Scholarship on HIV/AIDS in the United States and Canada has foregrounded the importance of direct-action activism within gay community responses to the epidemic. However, community mobilization efforts in Vancouver were varied and did not begin with direct-action activism. Drawing from oral history interviews with HIV-positive long-term survivors and caregivers, I argue that the story of Vancouver’s AIDS epidemic cannot be adequately told unless community caregiving efforts and early AIDS service organizations (ASOs) are placed front and centre. By providing care to those who were sick and dying and restoring value to the lives of gay men and persons with AIDS, caregiving served as a foundational practical and political response to the epidemic that predated direct-action activism by several years. Indeed, direct-action activism grew out of existing organizational responses to the epidemic in Vancouver – such as safe sex education initiatives – undertaken by the city’s first ASOs. Activists built on the political foundation provided by caregivers and early ASOs while responding to the particular local conditions faced by the city’s gay community. In order to understand community responses to HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, we need to broaden our conceptions of activism to make space for caregiving and various organizational responses to the epidemic alongside overt acts of resistance and protest.
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Thesis advisor: Chenier, Elise
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