Dean Thullner’s Brilliant! Story

Drafted By Aly Laube

When the HIV/AIDS epidemic first began in the 1980’s, it struck fear and panic into the hearts of victims and medical staff alike. Gay males, in particular, fell privy to the disease, and it spread like wildfire. Via sexual intercourse, blood transfusions, and other various causes, it swept the nation, taking thousands of lives despite the ongoing search for a cure. At the time, being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS was essentially a death sentence, so when Dean Thullner got the news in his twenties, it was hard to stay positive. 

“[Having months to live] was terrifying. When you are young and filled with hope, and suddenly there is none, you find yourself in a very scary, lonely, destructive place,” said Dean, about learning he had HIV. Because of the medical community’s lack of understanding about the disease, hospitals weren’t very open to accepting HIV/AIDS patients, either. Many were left untreated and socially isolated with only each other to lean on. However, St. Paul’s Hospital, situated in downtown Vancouver, did their best to help HIV/AIDS patients however they could. Their staff developed treatments as well as providing care and support for those suffering with the disease, and Dean was one of their most fortunate patients. For him, the hospital’s acceptance and good will was literally a life saver. 

St. Paul's Hospital, located on Burrard St., Vancouver St. Paul’s Hospital, located on Burrard St., Vancouver

“It became very clear that St. Paul’s was the first hospital to not only open their doors, but also their hearts, to all of the dying men in my community. They quickly set up outreach and support for HIV/AIDS, both mentally and physically, without judgment or bias. To this very day, they continue to do so,” Dean recollected. 

It was because of the treatment he received at St. Paul’s that Dean is alive today, and he wants to give back to those who helped return to a happy, healthy life. Every year, Dean produces an event he founded to help fundraise for the hospital, called “Brilliant!”, at the Commodore Ballroom. The evening is a self-described “show of love, dance & fashion”, and will specifically support treatment for mental health and addictions. This year, it will be on September 26th, and an estimated 1000 guests or greater will be in attendance. 

Photography from last year's Brilliant! show
Photography from last year’s Brilliant! show

Many of these guests will be residents of one of Dean’s favourite areas of Vancouver: Davie Village. It’s a bustling, diverse, and welcoming home to those who were hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic the hardest, as well as many folks who struggle with mental health or addiction themselves. 

“I love the Davie Village. It’s had years of adversity and challenges, yet it’s still a strong community of heartfelt, likeminded people who take care of one another,” commented Dean. “Individuals who don’t necessarily fit into all areas of Vancouver can be themselves [there] and the LGBT community has always been supportive and caring when it comes to raising money and awareness…In my experience, minorities are sensitive to judgement and struggles, and in turn are quite often ready to support others in need.”

Photography from last year's Brilliant! show
Photography from last year’s Brilliant! show

From a distance, the connection between physical and mental illness may be unclear. However, Dean explains that “they go hand in hand; when you are unwell physically, you inevitably need support mentally.” Aside from general humanitarianism, the cause is also dear to his heart for personal reasons; his husband of ten years and close family members have dealt with mental illness directly, and Dean has seen countless others like them suffer for too long. “Brilliant!” is his way of helping others get better and find happiness in the community. 

“Finally, we’re talking about making a difference, removing the stigma, and getting people the help they need and deserve…When someone breaks their arm, they get help without question…If your head is broken, the same should apply!”

Photography from last year's Brilliant! show
Photography from last year’s Brilliant! show

If you agree with Dean, and want to support a wonderful hospital and it’s endeavours, “Brilliant!” is probably the most enjoyable way to do it. Spend a fun night out with a group of inspiring, grateful, and loving people, while donating to a worthy cause (and be sure to get your hair done at Dean’s salon before you get there)! You can save a life by having a blast! It doesn’t get much better than that.