David is an articulate man who has a dry sense of humour and is happy to share the latest book he’s reading or his opinion about the current state of politics. His passion for history and social justice has shaped the path he has taken in life and helped him cope with the challenges of living with HIV.
He grew up in South Vancouver in a working class family that was “pro-union and knew what side of the tracks they came from.” David’s father immigrated to Canada from Scotland and became a teacher after World War II. David’s mother worked as a telephone operator. His parents were both political activists and he accompanied them when they attended events, such as anti-nuclear protests. “I was taught to be anti-authority,” David says.
David was inspired by his father ’s devotion to education and studied hard so he could go to university. Between 1965 and 1970, he studied history at UBC. In 1969, he was one of 114 students who were arrested for occupying the SFU administration building in order to demand equal access to education, resulting in three months in jail.
Three years after David finished university, he decided to go to New York City. “The Gay Liberation Movement emerged in New York in 1969 and I came out as gay in the early 1970s. New York was the place to be,” he says. David lived in Greenwich Village for three months and then returned to Vancouver where he took a job with the postal service, where he was active in the union and pushed for human rights clauses and equitable employment for postal workers. However, he also struggled with alcoholism and eventually lost his job.
A series of tragic events followed. Many of David’s friends died of AIDS and he lost his partner. He notes that many people todaydon’t realize how traumatic the AIDS epidemic was for the gay community of his generation. “Think about it this way,” he explains, “An entire generation of my friends died. I don’t have a circle of friends to last me my entire life. I lost most of them.”
David became HIV-positive as a result of unprotected sex. “I had a guilt complex about surviving when so many people in my life had passed away. In my grief, I threw caution to the wind,” he explains.
After exhausting his funds and struggling to pay high rent in a small suite in the West End, David didn’t have enough money to eat properly or to take care of his declining health. Eventually, he ended up in St. Paul’s Hospital. David knew about the Dr. Peter Centre and got on the waiting list. “I was aware of the Dr. Peter Centre ever since it was built and before that I was brought to tears watching Dr. Peter on CBC – it broke my heart,” he remembers.
He was relieved when he was admitted to the Centre’s day health program in 2013. He began to eat well and put on 30 pounds in the first couple of months he was in the program. Staff at the Centre helped him find social housing in the West End.“The Dr. Peter Centre helped me find good housing and they feed me. I think I’ll live another 10 years,” he declares.
For David, it’s hard to deal with the health challenges of aging with HIV as well as the loss of so many of his friends, but there have been many positive developments in his life. He has struggled with alcoholism, but has been sober for 25 years. He has returned to his religious background, his Scottish heritage and his interest in history for comfort and inspiration.
He shares that he has learned many things from the tragedies he experienced and his time at the Dr. Peter Centre.“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” he says. “We all have problems. We are all works in progress. Everyone is different and it’s important not to judge. I am eternally grateful to the Dr. Peter Centre for their help and acceptance,” he says.
David passed away in 2017.