Life

Support this documentary about a gay ‘saint’ who helped poor, HIV-positive people die with dignity

Hank Wilson, Sisters of Perpetual Inudlgence
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During the height of the AIDS epidemic, Hank Wilson ran a hospice for hundreds of poor, HIV-positive San Franciscans. But today, few people are aware of who he was or what he did. A new documentary on his life and work aims to change this.

The project, spearheaded by composer and activist Bob Ostertag, will explore Wilson’s life and LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS activism.

Wilson was active in San Francisco throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He founded or co-founded many key Bay Area organizations including the Harvey Milk Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Democratic Club; Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center; the Gay Teachers Coalition; the Castro Street Safety Patrol; the PWA Coalition; and the Frameline Film Festival, amongst many others.

He also started the AIDS Candlelight Vigil, now known as the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, and did some of his strongest and longest-lasting work around the AIDS crisis.

Wilson, a former kindergarten teacher who managed the Ambassador Hotel in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, used the space as a hospice for those dying of the disease.

Related: The history of the iconic LGBTQ rainbow flag

Even in the midst of this, he formed the first LGBTQ comedy club in San Francisco, the Valencia Rose Cafe, hosting then up-and-coming talents like Whoopi Goldberg and Lea Delaria.

Despite his grand efforts, he led a humble life, even sleeping on the floor of his own one-room apartment.

Hank Wilson
Hank Wilson’s apartment and bed

True to his humble spirit, the documentary itself is hosting a Kickstarter for a mere $15,000, with much of the work donated by the community and those involved themselves. Any money raised beyond the final costs will be donated to the organizations Wilson helped start — a fitting tribute to his legacy.

As of this writing, the Kickstarter has raised just over half the funds needed to make this project a reality. Take a look at their video and consider joining their cause.

The documentary will also feature animation by Jeremy Rourke, music by the Kronos Quartet and Tin Hat and a slate of interviews including comedian Lea Delaria, former State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and singer-songwriter Blackberri.

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