AIDS activism

Today marks the 28th Worlds AIDS Day and I truly believe we are on the cusp of making historic advancements that will decrease new infections and offer better quality treatment for people living with HIV. But there’s a catch. As we all know, Donald Trump was elected president, and represents one of the many political leaders and parties threatening smart, effective public health policy. From the erosion of the NHS in the United Kingdom following Brexit to Trump’s HHS pick who is a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Art, there is a real possibility we can turn back every advancement we’ve had and choose not to head the guidance of countless global health organizations.

It’s important to remember that our Vice President-Elect, Mike Pence, thought it wise to cut funding to Planned Parenthood in Indiana. The result? A massive HIV outbreak that was 100% preventable. It’s also important to remember that while high rates of HIV infection exist in New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, and other known centers, HIV infection rates are higher in places like Atlanta, Miami, and New Orleans—cities that exist in states with fully conservative legislatures who have blocked healthcare expansion at every turn.

What this means is that HIV prevention and treatment in this country continues to be largely unequal. White, gay men continue to have better access to prevention methods (including PrEP), and are more likely to have an undetectable viral load if they are living with HIV. These disparities mean that Black and Latino men, have disproportionately high new infection rates, even as programs that target these communities are being developed. Further cuts to the Affordable Care Act could only exacerbate these inequalities.

The question I think a lot of us are asking is, “What can we do?” I’ve yet to see a definitive plan to address HIV/AIDS policy in the context of a Donald Trump administration. However, I don’t think that means things are hopeless. There are some tangible ways to engage with political systems, with service organizations and on an individual level.

  1. Find your testing site. This seems basic, but it really is the first regular way to know your status and seek out treatment if you are diagnosed as HIV positive.
  2. Call your Congressmen and local representatives. First, find out who these representatives are and tell them that supporting the Affordable Cart Act and funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment is important. Even if you want to email them, calling is more impactful.
  3. Donate to organizations that promote HIV/AIDS justice. I’d suggest any of the following, though be sure to talk a look at some of the other local organizations in your area.
    1. Visual AIDS: https://www.visualaids.org/support
    2. The Black AIDS Institute: https://www.blackaids.org/aboutus/donate
    3. Planned Parenthood: http://ow.ly/h7it306H2SVA
    4. The Latino Commission on AIDS: https://www.latinoaids.org/support/donate.php
    5. National Minority AIDS Council: https://nmac.z2systems.com/np/clients/nmac/donation.jsp
    6. APICHA (New York City): https://apicha.org/donate/
    7. Positive Impact Health Centers (Atlanta): https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/pihc25thyear?code=25thyear
    8. Project Lazarus (New Orleans): http://www.projectlazarus.net/donate.htm
    9. The Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis: http://ow.ly/Jv5k306H4dA
    10. San Francisco AIDS Foundation: http://bit.ly/2fNstoG
    11. AIDS Project Los Angeles: https://apla.netdonor.net/page/2606/donate/1
  4. Building educational programming around HIV/AIDS is a key component of ending an epidemic. Public policy alone will not stop HIV. In a post a few days ago, I outlined a course around HIV/AIDS justice. Given the fact that so little history about HIV/AIDS is taught in schools, more insurgent education is important.
  5. Researching and participating in resurgent HIV/AIDS activist movements. Now, more than ever, ACT UP and other similar branches need your support. There is much to do to grow the capacity and diversity of these organizations, but in the 1980s and 1990s they achieved tremendous progress in HIV/AIDS activism and are worth emulating in some capacity.

I want to end this by saying that I’m not a journalist. I don’t have an academic job. The work around HIV/AIDS I do is self-directed and self-funded but I’ve made it a personal mission, irrespective of my profession or means of living, to be an advocate for HIV/AIDS justice. I saw my great uncle die. I’ve seen too many friends get HIV. I’ve felt the personal shame over my sexual behavior. I believe a new and better sexual culture, and world, is possible. Today I ask you to join me and pledge to commit yourself to stop HIV and start creating new, sex-positive spaces everywhere.

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The following post is meant to a practical way to discuss the HIV/AIDS crisis in an academic setting, while focusing on using knowledge about HIV/AIDS history, arts and culture to generate new activist potentials.


Action Appendix #1

Sample Lesson Plan For Course on HIV/AIDS Justice

Given the misinformation, or lack of information, being taught about HIV/AIDS, one of the biggest tangible steps to build justice for people living with HIV and for stronger sexual health programs in general is to educate individuals about the complexities of HIV/AIDS and its effects on LGBTQ individuals. I have tried to build in levels of complexity that can be adapted for different audiences. Any of these individual sessions can also be adapted for single classes or workshops in a variety of ways. Importantly, a major component of this syllabus is based in practical design, whether for a research project, community action, or intervention.

(Given the sensitive or challenging nature of the materials, this is suggested for individuals over the age of 18, though certain sources can be adapted for even younger audiences who we know are also at risk for contracting HIV.)

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In the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking and planning for what has always been the goal of Our Viral Lives: to write a full-length book that provides an insight into how digital storytelling practices can build HIV/AIDS political power and transform individual perceptions, often negative, of HIV/AIDS. I’m happy to now share the outline for this writing. Let me know if you have any questions.

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I’ve known since the beginning of the year that I would be going to Mexico City and South Africa but I haven’t know what I’m doing. Finally, I’m excited to announce a more concrete plan of what I’ll be doing and offer a little insight into the process. All of this has been a while in the making, but I’m happy to finally be going somewhere and setting myself up for a lot of exciting things to come.

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2015 has been such a transformative year for me sexually, in ways that I hadn’t expected. There was a lot of rush earlier in the year to make Our Viral Lives into something bigger than it could yet become. In taking a step back, I think I found something far more powerful in the project: to bring pleasure, desire and creation to the forefront of a project on HIV/AIDS. This letter responds to that.

==

Dear Ghost,

I write this letter to you, at this moment in time, to let you know I’ve left you for good. I write this letter to you, now, because I’m done letting you do what you want to my body. I’ve started this thing where I claim ownership over my desire, and it’s so much better than worrying about always disappearing into your image.

I understand why you’re here. I’m grateful and humbled by your presence. You commemorate millions of dead from AIDS, and millions more who have HIV living under terrible stigma. But you also always embody the worst kind of fear. A fear so consuming and debilitating that I could never get close to anyone without worrying I would become you.

However, I am not you. 2015 marks a year of possibility, however finite and measured that possibility might be. For myself, I’ve had to confront some uncomfortable truths recently. I just realized this year was the first I had sex with an openly poz guy. Now I’ve had sex with three different poz guys on multiple occasions. Why hadn’t I had sex with them before?

I wasn’t avoiding them consciously but I think it was buried in my thought process that I would turn into Uncle Jimmy. That I would, somehow, end up a half-machine in a hospital bed, gasping for life, ready to turn into you, the statistic, you the slut, you who brought your death upon yourself. But all of this now seems so absurd. It seems so wrong. I betrayed your memory. I betrayed my body. I was living a life of betrayal.

It’s not easy to let go of any of this. It’s not easy to recognize the potential power my body has, but it’s happening. I fuck more freely. I fuck to connect, not to escape. I fuck because it helps me find a purpose I never knew I could experience. You always wanted to make this experience about remembering. I choose now to make this experience about the future.

I understand consent in a way I hadn’t before. Consent is mutual. Consent is an act of shared recognition of our power. And you were denying me the opportunity to recognize that. When I fuck and have conservations with other men about fucking and our bodies turn into blunt objects, ready to tear apart shame and stigma, I’m so present. It’s hard to always be in this state, to be present, but it’s imperative if we ever hope to change anything.

It’s not that I don’t see you or recognize your presence anymore. It’s that you’re not my bedfellow any longer. You’re there in this archive. You get close to me sometimes, but your touch is lightning fast now. You will back away because you’re afraid of me now. You should be afraid of us, this moment undressed, this growing movement, possibility that hasn’t existed in a long time.

All I wonder, as I write this to you, as I think about my own failures in the past to recognize the powers and potential of pleasure, is how others can find that like I have found? How can I get others, beyond the men I fuck, to join with me? There’s no easy answer, but that’s part of the excitement of it, of creating this embodied archive. With each cumshot and moan and orgasm, it becomes a richer tapestry of desire.

I’m also starting to realize it doesn’t know where it ends because there isn’t any end. My tote bag says, “Let’s hold each other until it’s all over.” But it’ll never be over, not in the conventional sense that HIV will be gone out of every fold of our body. And that’s OK because under my terms these future embraces nourish and sustain, unlike what you were ever able to provide to me.

-Kyle

There are so many urgent problems worth solving in this world that it becomes difficult to decide what your focus will be. Focus should not be assumed as such an absolute. Instead, it should be considered a method for approaching one particular social problem in a way that promotes better equity and innovates in some way. A problem like HIV/AIDS can never be “solved” and one “solution” will always be ineffective, but there is, at least, space for new targeted prevention and treatment programs to pop up, and better yet, there are ways in which we have failed whole populations for decades and are finally recognizing our errors.

When it comes to the HIV/AIDS crisis, nothing is too late because it’s a crisis that endures. It’s a crisis that, despite all of the dollars and knowledge and political will (depending on where you live), remains intractable. My background might not be in public policy nor have I worked directly with health organizations in an official capacity, but it’s not impossible to envision solutions given my background in HIV/AIDS history, contemporary art, and storytelling. My own story begins again and again. The narrative of my sexual history and consciousness has meandered many times, calling into question the crux of why HIV/AIDS remains omnipresent in queer communities: the interplay between identity and desire.

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In recent years, this has been an alarming rise in new HIV infections among youth ages 18-30. One group of 28 individuals came together to address the challenges in HIV prevention, treatment, research, and broader cultural stigma. This is their video. What do think of their work? What are some other strategies you might recommend in dealing with HIV/AIDS in an under 30 crowd? Share your ideas in the comments section.