[Chevalier and Bradley-Perrin’s] piece, titled “Your Nostalgia is Killing Me,” features that wry line, emphatically rendered in bright-yellow, drop-shadowed letters, against the backdrop of a computer-illustrated bedroom. Keith Haring and General Idea graphics serve as wallpaper; visual ephemera from the ’80s — ACT UP reproductions, Therese Frare’s famous photo of mourners at a patient’s bedside, promotional images for the films Philadelphia and Blue — are presented as teenybopper posters, plastered on the wall like pin-ups.
It was a bold comment on how romanticizing the past can obscure present priorities and impede real action. But not everyone read it that way. For many, especially those who had lived through those crisis years, the poster was a lightning rod. On social media, older activists attacked Ian and Vincent for what they perceived as undermining or dismissing the lived experience of survivors, calling them “stupid fucking brats” and accusing them, among other things, of committing “a little Oedipal murder.”
“It became really clear to me that there was this generational divide among people living with HIV, where younger people and older people interpreted the poster differently,” Ian says. He was struck, he notes, by how different generational experiences of HIV are from one another and he felt compelled to investigate that difference.
“It was personal, political, historical,” he continues. “That combination of factors is what my work is now, and what it has always been.”
The posterVIRUS clash was a particularly heated and visible example of Ian’s activist work, but it was far from his first foray into challenging the dominant paradigm. A lifelong critical thinker, Ian can trace the origins of his militant consciousness back to his time as a high school student in Oakville, Ontario, a well-heeled suburb of Toronto.
It was in his teens that the seeds of his current interest in the intersections of public health and marginalized communities were planted. In 2007, during Ian’s final year of high school, he began dating his first boyfriend, who was grappling with addiction and mental health issues and struggling to find ongoing care and treatment.
Through the lens of first love, Ian’s eyes were opened to the shortcomings in the Canadian healthcare system — the dearth of detox, addictions and recovery services, and the challenges of finding a therapist for someone struggling with serious mental health needs. In a time of crisis, the only option seemed to be to go to the emergency room. “I was watching the outer limits of what was possible in Canada for healthcare,” he says.