There is perhaps no more perfect quote to describe the current state of the AIDS epidemic. A close second would be “out of sight, out of mind.”
Last week I found myself at a fundraiser for the West Hollywood Public Library Foundation and the proposed AIDS memorial. It was a benefit screening of How to Survive A Plague, the Academy-Award nominated and much-honored 2012 documentary about ACT UP New York and the AIDS epidemic.
I spent time with Jim Eigo, a founder of ACT UP NY, who I’d met at their meeting in New York earlier in the month. He participated in a panel discussion that followed the film.
What made me sad – and angry – was that the second book in my series (Friend Grief and AIDS: Thirty Years of Burying Our Friends) is so relevant today. When I started writing it, I thought it would be more of a reflection of my time working in the AIDS community in Chicago in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Boy, was I wrong.
Between the ACT UP meeting and the panel discussion, I felt like I was in a time warp. What year is this, really, when we’re talking about the rising number of infections in young gay men? What year is this, really, when we’re talking about the critical need to lobby our legislators, at all levels of government? What year is this, really, when we’re talking about the threat of AIDS at all?
That time warp is why I’m angry all over again. There are differences, big differences between the early 1980’s and now. We didn’t know what AIDS was (or what to call it), how it was transmitted, how to treat it. Now we know, but it’s still here, still a serious threat, no matter what you’ve been told.
Thanks to medical advances, people really do believe an AIDS diagnosis is no big deal – maybe even an advantage in certain situations. You still think only gay men are at risk? How about women over 50: “I can’t get pregnant, I don’t need a condom.” The truth is still what it was 30 years ago: everyone is at risk.
So while I’m gratified by the early positive reactions to my book, I’m also distressed by the fact that AIDS is still here, still without a cure, still without a vaccine. I’ve lost too many to this equal-opportunity virus; maybe you have, too.
I now find myself part of a second wave of activism, one which is sadly necessary. I hope you’ll join me, so you don’t find yourself grieving for a friend (or two or ten or a hundred) who died from AIDS.