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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. In the mid-1980s, clinical trials were experimental and he struggled with a prediction that he would have a short time to live. He will make his life a goal: to break the prejudices around people with HIV and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Since 2016, he has been taking part in the reception of several LGBT refugees in order to save them from oppressive regimes, where homosexual people are still massacred today.
Yves Brunet survived AIDS after being infected with HIV at the age of 25.
When he realizes he is sick, he tries everything to fight this virus. Many operations and drugs are administered to him in the late 80s, up to 17 clinical trials. These drugs and treatments left him with many scars and serious side effects. In the 1990s, the diagnosis was clear: he was going to die.
“I was told that I only had two years left to live, then a year, then six months. »
Originally from Ste-Anne-de-Prescott, Ontario, this survivor explains that he was lucky and above all much loved by those around him. In 1998, he should have died, 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 will mutate into its symptomatic phase, AIDS. It was not until 2006 that the triple therapy would work and the viral load in his blood would disappear.
“Normally, I should have a normal life expectancy, but the sequelae due to the treatments raise doubts. Fortunately, the drugs I was given are no longer on the market. »
The fight against stigma
“People were calling me and saying, ‘Listen, I have a pimple on my face, the other day, you coughed, am I infected?’ “. Mr. Brunet tells us how the people around him behaved when faced with his illness. He sums it up by explaining that there was “a lot of panic, because people were dying and there was no treatment”.
Stigma is a scourge in the fight against AIDS. It leads, in particular, to the shame of screening. In the mid-1980s and 1990s, people with HIV preferred to say they had cancer, rather than admitting their HIV status. Even today, fear has several faces: that of the gaze of others for carriers of the virus, but also the fear of being infected by someone, which promotes the lack of support and entourage for the person. sick.
To break down these prejudices, Mr. Brunet 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 gradually, 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, “except that I saw a photo of a child, a Syrian refugee, who had died, and I said to myself that it was horrible, then I wanted to do something for refugees and especially LGBT people”.
Rescue of LGBT refugees
It’s listening to the show Everybody talks about it that he 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 explains to us how hard 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. “You have to know that where they come from, their own families judge them, banish them, force them to marry, to have children. Tragic things happen to them, like gang rapes, and sometimes they get infected with HIV.”
For him, “the important thing is kindness”. He speaks to us of compassion and resilience: “Sometimes things look extremely dark. We must not give up and I believe that I am an example of this”.
“95% of people in the 1980s died of it and I was given a chance” he continues. “I don’t feel like using this time to watch television. I need to do something that makes a difference, even if it’s very difficult”.
“’I believe in kindness’, I believe that is the essence of life. »
The City of Ottawa Builder Award
Since he left the public service, this is the first prize that Yves Brunet has received. He says he is very touched, but it is above all “the 35 people who wrote to Mayor Watson. Testimonials and letters to say that I was a person who deserved this award. It touches me deeply. There was a letter from a child of about ten, whom we brought to Canada when he was 8 years old. He said that I had shown him kindness, what it was to be gentle and kind and that you can go far. He said that he had not had this example in life”.
“For me, the best way to thank me is that these people are happy, and that they achieve success as they determine it. »
For this Franco-Ontarian, more Francophone volunteers are needed to help with LGBT refugees. “There are a lot of Francophone LGBT people in need. For example, I work with people in Kenya, it is a richer country than those around it. There are therefore many French-speaking refugees fleeing there, except that it is an English-speaking country and which is not more open to LGBT people. It’s hard for them 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 exceptional volunteer services and deep 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 certain, Yves Brunet has set an example throughout his life, whether in his battle against HIV, his fight against discrimination and stigmatization or even for having saved 14 people from countries where homosexual is a crime.
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