As part of Day With(out) Art, Visual AIDS distributed the film United in Anger: A History of ACT UP across the world to be screened around December 1st. One of our screening partners was artist Vincent Chevalier who screened it at Artspace in Peterborough ON Canada. He wrote the following letter as facebook invite and introduction to the film. It is a powerful letter that speaks to the range of emotions experienced by people living with HIV.

Fellow artist karen elaine spencer saw Vincent's words and included them as part of her ongoing "Hey Mike" series in which she engages NYC Mayor Micheal Bloomburg in a conversation around social issues including health, police voilence and poverty. (see attached image.)

Read Vincent's letter below.
Please visit the artists' website to learn more.
Vincent Chevalier
Hey Mike

December 1st, 2012

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 29. This year will mark 10 years that I have lived with HIV. I like to joke that the only thing I want for my birthday is for it not to fall on the day before World AIDS Day. Once in a performance at a popular dance party/cabaret in Montreal, I chose to celebrate by screaming my birthday cake candles out on the crowded dance floor. I had been up for days trying to, in the words of Peaches, "Fuck the pain away" with drugs and a whole lot of rampant sexual abandon. My scream was hoarse, my body and mind already exhausted from years of dealing with the stigma of being HIV-positive and a drug addict. In a beautifully written article, entitled "Can't we treat HIV like any other disease?" published for World AIDS Day, Ottawa heartbreaker and HIV activist, Michael Burtch speaks about HIV and depression, highlighting the prevalence of this mental illness for those living with the disease. Writing from his own experience he notes:

If you’ve ever used the word “clean,” for instance, to describe an HIV- negative person, congratulations: you’ve succeeded in making my life a little more difficult. You’ve quite frankly made having HIV that much more exhausting and depressing.

Faced with the conundrum of the chicken or the egg, doctors don’t know yet if HIV causes depression or having HIV makes you depressed. What we do know is that prevalence rates for depression in people living with HIV is estimated to be as high as 45 to 60 percent, with HIV-positive women twice as likely as men to be depressed.

His words have pricked me and linger in my heart and thoughts as I stand here now. I'm thinking of my pain and feeling how beleaguered I've felt for so many years, having accomplished so much work but progressing so little towards self- love and self-acceptance.

I look forward to watching this film with you all. I look forward to learning about these beautiful and courageous men and women who grappled with some of the very same feelings of rage and fear, powerlessness and conviction, bewilderment and hope, that I have experienced on a daily basis for the last ten years of my life. However, it’s important for me not to just sit back and listen, but also to act. At multiple levels of government, Canada has positioned itself against the survival of those living with HIV and those most at risk for infection. As Alex McClelland of AIDS Action Now noted yesterday on his Facebook page, the prospects are bleak:

the federal Conservative government voted against allowing the production of generic HIV medications for people in the global south, further expanding medical apartheid (Canadian Access to Medicines Regime), the City of Toronto is recommending cutting all funding to its Global AIDS Initiative ($104,000 that goes to support community education and prevention activities), we are all still reeling under the Supreme Court decision to expand the criminalization of HIV non- disclosure, and now we find out that the Public Health Agency of Canada is going to completely restructure all federal AIDS funding for 2014, downloading it all onto community groups to align with the Harper government's neoliberal agenda to totally dismantle our welfare state.

In the face of an increasingly hostile environment towards social justice and the needs of those living with or affected by HIV, this film is all the more necessary and important. United in anger we witness. United in anger we act up. United in anger we stand. Thank you and enjoy the film.

-- Vincent Chevalier