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Robert Vazquez-Pacheco on Race, ACT UP and Why Older HIV/AIDS Leaders Need to Pass the Torch

May 10, 2012

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When you look at the future of AIDS activism, does it make you feel optimistic, or sad?

I feel mixed about our future. I feel as if we're still not having the conversations that we have to. For example, what about economic justice? How do we relate AIDS to that? Because if we are having that economic justice conversation, then that will naturally lead to discussions about a whole shitload of other issues that are connected to HIV/AIDS.

But I still feel that there's a potential there. And maybe I'm ascribing too much to it, but I am hoping that the Occupy movement can translate that into something for us. So yeah, I have a guarded optimism -- I can be cynical about this stuff, but I don't actually think that cynicism helps. Because we need to give people some kind of hope that things can change in our lifetime.

I'll be honest; I don't always feel so great about the future. [Laughs.]

No. I hear you, girl; I hear you. But here's the thing: The work needs to be done and that's why I did it. First of all, because it needed to be done. In the end, if you don't step up, you really can't expect anyone else to.

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Now that is true. What I really get worried about is the lack of young people in this movement and the lack of mentoring going on to develop the next crop of young leaders. I am not super young, but I am younger than most of the people on the panels that I am on and some of them, not all of them, talk to me like I am in high school. And I'm like, "Who are you talking to like that?" [Laughs.]

This is a complaint that I hear from other young leaders, who have great insight, are not afraid to take risks and are super innovative, but have supervisors or "elders" who dismiss them and their contributions. This vibrant, young leadership shouldn't have to wait for older leaders to die to be able to have positions of power. Go to USCA, the International AIDS Conference, or even a smaller conference, and it seems that the people asked to be on a prestigious plenary are all over the age of 40.

You're absolutely right. You don't know how many times I have been in situations where people offered me a job or asked me to do something, and I have said, "Why don't you get someone else? Why don't you get a young person?" I said, "You don't need this old queen talking. You need someone who is ahead with young people." I joke with people that I'm very, very willing to pass the torch. Just take it. Here's the torch; here's the outfit. Take it! Take it!

Yeah, but so many people in leadership positions are not willing to do what you will. I understand this desire to want to hold on to this epidemic, because a lot of people were here in the beginning doing the work when people my age were learning how to read. But no one is asking them to retire or disappear, just share this stage. Share knowledge. Especially with those young folks who are really on point and incredibly progressive, because that's the kind of thinking that we need right now.

I've always said that if you're in an organization for 10 years, then that's a mistake on your part, and on the part of your organization. Because you should keep it current. Because things do not exist in a vacuum. Whatever your relationship was to the epidemic back then, or what happened -- which is formative, and we appreciate the work you've done -- but that's not necessarily the epidemic now. We have to have people on the ground who understand what's happening right now and who can come with insight and information. I mean, God, just look at stuff like social media and how important that is in reaching young people.

What scares me is the legacy being left by the elders, and how we are being fostered as leaders if there is this resentment at times between the generations.

I agree with you. It's very interesting because I always talk about how one thing that AIDS did was take away mentorship in our community. Back in the day, when I came out as a young gay man and I went out into the world, there were always older gay men who were there to help you and correct you. You know, to check you, like, "Oh, no, you're not going to do that now. Really? You've had enough. Go home." You know? And so there was this sort of passing on of knowledge, if you will, generationally. That just isn't happening in the way that it needs to now, not in the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community and not in HIV/AIDS leadership.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.

Follow Kellee on Twitter: @kelleent.


Copyright © 2012 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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This article was provided by TheBody.com.
 
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