It all started with three short sentences.
“I’m going to be introducing you to someone with AIDS to help provide a name, a face and an identity to this disease. The person I’m going to be introducing you to is myself. I’m a doctor, but I’m also a patient — a patient with AIDS.”
With those words on CBC TV, Dr Peter Jepson-Young gave AIDS a public face in Canada 20 years ago on Sept 10. He died in 1992 at the age of 35.
Jepson-Young was not only a pioneer in raising health awareness but also in educating against homophobia and stigmatization, his parents said on Sept 3 as Dr Peter Week was declared in Vancouver. Mayor Gregor Robertson presented Shirley and Bob Young with a proclamation at city hall.
“Bob and I were so fearfully afraid he would become a victim of a gaybashing,” Shirley said. “He was blind. He was alone.”
Nevertheless, he pushed forward producing the TV series, which deeply touched Canadians, changing minds about homophobia and AIDS.
The newly proclaimed Dr Peter Week marks the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of the 1990 start of the Dr Peter Diaries, a 111-episode weekly series carried by the national broadcaster. The broadcasts highlighted Dr Peter’s struggles as he battled the diseases.
“He was the face of AIDS and a gay man,” says foundation director Maxine David. “Today, there are many faces of AIDS.”
His partner, Andy Hiscox, said Dr Peter would be proud of his legacy and the proclamation. “The [diaries] came into people’s homes every week,” he says. “You began to see somebody like Peter, somebody like us,” he says. “It’s somebody next door.”
He was the founder of The Dr Peter AIDS Foundation, which oversees the Dr Peter Centre in downtown Vancouver. The centre provides support to those living with HIV/AIDS, as well as providing education on health and other issues.
Robertson says Dr Peter was a catalyst for change on both education about homophobia and stigmatization. He praised him and the impact his work has had on the city and the world.
A compilation of the Dr Peter Diaries was later made in a collaboration between the CBC and HBO and released as The Broadcast Tapes of Dr Peter. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 1994.
But the mayor says more needs to happen to build on parts of that legacy as far as hate crimes go. “It’s about the courts, the government, the justice system, schools standing up to address homophobia, gaybashings.It’s not okay,” he says. “We’re going to do everything we can to stop this.”
During Dr Peter Week, there will a screening of The Broadcast Tapes of Dr Peter at the CBC and UBC, his 25th UBC medical school reunion, and Passions, a benefit for the Dr Peter AIDS Foundation.