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How Montreal changed the international AIDS response

When the AIDS epidemic first began in Canada in 1982, it forced many in positions of power to face the realities of prejudice against, and discrimination of, LGBTQ+ Canadians. It took Prime Minister Brian Mulroney five years in office before he addressed the crisis publicly — eight years after the crisis began.

In 1989, the fifth annual International AIDS Conference was held in Montreal. Before this, the conference had seldom addressed the social issues surrounding the illness; the decimation of LGBTQ+ communities had been reduced to statistics. This all changed when members of Réaction SIDA, ACT-UP Montreal, and their Toronto and NYC counterparts stormed the Palais des Congrès on June 4 and crashed the conference.

They presented the Montreal Manifesto, which demanded the active involvement of LGBTQ+ people with AIDS in any decision-making that might affect them and their communities. They demanded that public health response acknowledge the humanity and dignity of LGBTQ+ people with AIDS.

Although there was heavy pushback, with many saying science shouldn’t be made political, from that moment on the conference began including LGBTQ+ AIDS activists in their public health recommendations. The dedication of Montreal’s LGBTQ+ AIDS activists changed how the world treats AIDS. (RP)

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