World AIDS Day, to the Tune of YMCA

At the end of October, some of the frontline workers from Youth Services Bureau approached Planned Parenthood Ottawa to ask Insight Theatre to create a flash mob for this year’s World AIDS Day event. This year, the event was focused on youth leadership, and it only made sense that Insight would be a part of it, given the program’s peer-to-peer leadership and education lens. I brought the idea to the troupe members, and they were a unanimous yes about taking part.
The Insight youth had an initial brainstorming session and settled doing on a spoof of YMCA by The Village People that included not just dance moves but lyrics that drew attention to the stigmatization and criminalization of people living with HIV and AIDS. 

We watched the original YMCA music video on YouTube and put together a song and dance that drew on the campy, bubbly energy of the song:
“Hey folks, there’s no need for stigma
I said, hey folks, what a bad idea
I said, hey folks, instead why don’t we be an
Awesome, loving community?
It’s not a crime to have HIV/AIDS!”

We took this song and dance to a broader group of youth from Oxfam Canada, Canada World Youth, Youth Services Bureau, Ottawa U, and other organizations and taught a group of 18 people who were 25 or under the lyrics and movements. Hooray for youth coalition building! 

The day of the march, it was bitterly cold. As you can imagine, this thinned our numbers. But the marchers who did come out were enthusiastic and committed to being there. We taught the crowd the words and the dance moves, and we did the flash mob right there on Parliament Hill, next to the Eternal Flame.

We marched, chanted, danced and waved our red ribbons as the condom fairies from Health Services at Ottawa U blessed the people with free safer sex gear along the way. We wove through the Byward Market and made another stop to do the flash mob again as a group. We chanted through the Rideau Centre and at key sites along Elgin Street. It’s not a crime to have H-I-V-AIDS.

After that, we made our way to the Human Rights Memorial, where Caleb Chapesiuk from ACO gave a short speech about what it meant for all of us to be raising our voices about these issues during such an important moment in the history of people living with HIV and AIDS. We shared a moment of silence and then gathered in a circle, arms around each other, to listen to 525,600 Minutes from the Rent soundtrack. Some of us swayed. Some of us cried about the people we’ve lost. Some of us sang along.