Wilson Hodder, 1949-01-26 - 2000-07-04

By Terry Goodwin

As twilight illuminated the stained glass windows of StJohnsUnitedChurch in Halifax and Denis Ryan sang about dory fishing one last time off Cape Saint Mary's, I looked about the sanctuary at the 300-plus gathered on to see who else had come to say farewell to WilsonHodder.

Minutes before, Rev RoyEllis, a hospital AIDS chaplain, had described Wilson as a complex man: sailor, AIDS activist, partner, gay rights activist, pagan, Buddhist, leatherman and animal lover. And he was a bane to politicians.

The congregation reflected the diversity that Wilson's day-to-day life encompassed. There was the nun, the province's former minister of health and social services, the media, treatment activists, infants, AIDS volunteers, gay and lesbian rights activists, family, the occasional opponent and the leather boys.

In the chancel, a panel from the Names Project Of Canada hung motionless. In the centre was a square of the Nova Scotia tartan and the names of 12 souls who had been claimed by AIDS pre-1988. The Nova Scotia Persons With AIDS Coalition had submitted it. Wilson had touched both these organizations at their conception.

As I sat there in my black suit (which hasn't been to enough gala events but to way too many funerals), it occurred that those who weren't there were conspicuous by their absence. Those of us from the Stonewall era and early days of "gay cancer" are becoming kind of thin on the ground. Fifteen year ago, this would have been a funeral and not a "celebration of life," and the church would have been filled with mostly gay men, and not the cross-section of Canadians represented here tonight. That itself was a tribute to Wilson. He'd cast his net in many directions.

I remember Wilson mostly as a teacher. He was always passing on information, sage advice, points to ponder, documents galore... and the occasional pilfered in-flight magazine. He was forever grooming the next generation of warriors in the orderly confusion of his cramped office. Novice volunteers must have seen Wilson as a cross between Yoda, the all knowing, and Billy Goat Gruff: mysterious and daunting. Being summoned by Wilson had the eerie feeling of being asked to the principal's office. The sanctum of his study in the home he shared with TerryMartin, his partner of more than two decades, reflected another Wilson: the scholar, the philosopher, the music lover and kindred spirit of the sea.

In the last few months, Canada has lost other role models from her queer community: Jim Egan and his partner Jack Nesbit. With the passing of those who have helped change how gays and lesbians are perceived by others in society, we owe a huge debt of gratitude, but we can't be complacent. The great strides made to combat inequalities toward gays, lesbians, the transgendered and for improvements in the care and treatment of those living with HIV and AIDS are ongoing, not over.

We, the living, are duty bound to continue these causes. Not just because we have to. But because it's the right thing to do. And if we don't, well, I think Wilson, Jack and Jim would be right some pissed off, bye!

WilsonHodder, born in Ireland's Eye, Newfoundland, died at 51 of complications due to AIDS, at home in Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia, surrounded by friends and caregivers. In May 1999, Wilson was one of the first two men in the country to qualify for same-sex spousal survivor benefits under the Canada Pension Plan when the federal justice minister acknowledged to a tribunal that the rules are discriminatory.

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