Article for World AIDS Day

I wrote this the morning of December 2nd, with the hope of getting it published in a weekly paper in San Francisco.  That never happened, and perhaps at this point, weeks later, it seems moot to still want to harp on about it, but I do.  It’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to

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I was deeply saddened this World AIDS day, and not for the obvious reasons.  Rather, because in San Francisco – a city that is deeply connected with the AIDS crisis, there was nothing happening that felt like active engagement.

There were two main events that I heard about.  One was a cocktail party happening the night before Dec 2, and the other was a noontime commemoration to a few political figures with a high school band to add atmosphere.  Both took place at the AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park.  Despite neither being a particularly interesting event to me I would have attended one, had not both had components that I couldn’t quite stomach.

A Light in the Grove (as sponsored by Stoli vodka and Gilead) was specifically to celebrate the anniversary of the Ryan White CARE act.  It was to be “an outdoor, tented evening reception with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, featuring performance art and brilliant displays of light throughout the Grove” – tickets priced sliding scale: 150 to 10,000 dollars.  How many poz people can afford that?

The next day a free event was taking place, but the name: ‘We will NEVER let our nation FORGET‘ was so ironic that hearing it felt the equivalent of listening to nails dragged down a chalkboard for hours.  For starters – it was so haphazardly advertised that I – someone who leads a work and personal life focused on HIV, only heard about it 2 days before.  Judging from the 40 ‘yes’ replies on facebook posting the morning of, perhaps I wasn’t the only one to slip through the cracks.  Then – it’s pretty easy to forget an event that happens tucked in an enclave specifically devoted to AIDS, in the middle of an enormous park – isn’t something I would think would be especially confronting to the average person who wants to ignore the AIDS crisis.

From what I could tell not one of the people being honored are HIV positive (or out about it at least).  This is a major problem.  Imagine a Transgender Day of Remembrance event where no one on stage was transgendered.  Would that not seem wrong?  The face of AIDS community has been taken away from poz people and handed to politicians and non-profit organizers.  Honorees Laura Thomas and Jeanne White Ginder (mother of Ryan White) are both incredible AIDS activists, but their presence shouldn’t mean another’s absence.

Most importantly ‘We will NEVER let our nation FORGET’ implies that there is something to forget, and that something is over.  If AIDS is over then the funerals I’ve been to and the criminalization that locks poz people behind bars and the brand of christianity that made it’s way from the USA to Uganda to promote the death sentence for HIV+ men must all be in my imagination.  I know that the AIDS memorial grove is important to some people, otherwise it wouldn’t exist.  And the onus shouldn’t be only on them to create something of meaning.  But I want this editorial to be a reminder that we can.  ACT UP isn’t just something you read about in history books – there are active chapters in Philadelphia and New York.  In Washington DC for World AIDS Day there was a funeral at the white house – to remind Obama that we are STILL here.

So why is San Francisco so different?  Perhaps it is because all the airtime of AIDS is taken up by NGO’s battling for the most ostentatious ad campaign.  Perhaps it’s because the toll of AIDS was so profound that people can’t bear to think about it any longer. Or perhaps it’s because the AIDS culture is now dominated by a billion dollar industry that suppresses the voices of the people who are most affected.  In any case I’ve had enough of this atmosphere of apathy and AIDSploitation.  I know I’m not the only one feeling this anger, AIDS activism can happen again and we have to make sure it does.  Then we can really make sure this nation never, ever forgets.

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