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OTTAWA – Yves Brunet has received the City of Ottawa Builder Award for Outstanding Acts of Kindness. Yves Brunet contracted HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) 38 years ago. By the mid-1980s, clinical trials were experimental and he was struggling with predictions that he had little time to live. He will make his life his goal: to break the prejudices against people with HIV and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). Since 2016 he has taken part in the reception of several LGBT refugees in order to save them from oppressive regimes in which homosexual people are still massacred today.
Yves Brunet survived AIDS after contracting HIV at the age of 25.
When he realizes that he is sick, he tries everything to fight this virus. Many operations and medicines are administered to him in the late 80s, up to 17 clinical studies. These drugs and treatments left him with many scars and serious side effects. By the 1990s, the diagnosis was clear: he was going to die.
“I was told I had only two years to live, then a year, then six months. »
Originally from Ste-Anne-de-Prescott, Ontario, this survivor explains that he was fortunate and most importantly loved by those around him. He should have died in 1998, he says: “Nine of my friends died and not me. I had this weird feeling of guilt, you know, like Holocaust survivors…survivor’s guilt.” In 1995, 2003 and 2006 the virus mutated into its symptomatic phase, AIDS. It wasn’t until 2006 that the triple therapy would kick in and the viral load in his blood would disappear.
“Normally I should have a normal life expectancy, but the consequences of the treatments raise doubts. Luckily, the drugs I received are no longer on the market. »
The fight against stigma
“People called me and said, ‘Listen, I have a pimple on my face, you coughed the other day, am I infected?’ “. Mr. Brunet tells us how those around him reacted to his illness. He sums it up by explaining that there was “a lot of panic because people were dying and there wasn’t any treatment.”
Stigma is a scourge in the fight against AIDS. It leads to the disgrace of the screening in particular. In the mid-1980s and 1990s, people living with HIV preferred to say they had cancer to admitting their HIV status. Fear still has multiple faces today: that of others looking at carriers of the virus, but also the fear of being infected by someone, which fosters a lack of support and environment for the sick person.
In order to dismantle these prejudices, Mr. Brunet has testified for 20 years in schools and universities. “In high school, at the Cité collégiale, at the University of Ottawa and Carleton, wherever they wanted to hear me. Then, little by little, I worked with many organizations, the Outaouais BRAS (the regional office of Action SIDA) for francophones. »
“And at some point I think I did what I had to do,” adds Yves Brunet, “apart from seeing a photo of a child, a Syrian refugee, who died and telling myself, it was terrible, then I wanted to do something for refugees and especially LGBT people.”
Rescue LGBT refugees
It listens to the broadcast Everyone talks about it that he had heard of a program to refer LGBT people to Canada. “I found Refuge de l’arc-en-ciel de la Capitale with Lisa Hébert, then I started in December 2015. I created my first sponsorship group and on September 28, 2016 we welcomed a first refugee from the Middle East »
This tireless volunteer tells us how difficult it is to repatriate refugees. For example, he says that in a sponsorship group you need healthy volunteers, people who deal with trauma and many more. People who listen to them and don’t judge them. “They have to know that where they come from, their own families judge them, banish them, force them to get married, have children. Tragic things happen to them like gang rape and sometimes they get HIV.”
For him, “the most important thing is friendliness”. He speaks to us of compassion and resilience: “Sometimes things look extremely bleak. We can’t give up and I think I’m an example of that.”
“95% of people died from it in the 1980s and I got a chance,” he continues. “I don’t feel like using this time to watch TV. I have to do something that makes a difference, even if it’s very difficult.”
“‘I believe in kindness’, I believe that’s the essence of life. »
City of Ottawa Building Award
This is the first award Yves Brunet has received since leaving public service. He says he’s deeply touched, but most of all it’s “the 35 people who wrote to Mayor Watson. Testimonials and letters to say that I was a person worthy of this award. It touches me deeply. There was a letter from a child of about ten that we brought to Canada when he was eight. He said I showed him kindness, what it means to be gentle and kind, and that you can go far. He said he never had that example in his life.”
“For me, the best way to say thank you is that these people are happy and that they succeed as they choose. »
For this Franco-Ontarian, more Francophone volunteers are needed to help with LGBT refugees. “There are many francophone LGBT people in need. For example, I work with people in Kenya, which is a richer country than its surroundings. As a result, many French-speaking refugees flee there, except that it is an English-speaking country that is not more open to LGBT people. They find it difficult to make themselves understood. »
“With private sponsorship we can at least get francophones to come to French Ontario. »
The Mayor’s Prix Bâtisseur de la Ville recognizes the extraordinary voluntary work and the great commitment of Yves Brunet. This award recognizes people who make Ottawa “a better place today and for the future.” The prize rewards “remarkable acts of kindness (…) and all other exemplary achievements”. One thing is for sure, Yves Brunet has set an example throughout his life, be it in his fight against HIV, his fight against discrimination and stigma or even saving 14 people from countries where homosexuality is a crime.
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