Michael Hendricks: “Knowing we did it…”

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Few names in Montréal are as synonymous with queer activism as that of Michael Hendricks. Michael’s story is a rich and involved one that brought him from New Jersey to Canada in 1968 as a Vietnam War resister, and saw him make other strides through his lifelong involvement in AIDS activism, same-sex marriage with his partner René Leboeuf, and now, sex worker rights as part of the team at STELLA. Like an oppression-seeking missile, Michael has honed in on some of the most difficult struggles facing the GLBT community over the last 40 years, and he’s not done yet.

Those who have had the pleasure of hearing him speak at protests, community meetings, or just running into him on the street, know him from his bright eyes, surprisingly good French (which he learned from a stint in Grand-mère listening to Charlebois and Lise Forestier), and his phenomenal sense of queer history, which he was part of making through collectives like ACT-UP Montréal. There’s no magazine page that could do justice to the man’s commitment to our community – his whole story on becoming a “Sherlock Homo” helping bring attention to the unsolved murders of gay men in the 90’s, will have to wait for a forthcoming issue – so we decided to let him tell us a little bit about his battles in his own words…

2B: You are famous for a lot of things, but your work with ACT-UP Montréal stands out a lot…

MH: There was little if no AIDS activism in Montréal in Sept 1989 when the 5th International AIDS Conference was held here. But that year was when ACT UP NY took over the stage during the conference and, when they saw the state of activism here, they left someone behind after the conference to start a local chapter. The member, Blane Mosley, organized a mini-group and announced that ACT UP was starting in January 1990 when René and I joined. The rest is, as they say, history. But I didn’t start ACT UP, I joined and suffered terribly learning how hyperdemocracy (their word for it) works (something like the Occupy movement – structured chaos and consensus-based). I also learned about “in your face” activism: “We’re here, we’re queer, Get used to it!” For one demo [that got a lot of media], we threw condoms at Cardinal Turcotte. The Cardinal did not approve!

ACT-UP was lucky to have Robert Bourassa as Premier, because his government was so backward that they wouldn’t translate safer-sex material available from the US [into French], so ACT-UP did it instead, and made a poster series. The government held the line that promoting safer sex and drug use would promote homosexuality and drugs!

“What changed our lives from ACT-UP was the kind of activism…”

One year we had a bell, a huge bronze bell; four fairies carried it, and we marched banging on it with 500 people. Then we had a rope with 500 black ribbons on it, and 1000 people came out to that. We founded the Parc de l’espoir out of that action.

2B: How’s married life? Did you find any unexpected advantages or consequences to being the first same-sex married couple in Québec?

MH: After living with my husband for 30 years, there were no surprises to married life. The advantages we appreciate from being legally married are the same as any marriage: a secure and a fair route to resolving things when it ends either by divorce or death, plus emotional security, whatever. It costs more in taxes than being single. The only real “advantage” we had from being the first was that the court of appeals waived the requirement to post the bans (a 2 week cooling off period for overambitious couples).

Someday we may use the other benefits, like medical consent from the other spouse when one of the partners is not unable to speak for him or her self at the hospital. This was one of the real reasons, plus common property, that we started it – we had seen lots of gay men die from HIV infection and the “family” (some old aunt, for example, would be consulted by the doctors but the boyfriend wasn’t allowed in the hospital room and, meanwhile, other relatives cleaned out the house and the bank account while the boyfriend was sitting in the waiting room and crying).

“Of course, the best part is knowing we did it when everyone said it couldn’t be done. And, between you and me, shoving it down their throats!”

Michael Hendricks will speak on 2Bmag’s 10th Anniversary Panel on Wednesday, April 11th, 5pm (panel at 6pm) at the Écomusée du fier monde (2050 rue Amherst, Montréal).

Photo by Riyas Fadel