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Aids Activist: Michael Lynch and the Politics of Community

by Ann Silversides

At a time when one of the largest annual gatherings in Toronto is the Gay Pride parade, it’s significant to recall that such an outpouring of support for the lesbian and gay community would not have been possible 20 years ago. In addition to fighting the traditional barriers of homophobia, the burgeoning gay political community in the early 1980s was struck by what the media called “the gay disease,” AIDS.

Ann Silversides focuses on the work and life of writer, professor, and activist Michael Lynch to chronicle how a community came together to fight a strange new illness. It is a tale of unending funerals and bedside support for friends and lovers, fighting media misinformation, knocking on the doors of callous health care bureaucracies and unsupportive government bodies, and refusing to renounce gay identity in the interests of funding or wider acceptability.

AIDS Activist is also about a race for time. Lynch, as revealed through his diaries, discovered he was HIV-positive. His writings painfully recount how the remainder of his life is a battle for comfort marked by difficult choices about where best to allocate his flagging energy. With the clock ticking, he tries to crunch teaching, community organizing, writing, making peace with his son, and a lifetime’s worth of plans into a shortened, unknown time period.

At its best, Silversides’ account is an important reminder of how far we’ve come from a time when publications such as Body Politic were the subject of obscenity charges and police bathhouse raids led to angry street demonstrations. Unfortunately, Silversides often details the minutiae of health policy decisions and organizing meetings that, while important to the historical record, take precedence over bringing the reader closer to the central figure in the story.

Nonetheless, AIDS Activist is a good primer on how, in the space of a few short years, an engaged community can take on an apocalyptic threat and not only survive, but emerge stronger for the fight.