Brent Bauer was catapulted into the media spotlight in 2010 after speaking out against the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) for its issuing a press release with a gay man’s photo, name and HIV status. The police sent out the release in May after the man was arrested for HIV nondisclosure. He was already in custody.
“I was angry this past spring and energized again. I think we had been a bit complacent in Ottawa about the idea of HIV criminalization,” Bauer says.
Bauer, by default, became the spokesperson for the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative. He was consistent in his condemnation of police actions and their negligence in a case that was both sensitive and important as a public health issue.
Bauer was instrumental in pushing OPS to do an internal review of its actions. He went before the Police Services Board to propose operational guidelines for the criminalization of HIV, and he helped coordinate an HIV working group.
A group was struck — made up of community members, Ottawa Public Health and OPS — to discuss how to deal with future HIV-nondisclosure cases. Bauer is still trying to get the Crown to join the group.
Bauer is not new to activism; in fact, he has decades behind him. He lived in Montreal during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and, as a doctoral student, he worked with Egale.
“I had a really neat liaison role at that time between the national movement and some of the strategies leading up to the marriage summit of June 2001, which I think was really the key decision point on taking the legal route through the courts,” he says.
Around the time that same-sex marriage became legal in Canada, Bauer moved to Ottawa, where he was forced to give up his seat on Egale as its Quebec representative.
Bauer was working at the Public Health Agency of Canada on HIV/AIDS issues when he heard about Bruce House. He spent four years volunteering at the hospice, three of them as chair of the board of directors.
At Bruce House, he learned the fine art of governance — he helped bail the organization out of funding troubles, shored up their fundraising and embarked on a major rejuvenation of the hospice.
“I think Bruce House’s reputation as a HIV/AIDS organization that has a voice in the community was a major accomplishment for me in that period,” he says.
Bauer left Bruce House to chair the Ottawa Carleton Council on HIV/AIDS, which is now called the Ottawa Coalition on HIV/AIDS. He worked on a program that was funded for one year by the Government of Ontario.
The program involved a community-planning process for cities across the province. Its goal was to gather community partners around the table to investigate ways of working together on issues pertaining to HIV/AIDS.
After a year with the council, Bauer joined the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative. He feels that addressing the wellness of the gay community is an extension of HIV/AIDS activism.
“It’s a natural progression of how the epidemic has evolved but also where gay men are at in their lives,” he says.
The mandate of the initiative is to promote gay men’s health: socially, physically, mentally, spiritually, sexually and economically. It aims to advance men’s wellness by reducing HIV transmission, liaising with Public Health and ensuring that all gay men (regardless of their HIV status) have access to appropriate services.
The initiative had been working on strategies last May when the OPS debacle unfolded. Bauer says that, at that time, there was a strategy in place around the development of public policy guidelines, public education awareness and best practices for agencies when dealing with someone wanting to come forward with a complaint or with someone struggling with disclosure.
It was a strategy that OPS bypassed when it issued the press release and the reason Bauer became a public critic of the police.
Although Bauer continues to work with the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative and the HIV working group, he is already considering his next step in activism — establishing a social-media platform for gay men’s health.
“I think what we are grappling with now is taking the idea of a physical drop-in space and building a broader platform for that through social media,” he says.
However, Bauer acknowledges that that is his “dream strategy.” For now, he wants to focus on reenergizing the initiative and getting more men involved in taking care of their health.
Bauer is sincere in his desire to put public health issues at the forefront of his activism.
“I think there are still social injustices out there; there are still institutional resistances. I think that as you enter into middle age, as I am, you realize what has been accomplished but what still needs to be done,” he says. “I think that now it is almost a different era in which there is a levelling effect of some of the rights and victories that we have achieved, and yet underneath the surface you have bubbling still some health and wellness challenges that need to be addressed.”