Tag Archives: Gay

Faces of HIV – Thirty

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton


In 1982, Ross Armstrong, a man described by his friend Charles Bidwell, as “full of playful spirit, comfortable in his own skin and so open in expressing himself,” earned his spot to swim for Canada in the first ever Gay Olympic Games. Ross won a silver medal in the 200 metre butterfly and was quoted saying, “There were no losers. The first and the last were cheered equally.” He also learned that organization combined with a political commitment is what produces mass awareness and supported action. This was the spirit of Ross, a man committed to honesty, integrity, and change.

In 1984, Ross Armstrong was diagnosed with AIDS, the first AIDS diagnosis in Edmonton. Shortly after his diagnosis, he became a part of the AIDS Network of Edmonton team (now known as HIV Edmonton), and emerged as the public face of AIDS in Edmonton. Ross died on July 1, 1986, two short years after his diagnosis.

The challenges and suffering Ross endured and the courage he displayed during those first years of the local epidemic led HIV Edmonton to name the hub of their agency, the drop-in centre, the Ross Armstrong Centre. A safe, caring place for HIV positive individuals to meet, have a cup of coffee, or share a nutritious community meal. Breakfast is served every Monday and Friday morning and lunch is served on Wednesdays. Ross Armstrong Week, held Monday and Friday in the middle of each month, provides access to grocery cards, health supplies (multi-vitamins and liquid meal replacement) and hygiene products (razors, shampoo, etc.).

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The David “Vanity Fair” Chimko Origin Story

By Leah Cavanagh

Have you ever met Vanity Fair?11951221_10153527251341341_6135957416183618931_n

If yes, you’re familiar with her biting wit and over the top style. If not, I highly recommend you do.

The man behind Vanity, David Chimko, is a long-time supporter of HIV Edmonton and general community activist, working hard to make Edmonton a safer, more inclusive city. His involvement with HIV Edmonton began when he got involved with the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose (herein The Court, or ISCWR).

The Court is an incredible organization, raising money for local non-profit organizations here in Edmonton. In fact, the first donation HIV Edmonton (then the AIDS Network of Edmonton) ever received was from this generous group of people! We received a donation from this group again this year (and many in the years in between), and we are so grateful for their continued support.

David was first attracted to The Court because, as a rural Albertan transplant to the big city, it became “a safe place…to explore drag, and a place for [him] to grow…The Court was a place for [him] to belong when [he] was feeling very out of place and vulnerable”.

Having a close friend living with HIV, David was attracted to performing at the Black and White Affair fundraiser the agency has held in years past. He has continued to support our organization in a multitude of ways, from World AIDS Day to emceeing the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life, Vanity Fair (and therefore, David) is a staple supporter we value and rely on.

The Court doesn’t just support HIV Edmonton, far from it. They have also contributed time, energy, and funds to the Pride Centre of Edmonton, and Camp fYrefly, to name but a few. David has been involved with this awesome organization for nineteen years and, after helping them celebrate their 40th anniversary, he said he has “never been more proud to be part of this amazing organization”.

We asked what David’s social justice kryptonite was, and he replied from a place of experience and heart break. “The one thing I wish I could wave a wand and change is youth suicide,” he says, “…doesn’t matter what issue they are struggling with…it absolutely guts me to hear of another youth choosing to end their life because they feel hopeless, unsupported, or misunderstood”.

David struggled with severe depression and entertained suicidal thoughts, and it goes without saying that Edmonton, and this world, is a better place because he was able to conquer them. But, he goes on, “there is very little front line help out there,” echoing a sentiment we all know to be way too true. “Too many are lost before they get a chance to live and that saddens me to no end,” he adds.

For David, the struggle is for inclusion. It’s for acceptance, and helping Edmontonians to embrace each other for our differences, and not in spite of them.

“So we keep fighting, and we keep fundraising, and eventually things have to get better for everyone.”

Tagged , , , , , , , ,