M.I.E.L.S.-Québec:Fighting HIV/AIDS for 25 years

February 8th, 2012

The Mouvement d’information et d’entraide dans la lutte au VIH/sida à Québec, MIELS-Québec, will soon be celebrating its 25th anniversary. It was founded in September 1988 as a group initiative in the Quebec City gay community, at a time when nothing was known about this infection and HIV-positive people staggered under the weight of prejudice, rejection, loneliness, powerlessness, and death.

Founding member Pierre Berthelot remembers that time all too well: “One August evening in 1986, on Rue Montmartre in Quebec City, I had my first meeting of what would one day become MIELS-Québec. A microbiologist and infectiologist, Dr. François Auger, was holding an information session on this ‘plague’ that was decimating gay men in cities throughout the western world. The tsunami had reached Quebec City. I remember looking at the 30 or so men there, not with the usual interest of my younger years, but to guess which ones had been diagnosed with this incurable disease that would kill them in 18 to 24 months’ time. Most of them were young and did not look sick. Was this virus really so insidious and treacherous? I was terrified, but the terror gave me a huge burst of energy to help to found an extraordinary organization that has endured, faithful to its values despite the inevitable compromises. (…) My involvement in MIELS-Québec has enriched my life and changed me permanently.”

From the beginning, businesses in the gay community joined the cause, fundraising and showing solidarity. MIELS-Québec has without a doubt helped to build the Quebec City gay community to meet the urgent need to help its own and work for HIV prevention.

In 1988, a plan to open a residence for people with AIDS met stiff opposition, with a city councillor circulating a petition that gathered 1,100 signatures. People in Limoilou did not want people with AIDS in their back yard. In the end, Mayor Pelletier, the Archdiocese, and the Sisters of Charity had to intervene to see the project through, and it opened in autumn 1988. Le Transit, later renamed Maison Marc-Simon, then Hébergement Marc-Simon, continues to welcome people living with HIV/AIDS. Today, of course, people come for support to recover their strength, but at the time they came to die. The name Marc-Simon commemorates two young gay men who died of AIDS in 1987 and 1988, both at the age of 26.

Since the turn of the millennium, the profile of those using the organization’s services has changed a great deal. Today, MIELS-Québec serves people from every background affected by HIV/AIDS. From the seed planted 25 years ago by the Quebec City gay community, MIELS-Québec has grown into a movement for prevention and solidarity with people with HIV/AIDS.

Thérèse Richer,

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