Art, age 62 / Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation, Anishnawbe / Toronto, Canada


I’m 62 now, but I came out when I was 26. So it was quite late. And back then, being out was not– it was sometimes, in the aboriginal communities, you might bring shame to the family, to the community, by announcing. But when I came out, then it was no going back. And I always had to go out there to the aboriginal community in– where I lived, but also, more so, to the non-aboriginal community, and say, “Yes, we are here. This is who we are, and this is the issues and struggles that we’re facing.”

Because in Canada we faced a lot of discrimination, as many aboriginal and indigenous people throughout the world. You know, when you move from a rural setting into an urban setting, there’s always some sort of discrimination put upon aboriginal and indigenous people. But I tended to be quite strong, even though sometimes it was quite hurtful, I knew that I had to remain strong so that others could see what we were doing. And others joined us. So it wasn’t like– in the aboriginal community, you don’t take on the position of, you know, you are the only one who has done it. Because we all tend to support each other, and we all tend to sort of work together. Yeah.

Prior to myself becoming HIV positive, um…. In Toronto, when I lived there, there were a number of individuals who lived in Toronto as well, but they could never tell their families. They could never say to their families, “I am living with HIV.” Because if they said, “I am living with HIV,” then the families would ask, “Well, how did you get it?” Right? And then they would have to self disclose that they were gay or in a same sex relationship, right? And then that became difficult for them.

So basically, in Toronto, I became known as “Mama.” And the reason why was that people could come to me, tell me their innermost secrets about what they were struggling through when they became HIV-positive, and I kept those secrets, even to the point ‘til after they have passed on into the spirit world. I never revealed that that individual came to me to share that he was HIV positive. So I kept that, and people knew that I would do that, and a lot of two-spirit men and women would come to me and say, you know, “I am living with HIV,” and we’d cry, we’d laugh, we’d celebrate, and then we would move on with our lives, and we would support each other.