” My response was, and remains, “If those ‘people’ weren’t dealing with HIV, hepatitis C, childhoods from hell, mental health challenges, drug addictions, poverty, homelessness, and/or stigma, maybe they would.”


The stigma expressed by my friends came from prejudice, which came from lack of knowledge. As an HIV-positive single gay man, I encounter stigma from HIV-negative men I might date when I disclose my HIV status. Again, this stigma is discriminatory and ows from a lack of knowledge. Thanks to the ef cacy to HIV medication, my viral load has been undetectable for so long, I do not have enough active virus in my body uids to infect anyone.

Just Saved

Happy & Healthy Now

While I am HIV-positive, like so many others touched by a variety of health conditions, it does not de ne who I am. Who I am is an active, caring member of our community. I serve on the Board of Directors of 2 important charitable organizations. I walk my dog. I ride my bike, hike in our parks and kayak. I have dinner with friends. I work out at the “Y”. I attempt to expose injustice and counteract misinformation. I overindulge in watching lms at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and I enjoy wearing out my library card. I daydream. I dream of a world that is free of stigma, a kinder, gentler place, where everyone has enough food to eat, a roof over their heads, and someone to listen to their thoughts and dreams and give a hug at the end of the day.

we are here. November 25 - December 1 , 2010

It was February 14, 1991 when my doctor told me I had HIV. It changed my life in a heartbeat, a breath. You hear people say that but you never really understand what it means until it happens to you. For the next 5 years, I lived in a state of high security so that no one would nd out about my HIV status. I tried to believe that that part of my life belonged to someone else. I worked at my chosen profession with the support of my employers until 2004, when my body said “Nope – we can’t do this anymore”, at which time I had to quit the job I loved. My life went into another tailspin of not knowing what to do with myself and my time. I started volunteering at AIDS Vancouver Island and joined support groups for women with HIV and have not looked back. I am a woman, a partner ( ancé), a daughter, an auntie (and a great one, if I do say), a pug owner, love my Pekoe, a friend, and most of all a contributing member of society. I love my life and the people in it. I am blessed because of this disease. It has made me slow down and appreciate... LIFE, MY LIFE. -Charlene Anderson

we are here. My name is Claude Gamache year old French Canadian.






I tested HIV+ in September, 1985. I was a psychiatric nurse then at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver and was also singing in The Vancouver Men’s Chorus. AIDS was taking a devastating toll on the gay community. There were no drugs available so we began organising support groups to share information on health and alternative therapies. I was very fortunate to nd a mentor in the person of Ken Mann who started the rst HIV+ support group in Vancouver. Sadly, he passed away in 1995. We all felt the prejudice and hatemongering being levelled at the HIV and queer communities. Coming together for support made us stronger to ght the fear, prejudice and hopelessness. We were seeing our brothers getting sick, and dying within weeks and months of being diagnosed. We became a model care-giving community. Some of the rst women were joining our support group in the late ‘80’s. I took a disability pension in ‘93 and moved to Salt Spring Island for much-needed peace and quiet. With the support of two beautiful strong women, Peggy F and Margarite S, we formed GIGI, The Gulf Islands Guerilla Immunologists, which evolved into The Southern Gulf Islands AIDS Society. Our T4 immune cells were practically nonexistent, we were struggling to stay healthy. We kept our doctors in Vancouver and soon realized we were the ones educating our GPs on Salt Spring Island about AIDS. The drug cocktails arrived in the mid ‘90’s and we began a long journey of drug therapy. We were the lucky ones! Within a few years the word “undetectable” showed up to describe our viral load! What a journey! I am so grateful to our brothers and sisters who left an incredible legacy but didn’t survive the ravages of the numerous opportunistic infections. I have recently reconnected with PWA and AIDS groups because I feel we need to stay strong as we now live Poz into our elder years. Community and support initially kept us hopeful, but we still need that hope and support that sustains us and keeps us strong. Stigma persists, prejudice against HIV, drug users and queer men continue. We still struggle for nancial help. We are blessed with strong members, directors of Victoria Persons With AIDS Society (VPWAS) & AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI) who ght for us. These are some activities that keep me strong & happy: Gardening, playing my drums and Ukulele (thanks, TeeJay), painting, meditation, cooking with friends, singing, dancing, walking the dog, reading, connecting with other Persons With AIDS (PWA’s), information sharing, Radical Faeries, Gratitude, and casting a circle. Namaste

we are here. WE ARE HERE! I was born in Vancouver, BC, in November of ’57. I’ve seen:

Well, I am here, and I’m not going to hide under a rock. I can live a very long and healthy life and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing!

• counterfeit money hanging in the kitchen • Heroin dealing at the age of 2 • Visited my uncles in the Vancouver prison, • Alcoholics that used to make me dance in-front of them • Lost my mother to M.S. • Grew up in a foster home • Etc...

Never in all my life did I imagine that I would become a drug addict and have HIV. But here I am. I’ve been in recovery for about 15 years and HIV-positive for almost 19 years. I’m loving every minute of it! It has actually been a gift to me. During the past 19 years as an HIV-positive person, I have been discriminated against by: • Being spit on

The stigma follows me wherever I go but it doesn’t matter anymore. I now volunteer at AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI) to try to give back to the community and to all of those who have helped me along the way. As a person with my past experiences and my perspective as an HIV-positive person, I can share my experiences openly and with no fear. I am not afraid to take charge and speak out. At AVI, I feel comfortable. I am not judged and I can speak openly about everything and anything. I am proud of what we do as a group. I am exposed to the suits, addicts, and addicts in recovery. The employees and volunteers are passionate about supporting us and the community. If I am able to tell my story and touch one person then I know that I’m doing my job right. You can touch us, shake our hands, hug us and give us a big kiss. You will not get HIV.

• Kicked out of places • Ignored • Lost jobs • Couldn’t get jobs • Followed around by a person with bleach cleaning everything I touched • And the list goes on...

My life is wonderful! My family is beautiful and very supportive! Even my 3 granddaughters know that my blood is sick and not to touch it. Please stay and listen to our stories. Thank you very much, Dawn.

we are here. I enjoy writing, dancing and music. Sometimes I just disappear into a song, let musicians caress me with their words. I love IMAX, live plays and Cirque de Soleil. When the sun rises over the water, and soulful colors illuminate the morning sky, I want to share the scene with friends or family. My nose gets cold when I ski, and my knees are giving me problems when I hike, but I feel a huge sense of accomplishment when I make it to the top of any mountain. I like to make really big sculptures and love art. Art teaches things. I recall an installation I helped create - it lled a lot on Salt Spring Island. The piece showed simple white and red crosses to mark the daily loss of lives to AIDS. Over 7,000 people die each day. I cried from my belly, thinking that no one had to die. We have medicine. My favorite creations: I designed and built two homes. I’m a community volunteer - within environmental groups, health service organizations, and art projects. And I’ve lived with HIV almost all my adult life. -Peggy Frank

we are here.

I was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1954 and lived happily there until moving to Victoria in 1962. I was not at all happy about leaving friends and family in Scotland and always wanted to return. Returning to Scotland in my early twenties, I fell in love with an African man who was studying there. It was not easy being a couple of mixed race in those days. Still, we loved each other and we would eventually marry and have a child. We lived in Zambia but when I became ill during my pregnancy, we decided that I return to Canada to have the baby. Whether or not I was already infected by the virus by then is uncertain but our beautiful son was born healthy.

Me as a child.

The happy Bride and Groom. So happy to be a mother!

Seven years later, I was diagnosed. The year was 1986 and at that time, it was a death sentence and I was one to two years at the most. As a young and now single, 31 year old mother, this was devastating. However, my greatest worry was for my son. It took three long weeks of waiting for the results of his test. Once I received the wonderful news that my son was negative for the virus, I became very determined to be here for him as long as possible. It hasn’t been an easy journey and I spent much of my life trying not to die. Thankfully, against all odds, I managed to stay alive long enough for new drug cocktails that would bring me back from the brink of death to a life of purpose and ful llment today.

Me, dealing with the ravages of AIDS.

My wish is for people to understand that HIV is a condition that no one would want to have but that those of us who live with it are not to be feared. Our greatest challenge is the isolation many of us suffer due to stigma.

Me, after better HIV meds with less side effects. I have my life back!

-Romari Undi

we are here. My name is Steve. I am a 58 year-old divorcee. I have been HIV+ for several years and also am af icted with Hepatitis C.

Both of these viruses were contracted through intravenous drug use. How I became an addict is a long story. However, I am willing to share the details.

I am a recovering addict. My progress in recovery can be attributed to the love and understanding of my family, particularly my three adult kids. (I am also blessed with 3 grandchildren.)

I have developed other interests that help to ll the void that occurred when I stopped using drugs. I am a voracious reader of history and biography. I dabble at drawing and watercolors.

In addition, I volunteer 10 hours a week at AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI). It is to my association with AVI that I believe a large share of my recovery is attributable. AVI is my second family. It provides a double-dose of reality with respect to both HIV+ and drug addiction. The return on giving my time is more than I thought possible.

In effect, although I would not wish these tenable diseases on anyone, my HIV+ status has become the cornerstone of my recovery. It has motivated me to think positive and to pay attention to my physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Don’t get me wrong, however - life still presents many challenges: disrespectful treatment from health care professionals, been left on the side lines socially from time to time, having to pay strict attention to a regimen of medications, stress with respect to an aging body (ie. Is it HIV? Or simply natural aging?), and also fear of sexual intimacy. But I believe at this point in my life I am a better “me� than before HIV.

This is me on the right. The innocence and purity of a small child can easily bring tears to my eyes, when I think of the possibilities that might lay ahead. We need to do better as a society in guiding and caring for them as they make their way through life.

we are here. Born a Prairie boy from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in 1968, I was adopted into a British household in 1970. One year later, I moved to Victoria BC. I suffered from depression all my life as well as having a learning disability, making my school years very dif cult. In my early adulthood, I discovered alcohol after coming out of the closet. Alcohol gave me the inner strength and con dence in myself that I lacked while sober. Sober, I was useless, ugly and unworthy of others’ attention and love. In 1989, I moved to Winnipeg, thinking my life would better. Having spent three abusive years in Winnipeg, I moved to Vancouver.

The Breakwater – my new favorite place to think.

In 1993, I was diagnosed with HIV. My doctor at that time said, “You expected this, so why are you so shocked?” With no aftercare, I roamed the streets lost and confused. In 2000, I contracted pneumonia. I was hospitalized for one week. HIV drugs were still not administered. After moving back to Victoria, my alcoholism sky rocketed. This brought on Cryptococcal Meningitis. My status changed to AIDS. Over the years, I worked on my drinking problem, sobering up in 2007.

The Castle – the tower was where I went everyday to wish I had a better life.

Today, I lead a sober, ful lled life and feel proud of who I am today. My HIV viral load is undetectable. I love the life I live. Stigma? Yes, mainly when it comes to dating. I’m nding it very hard to make the effort. When someone rejects me because of my HIV status, I go back to that place of disgust and self-hatred. Only today, I am able to not live there. I know I am just like anyone else and more so because of where I came from. -Warren Bailey

Me at the 2009 International AIDS Memorial I organized.

Profile for Vancouver island PWA Society

we are here  

HIV doesn’t just happen other places. It happens here, but how often do we get a chance to hear from those who live with the virus, right he...

we are here  

HIV doesn’t just happen other places. It happens here, but how often do we get a chance to hear from those who live with the virus, right he...

Profile for vpwas

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