Website run by a nun in a caravan is nominated for awards

Graham McKerrow

The AEGIS website, run by a nun from a caravan in California, has been nominated for awards for being perhaps the most exhaustive and accessible source of information on HIV.

The AIDS Education Global Information System was set up by Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark 12 years ago on a homemade computer in the 60ft mobile home she shares with her 91-year-old father in San Juan Capistrano. The free site has 750,000 documents, which Clark and two staff update daily. It receives 7 million hits a year.

Now AEGIS, which has an annual budget of $200,000, mostly from Boehringer Ingelheim, has been nominated for inclusion in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme, which preserves the world’s most important libraries and archives.

AIDS activist and playwright Larry Kramer has suggested Clark, aged 64, for an award from the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

Kramer told the Los Angeles Times: “She provides incredible and important information for my daily life, and I couldn’t get along without it.” When Bill Clinton was in power the executive office of the president of the United States checked the latest postings every morning.

Clark is no stranger to publicity, having enlisted in the US Navy as a man and in the US Army as a woman before becoming a nun. After 17 years in the Navy as Michael Clark, she had gender reassignment surgery and enlisted in the Army reserves. She was open about her transsexuality and the Army voided her enlistment. She sued and won a $25,000 settlement and an honourable discharge.

Raised a Christian, Clark then took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at St Clement’s By-the-Sea Episcopal Church in San Clemente, but within a week the bishop rejected her vows. Clark commented: “I made my vows to God, not a church.”

Clark, who has also been married twice and fathered a son, still rises at 5am to upload reports to AEGIS but says she must now train others to continue the site without her.


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