Unleashed Power: Michael Hendricks and the Parc de l’Espoir
As the panels celebrating the 30th anniversary of Montréal’s Village are about to go up, 2B celebrates the lasting contribution of ACT-UP!
Herewith: Michael Hendricks on the Parc de l’Espoir…
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The Montréal chapter of ACT-UP! (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) was founded in the aftermath of highly publicized protests outside of the 5th Annual International AIDS Conference held here in June of 1989. ACT-UP!’s mission was to fight for access to medication and speak for the growing number of people living with HIV and AIDS who faced a three-front battle against social stigma, police repression and government negligence. Lifelong activist Michael Hendricks, one of our Top 10 personalities of the decade, became a member of ACT-UP in 1989, after realizing that almost all of his friends were HIV positive. Crucially, HIV negative members of the group were able to be more publicly active because they would not face the threat of losing their jobs at a time when paranoia about the virus was at its height.
During the hardest years of the AIDS crisis, from 1989 to 1995, ACT-UP Montréal made headlines again and again for their visually provocative demonstrations and constant criticism of politicians and religious leaders. As Michael recounts, the group had two catchy chants they would yell at demos: “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” (for the police) and “Shame!”, their one-liner for the politicians.
On December 1st, 1991, ACT-UP occupied an empty lot belonging to the Ville de Montréal on the corner of Ste-Catherine Est and Panet streets with a sign that read Parc commémoratif des personnes mortes du sida au Québec – (Memorial Park for those dead of AIDS in Québec). To symbolize the number of people who had died of AIDS up to that point, the group tied 1,200 black ribbons to the trees in the lot where World AIDS Day is still commemorated today. When the city had the ribbons removed, ACT-UP came back and replaced them with rainbow-coloured ones, and the fight to found the park began. Describing the atmosphere at the time, Michael recalls: “We were used to being treated as social deviants; we knew nothing else.”
In the same period, Michael had started the Comité sur la Violence with gay rights activist Roger Leclerc. The two worked tirelessly to draw attention to police harassment and endemic homophobia. But that’s for another story…
Along with the late activist and writer Douglas Buckley-Couvrette (1961-2002), Michael and his husband René Leboeuf took up the long battle to create the Parc de l’Espoir, which was finally inaugurated in 1997. Along with Leclerc, the couple established the association for the Living Memory of the Parc de l’Espoir to defend it as a site to celebrate the lives and mourn the deaths of those lost to AIDS.
The large granite slabs, designed by ACT-UP member and architect Marc Pageau, represent the lasting grief for the thousands who have died, while at the same time acting as an inviting place to sit and gather freely in an increasingly commodified world. The park stands as a testament to the power that is unleashed when a few tenacious people come together to claim a space for their community.
With invaluable input from Michael Hendricks. Photo by César Ochoa, April 2012.