Sep. 16, 2009 - Issue #726: Stready Rollin’ Men
Learning to share
It was 1987, and Debra Jakubec was working in a restaurant kitchen when
the father of one of her co-workers died of AIDS. The family wouldn't help
clean out his apartment after he died because they were afraid of AIDS.
Jakubec befriended her co-worker as a way to support her, seeing as no one at
work was talking with her about her father's death. Although Jakubec had
never met her co-worker's dad and didn't know her co-worker all that well,
she helped clean up the dead man's apartment. This was her first experience
in dealing with HIV/AIDS.
Around 10 years later, Joyce LaBriola was enrolled in a small theatre school in New Jersey, where she made a great group of friends, including James Tolin. While they were attending school together Tolin was diagnosed as living with HIV and LaBriola was able to be a grounding support for Tolin. He got sick in 2001, was admitted to a hospice and from there quickly passed. Tolin's hospice bill almost bankrupted his parents.
Sitting around with her theatre friends over beers at a gathering after James's funeral, reunited almost 10 years after graduation, they brainstormed on what they could do to honour Tolin's life and support his parents. The idea came to hold a fundraising event. Donating their time, skills and connections they pulled together a silent auction and a theatrical production of Jeffery, raising $75 000 to donate to the hospice.
Exhausted but exhilarated, the groupmembers decided that they would make it an annual event, and seven years later are still at it. Now living in Edmonton LaBriola helps out with what is now called the James Tolin Memorial Fund, and she is planning a satellite event in Edmonton this spring.
It is a Friday morning at the offices of HIV Edmonton, and Jakubec, the executive director, and LaBriola, the fund developer coordinator, are gathered around a computer screen, going over last-minute details of the upcoming AIDS Walk for Life. Through their history and their current work Jakubec and LaBriola represent the under-acknowledged work of women who have been caregivers, fighters, advocates and, perhaps hardest of all, the survivors within the AIDS movement.
While there is no doubt that in the face of AIDS gay men fought back, worked hard and saved lives, what is often forgotten is that beside them in the struggle were women. This lack of acknowledgement from gay men about the work of women within the HIV/AIDS movement is symbolic of a larger issue with the gay community: the inability for gay men to share and acknowledge their power specifically with "groups" such as women who were so instrumental in the support of gay men when they needed it the most.
In spite of HIV—some have argued because of it—gay men have made tremendous strides towards equality in recent times. The experience of a gay, white, middle-class man bears no significant difference in terms of privilege compared to a straight, white, middle-class man. Pair two men together, as happens in a gay relationship, and they arguably have more accessible privilege than a heterosexual couple, and seemingly infinitely more possible power than a lesbian couple, a mixed-race couple or any pairing of a visible-minority couple. Gay men have a larger amount of social, economic and political power than they ever had before. Because of this, and to celebrate it, gay men should consider how they can give back within gay communities and throughout society.
An obstacle gay men may have in sharing their privilege is continued heterosexism and homophobia, but what we forget is we are men—a privileged status in our world. For those of us who are white and able-bodied our privilege increases tenfold. Our gender and our colour will always read louder than our gayness. What matters now, and how we will be judged, is what we do with our privilege.
Gay men rose up during the AIDS crisis and changed the world. Through passion and strength and love and support of allies, gay men fought for accessible drugs and woke the world up to a complex health crisis unparalleled in modern times. This should be in every history book ever printed and every gay man should swell with pride at the accomplishment. But let us also write the next chapter, the one in which we as gay men acknowledge our privilege, honour women like Jakubec and LaBriola for the role they play in our lives, and use our ever-growing clout to make the world a better place for women and all of society. V
The 2009 Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life takes place Sunday, September 20 from 11 am to 4 pm at Sir Winston Churchill Square. Visit hivedmonton.com for full details.
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