Concordia University’s HIV/AIDS Lecture Series turns 20 this year, marking two decades of a fascinating range of guest speakers. Conceived of and directed by film studies professor Thomas Waugh, the project’s aim has always been to keep issues around HIV and AIDS in the public’s consciousness.
Since launching in 1992, the series has hosted a broad range of scientists, artists, writers and academics to discuss the epidemic and how it was transforming society. Speakers have included everyone from Luc Montagnier (one of the scientists credited with first identifying HIV as the cause of AIDS) to filmmaker John Greyson.
Waugh says the idea for the series arose after he and several other members of the Concordia community had tabled a report on gay and lesbian life at the university. “Our recommendations touched on everything except intellectual life,” he recalls. “Queer studies was emerging as huge internationally, but there was little reflection on campus. Meanwhile, at the worst point of the pandemic, gay students were suddenly dying all around us. So we put the series together, funded by a corporate grant from [pharmaceutical company] Burroughs Wellcome.”
For that first year, “we had six guest speakers, including Simon Watney and Douglas Crimp. There was such a response that we put on an interdisciplinary AIDS course the following year, and we’ve kept them both on ever since.”
The lecture series has continued, even though many see the worst part of the epidemic as now over. “At one point in the late ’90s, after HAART became the norm in Medicare-blessed industrial countries, I thought maybe we should stop. But the planetary crisis kept deepening, and so did media and political amnesia and indifference, so our mandate remained urgent.”
Waugh says there are many moments he will always remember, some as poignant as they were informative. “I’ll never forget PWA video artist Esther Valiquette, who spoke just before her death in the first year. Her quiet, barely audible voice so authoritative that you could hear a pin drop in our huge auditorium.”
Speakers in this year’s roundup include filmmaker Jim Hubbard, who will present his documentary on the history of ACT UP, United in Anger (Nov 22); filmmaker Mia Donovan, who will present her documentary about a porn starlet who seroconverts, Inside Lara Roxx (Jan 31); and DiAna DiAna, an African-American, South Carolina-based hairdresser and grassroots HIV/AIDS awareness educator and activist (March 21).