Laurie Edmiston honoured with award for decades of leadership in social justice for the HIV/AIDS community
Laurie Edmiston is being recognized with a Casey Award for decades of leadership in social justice for the HIV/AIDS community. The award honours Edmiston’s many years of work in harm reduction, HIV treatment and prevention, and U=U.
For more than 35 years, Laurie was an outstanding leader in mobilizing a response to HIV locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally. A response grounded in the principles of social justice and health equity for vulnerable populations. Having recently retired, she leaves behind an impressive legacy of accomplishments.
In 1986, she began working in HIV as the manager of Youth-Link Inner City, a program for Toronto street youth. There, Laurie advocated for and helped start the first needle and syringe distribution program in Toronto. She pushed for free condoms in youth hostels and other youth settings amidst the resistance of colleagues and community norms of the time. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s she was also involved in volunteer work with community-based organizations responding to HIV
In 1997, Laurie went on to lead People with AIDS Foundation (PWA) amidst a time of resistance to new HIV treatments and people skeptical of health care. Laurie led the agency and its staff to provide initiatives addressing the complex social and health care needs of people living with HIV. They created practical and financial support as well as social programs for people who were isolated, and under her leadership they also started support programs to help people making decisions about initiating, adhering to, and changing HIV treatments. At this time, the organization launched the Friends for Life Bike Rally, a popular fundraiser celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
Following her time with PWA, Laurie was the executive director of CATIE (Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange) for 21 years until she retired in 2022. During her tenure, CATIE expanded its mandate to include prevention, testing, treatment, and care for hepatitis C as well as HIV. She was the first executive director among local and national community partners to publicly support U=U (Undetectable=Untransmittable), and her credibility as a leader in the community was key to broader acceptance in Canada of the U=U message. Says the current executive director Jody Jollimore, “Coming to CATIE after Laurie’s tenure truly feels like standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Laurie was known for caring deeply about the real impact of her work on the communities most affected by HIV, and the related issues they encountered. She built a reputation as a fearless advocate for HIV and harm reduction, and as a strong mediator, facilitator, and negotiator in her dealings with partnering organizations, funders, and other HIV stakeholders. She is well known for her considered and informed decision-making, her articulate vision, and her inclusive collaboration.
Casey House extends warm congratulations to Laurie Edmiston on achieving this recognition.