To celebrate Gay Pride Month this June, we wanted to know the following: What do you think generations of LGBT folks before and/or after yours need to understand about the way your generation has responded to HIV/AIDS?
To those folks after my generation, I would say very simply that we have made progress but we haven't done enough. We haven't let go of our baggage and our pain and our assumptions and our agendas enough to REALLY figure out effective ways to not only teach you about HIV/AIDS but to teach others what it means to live, love, and thrive with this disease. I am sorry that we have played politics with your health, and I apologize that we haven't been brave enought to face our own fears with love and compassion for ourselves. If we had done so, we would, perhaps, have been able to set aside all of that in your interest. Instead, we've continued to look to our own interests first. Have patience and kindness with yourselves, love yourself first, and look past what the preacher might have said or your parents might have said or your elected offical might have said and do what is best, kindest and most loving for you and for others. This, more than anything else, will move us to a place and a day when HIV/AIDS is a closed chapter in our human story.
If I were given the opportunity, I would speak to the older generation of activist mentors who I met through ACT UP Philadelphia, in particular gay men who died of AIDS, to thank them for all they taught me as they built a bridge -- between their work on civil rights and gay liberation and other struggles, and the battle against HIV/AIDS -- in what they knew were probably the last months or years of their lives. I'd thank them for that, and seek their guidance in how best to work now on a broader LGBTQ and AIDS agenda that needs to be as radical as they were.
Learning about HIV was scary. In fact, I remember the '80s when people were dying at rapid rates. I also remember how careless I was after meeting an older gentleman at a piano lounge. Unfortunately, condoms never came up in the conversation.
Fifteen years later, I tested positive. Not from that experience, but another one. As a result, I'm taking medicine for the remainder of my life. Sadly, many of my friends and associates never had the opportunity to take such treatments, and are dead because of this sexually transmitted disease.
This is why it baffles me that people are still testing positive. With so many campaigns promoting prevention and safe sex messages, no one has an excuse. Therefore, stop being careless and use protection if you're having sex. After all, it will prevent you from becoming the next statistic.
As for informing generations after mine, I would most likely just refer them to the excellent new production on Broadway of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart or perhaps have them read Randy Shilts' classic And The Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic or Paul Monette's Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir. Perhaps even view the tearjerking 1989 film Longtime Companion or the absorbing new documentary from David Weissman, We Were Here. For those who might prefer a more straightforward scientific rendering of events and what transpired during the first quarter century of one of the world's worst pandemics and a discussion of why humanity failed to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, I might suggest they view the PBS/Frontline documentary "The Age of AIDS."
Nonetheless, despite these resources, apparently Body Central wants my personal commentary on their question as we approach this year's Gay Pride celebrations and the milestone 30th anniversary of the discovery of HIV/AIDS. I have way too much to say on this topic for a single blog (or even multiple blogs); consequently, I've decided to respond to my "homework assignment" by constructing a type of photoessay examining HIV/AIDS through the prism of mass media, Hollywood and pop culture, including how the media portrayed my own personal experience of being "virally enhanced." Read the full article and view images
Steven-Emmanuel Martinez, New York City Housing Authority Fellow/Student, Brooklyn, NY
Over the past six years I have worked or interned in five different organizations, in one capacity or another, to reduce the rate of HIV infection in young sexual minorities of color. I have sat at prevention planning meetings, panels, and have had discussions with countless AIDS administrators, and what many of them have failed to realize is that the conversations we've been having about HIV and AIDS isn't working. My work experiences have shown me that young gay men of color have access to HIV education, but they're resisting the information. And why shouldn't we? Social marketing campaigns dominate the walls of club bathrooms; outreach workers are dispatched with condoms and surveys at every venue we occupy; and discussions around HIV and AIDS dominate the spheres of our safe spaces. All of this serving as an ugly reminder of where we stand in this world: at risk. Who wants to continuously be reminded that they're an at-risk group? With this said, the generation before mine -- in particular, the public health community and HIV preventionists -- need to back off a little.
Young gay men of color are living blindly through fear and shame. We are navigating the terrains of our sexual and racial identities. We are an often forgotten and marginalize subset of the population with no control over the racism, emasculation, and homophobia that society imposes on us. And most likely, we are left to navigate these adversities by ourselves. Through empirical data, observation, and experience, I can firmly attest to our need to look for the validity that we do not get from our respective communities and families, through low inhibitions with our sexual partners. What I need for the generation before me, the public health and HIV preventionists to understand, is that we must have room to breathe. We are suffocating in your prevention, all the while dealing with the social stratification that comes with our complex identities. Give us hope. Validate our existence. And stop reducing our lives to sex and disease. We are much more than data and statistics. Our lives need to be celebrated and affirmed. After all, the celebration and affirmation of our lives -- I strongly believe -- is the only denominator left in the fight against AIDS.
Johnny Jesus Guaylupo, Program Coordinator, Housing Works' YMSM Program; Chair, VOCAL NY; New York, N.Y.
The LGBT generations before and/or after my generation need to understand the effectiveness of activism. For the past seven years I have organized, participated in civil disobedience, and spoken publicly about issues affecting my community. We are a force that no one can destroy but we can only do this by working together, forming coalitions, teach-ins, and helping to change policy to better address the HIV/AIDS crisis in general but specifically in the LGBT community. Our leaders are to be held accountable and it's up to us to make sure they are aware of what is happening in our communities. This can only happen if we lobby our government and work with the media to make sure the public is aware of issues affecting us. YOU ARE NOT ALONE! You can do it with support from many activists around the world.
Kali, Campaign to End AIDS N.Y. / Youth; New York, N.Y.
Although I am not a member of the LBGT community, it would be foolish of me to act as if our paths will not and do not cross ... I think that the generations before and after us need to understand that we are no longer fighting the disease, but more so the stigmas along with it; and for this new generation, the fact that it has become no longer feared and is becoming a norm. Living with HIV/AIDS is not a reason to be ostracized, and the fact that people are living long lives with it doesn't mean we no longer need to protect ourselves or end the epidemic.
I'm tired of hearing that younger gay men don't "get it," that they don't share the same sense of urgency about HIV/AIDS as older gay men like me who survived the 1980s. Well of course they see AIDS differently! Their friends are not dying every day. They live in a world where HIV isn't the murderous plague it was for me. And you know what? Thank God for that. I'm glad we can't rely on funerals to make people use a condom anymore. That's progress.
Invisible. That's what my HIV generation is. Stuck between a generation that bore the brunt of ignorance, fear and shortened lives (1980s) through whose pain and sacrifice we owe our current quality of life, and a generation (Millennials) that never knew life before AIDS.
For Millennials, HIV is no longer a death sentence. They've become complacent. Unafraid of a terminal illness. Perhaps, due to ads that seem to glorify HIV with beautiful models and incredible physiques.
MY generation is uniquely aware of how far we've come. We remember the '80s, the introduction of HAART, and now are hopeful of the direction we are heading. While there's progress, OUR war continues. Some of us, like myself, have donated our bodies to science. Experimenting with new treatments in order to see the other book-END of HIV/AIDS. That those that follow may experience THE CURE and live a full, normal and healthy life. But until that day, THERE IS STILL NO CURE!
I think the younger generations of LGBTQ folks need to understand the severity of the disease. In the late '80s and early '90s we responded fiercely and militantly because everyone with HIV/AIDS was dying. We had to make a lot of noise because no one was listening and the government and health care system were failing us. People who are now in their 20s and 30s don't remember the devastation and "walking dead" of the first years of the AIDS epidemic. Because of that there is an apathy about fighting HIV and about protecting themselves. Of course now the treatment options are much better but I think a lot of young people just think they can take a pill and everything will be fine. While we hope that treatments keep getting better and there is eventually a cure, it's still a potentially fatal illness. Now we are facing federal funding cuts and people will not be getting the care they need. It's time to make noise again. Lives depend on it.
As we approach the PRIDE season, we celebrate who we are. Let us also celebrate from where we came. We have a rich history of humanitarian advocacy that is simply unsurpassed in all of mankind. We buried our fear and dared to hold and care for our dying friends, at a time when their own families pushed them to the curb. We didn't have to have all the facts and understand possible risks to ourselves as caretakers; we only knew that love was the right response.
We took to the streets as activists and lobbied our elected officials as advocates. We united as a community and showed a misguided world who we really were. As the Director of OASIS, I celebrate the rich history of courage and compassion of the LGBT community, as we built the foundation of most all HIV/AIDS organizations in this country. Every organization that I have been privileged to affiliate with was founded by members of the LGBT community. We were there when no one else was doing what had to be done to provide comfort and support for our brothers and sisters, including those outside the LGBT Community. I have buried hundreds of loving friends over the last 23 years of my involvement.
As a longtime LGBT advocate, I think it is high time to bring HIV/AIDS back to the forefront of our causes. Let's set our priorities to include the battle against HIV/AIDS. With deep budget cuts to all the vital HIV programs we will again be burying our community instead of rejoicing with them. People tell me we don't need to be visible in HIV/AIDS advocacy or AIDS will once again define us. I disagree; it was our fight for human health needs around this disease that brought recognition and honor to our community. There is no honor if we abandon those most in need of support. We cannot pretend that AIDS is not a part of our community. Show your PRIDE this year by showing your support for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Ed Perlmutter, HIV Testing Activist, TheBody.com Blogger; Boston, Mass.
The C Word (and it's not what you think so please, pretty please, keep reading) is what got me into the positive boat in which I row. The C Word also keeps the HIV/AIDS crisis alive and well and propagating itself each minute of every day.
Complacency. The C Word. I became complacent. No one seemed to be talking about the virus about the same time I got infected and about the same time the medical community became complacent about discussing the virus, let alone offering routine HIV tests about the same time new and unnecessary infections continued to occur unabated.
Our President in the U.S. is 45 days older than me -- we'll both turn 50 in the next few months. We're members of the Complacent Generation, part of the problem. If and only if we get our collective acts together will we be part of the solution.
Dr. Anthony Fauci's statement from the NIH/NIAID on 2010 National HIV Testing Day reads: "Routine HIV testing is central to eradicating the HIV/AIDS pandemic" yet the terms "routine testing" or "routine HIV testing" do not appear once, not a single time, in the Obama administration's National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
What up with that? Who's zooming whom? Unfortunately I can smell The C Word a mile away, and the stench leads to major disconnects and avoidable infinite loops (or infinite gaps) in curbing the HIV infection rate.
Complacency also leads to the River Denial, the same river in which too many in my generation wade (minimum) knee deep.
Not the legacy, or mucky waters, I wish to leave to future generations.
Speaking as a proud two-spirit (an LGBT Native) person, LGBT folks need to understand that in many respects HIV/AIDS is our modern-day small-pox blanket that is being wrapped around my community and the response to HIV/AIDS for my community cannot and should not be a numbers game.
As a male two-spirit, if I were to attempt to access HIV/AIDS prevention or direct services that were culturally tailored or appropriate for my community, the choices are next to none. Indian Health Services (IHS) and other mainstream Native-serving organizations offer next to nothing in programming to my community, and the same holds true for services offered by LGBT-serving organizations. There are currently 10 unfunded organizations in the county working for and with the two-spirit community, and to date IHS has yet to work or fund any of their work.
Native people have nearly been wiped out by other diseases (pathogenic and social), so our numbers are greatly reduced compared to other non-indigenous ethnicities. We are often told that our HIV prevalence rates are lower than that of other ethnicities, therefore resource must be allocated to those other groups. However, the harsh reality is we are the indigenous peoples of this land. The loss of one Native person could very well be the loss of an entire Nation -- just like so many past Native Nations that are no longer with us today. For us this is one of the many fights we are waging for our very survival this generation and all the future generations.
Nelson Vergel, Founder, Body Positive Wellness Clinic and Program for Wellness Restoration; TheBody.com Fitness Expert and Blogger; Houston, Texas
I feel so lucky to be alive now. Watching how HIV cure research is moving forward, how LGBT rights are expanding, how more and more of us with HIV are out on Facebook and the media to knock down stigma, how I am no longer ashamed to say I am gay and positive when someone asks me personal questions sitting next to me on a plane, how many of us are able to get married in different states and countries, how the military can no longer say that we are perverts with defects, how most TV shows have gay characters of all kinds, how many schools have straight-gay alliances, how the "It Gets Better" campaign now has ads in many TV programs, and hopefully many other good things that will come through in the next five years.
Yes, it seems that the world is getting more negative and bad news is plastered everywhere, but the reality is that for many of us, life is actually better now than it was 20 years ago. There is a lot of work ahead of us, but it amazes me how far we have come just in a few years. And as young people start taking over key positions as the older, more jaded generation dies off, things will continue to improve for minorities like us. We can choose to be spectators that complain about how bad things are, or get off our butts to join the many brothers and sisters out there not losing faith about the endless possibilities for what we can advocate.
Gary Paul Wright, Executive Director, African American Office of Gay Concerns/ Newark, N.J.
Since the day I first volunteered as a "buddy" at GMHC way back in 1985, things have changed, and not necessarily for the better. The fight against AIDS has become complacent; there seems to be a lack of urgency. Back then, our friends were dying right before our eyes and we attended many a funeral. We were a community in mourning, but still a community. And we got angry. ACT-UP was created. Black AIDS Mobilization was created. We marched on Washington; we marched on the United Nations. We created change. But somewhere along the way we've become comfortably numb. Hmmm. It may sound sacrilegious, but I miss the good ol' days - -when activists did a lot of activatin'.
Last year, we asked "Is LGBT Pride Still Significant Nowadays?" Read the responses here.
Comment by: T. Ng
Wed., Jun. 15, 2011 at 11:39 am EDT
It's interesting to reminisce about the "good old days" of activism and HIV, because it almost seems to necessitate fondly reminiscing about a time in which HIV was an expedient death sentence. Has the HIV/AIDS movement gone complacent? Or has the threat weakened?
The reality is that HIV just isn't the same deadly disease it was in the 80's. We didn't know what caused AIDS, we didn't know exactly how it was transmitted, and we didn't have the medications to control it. That made HIV a lion in the night. But the sun has risen, and even with the predator there, we can see it, and we know what it is and where it is, even if we haven't defeated it yet.
I completely agree that now is not the time to rest on our laurels. We are obligated to deliver the metaphorical killing stroke to HIV in the form of addressing needs for those living with HIV, education on safe sex, promoting routine testing, erasing stigma, and developing a cure (which we are closer to now than ever).
But I think it's bizarre to whitewash the very different and horrific context of HIV as an unknown, expedient, and deadly assailant in the 80's simply because the social action and activism that arose from it is something we want to recapture. If I happened to be as in the dark now as I was growing up in the 80's and 90's, then yes, I would stand around befuddled at our response. But I'm not, and we are not, and while we must never be complacent or believe that the fight is over, we shouldn't pretend that the fight is the same as it was. We were cornered and lashed out with the power that comes from having no way out. Now we are armed and experienced and the fight is different.
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This photojournalism project chronicles the stories of LGBT youth from around the country. It captures the voices of young people whose stories often aren't being told.
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