A Trump-Era Love Letter for the HIV/AIDS Movement

JD Davids
JD Davids
Emily Huang/Kate Sorensen

In the days immediately following the election, I sought connection and conversation with other longtime HIV/AIDS activists. But I didn't know what I wanted to say or hear.

We talked about being stunned by the present, fearful for the future and suddenly snapped back to the painful but powerful earlier days of the epidemic -- a time when we were so acutely alive but from which so many of our comrades did not emerge.

And, time and again, in these conversations we did what we don't often do. We said, "I love you."

This is a love letter to the weary hearted, for I am among you.

And it is a call for us to live up to our legacy.

In 1989, ACT UP New York protested at Trump Tower on Halloween.

"One protester, dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, waved a sign demanding, 'Surrender Donald,'" notes Stephen Vider in Slate. "ACT UP was in a fight for the lives of people with HIV and AIDS, striking out against government indifference and corporate greed. And they saw Trump for what he was: a monster in the making."

And 27 years later, on World AIDS Day 2016, 11 HIV activists were arrested at the door of House Speaker Paul Ryan's office, backed by a rally of hundreds bearing signs and banners reading, "Ryan & Price's Health care Dream is a Nightmare for People with HIV."

The shoes we fill are big. And fill them we can and will.

Nothing has ever been given to queers and people with HIV. The changes we have seen came from our power to resist, to create, to transform and to survive.

We've done and won incredible things. Our lifesaving victories have spawned a system of research, prevention, treatment and care and shown us that we could end the entire epidemic. And, in so many ways, it is all at risk right now.

But, the ancestral roots of our resistance run deep. They are alive, vibrant with the brilliance and passion of those who came before us, even if many of them are no longer walking among us. The wisdom and essential insolence of those in my movement's family tree flow in my veins, my bloodline of choice.

In 1988, Vito Russo addressed those assembled at a protest at the state capitol in Albany, New York, in words that remain my compass:

Someday, the AIDS crisis will be over. Remember that. And when that day comes -- when that day has come and gone -- there'll be people alive on this earth, gay people and straight people, men and women, black and white, who will hear the story that once there was a terrible disease in this country and all over the world, and that a brave group of people stood up and fought and, in some cases, gave their lives so that other people might live and be free. ... And then, after we kick the shit out of this disease, we're all going to be alive to kick the shit out of this system, so that this never happens again.

I'm still stunned, and I'm still sad. But I'm back, and I'm ready. We've got a lot to do. We've got a system to kick. I love you.

JD Davids is the managing editor of TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com. He is also a board member for Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) and co-producer of #ActivistBasics, a skills-sharing platform for new and experienced activists. A version of this piece will run in OutFront magazine.