September 27 is National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
What a mouthful. What’s it supposed to mean? That we haven’t been aware of it the rest of the year? And why does it come in September when the first cases we heard about came earlier in that year of 1981, some 34 years ago.
The world has been enduring the AIDS plague for thirty-four years.
Today’s gays have been living in a time of plague for thirty-four years.
I beg of you. Attend these words. We are approaching a time of our potentially greatest power and we are not ready. We are not prepared. We are not united in our brotherhood and sisterhood, our peoplehood. We must capitalize on these suddenly available opportunities. Who knows if such a favorable constellation will come again.
I refer to the recent Supreme Court rulings that have ushered us into a certain equality. Freedom to marry had been beyond imagining until very recently. These rulings, now just settling into the miasma that is bureaucracy and “democracy,” convey more than just the right to marry and have children, even to welcoming the transgendered. These rulings have set the course for our future fights. Rest assured that for the rest of our lives we are going to be defending challenges in courts across the land, where our enemies will unceasingly strive to little by little chip away at these rights. This is what has happened to the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court rulings, which have been drained of much of their lifeblood in the never-ending and exhausting fight over abortion rights.
Where are we going? How do we get there? Are we even thinking of questions like this about our very future? Who are our leaders? Where are our leaders? Who is there to speak for us that we all can listen to? Who is there to remind us over and over that we still have not been allowed all the guarantees of the American Revolution, a very long time ago.
As with those of color, indeed with most minorities, we have been a long-suffering people. And as with most minorities, we are not very good at fighting back. We are not very good at joining together in activities except those for having fun. There is a strange disconnect among gays from gay cultural drivers, writers, and even recent history. What is lost if we can't learn our history and pass its stories on to those who follow us, much as generations of slaves and their followers related their history, much as generations of Jews constantly are haunted by their Holocaust in their determination to proclaim “Never again.” If gay people don't support gay writers and historians then we have no past or future beyond just “having fun.” Why and when have we decided to ignore what we’ve experienced? It’s well-known in the publishing industry that gays do not buy gay books, except for porn.
For many years I have been researching our history for my two volume novel, The American People. Volume One, just out, is subtitled “Search for My Heart." Volume Two, which I am still writing, is subtitled “The Brutality of Fact.” The one overwhelming conclusion I came to as I research and write this is that I believe this plague of HIV, of AIDS, call it what you will, is intentional. That it was allowed to happen and is allowed to continue. Mine is a history of gays and other minorities through all time, yes, but it is a history of where AIDS came from, why it is here, why it is still ignored, who is murdering us, and naming names. It is about the intentional destruction and elimination of the homosexual population of America that has been going on since the beginning of our country’s birth.
In other words, intentional genocide.
And, in other words, it’s still going on at this very minute.
After 34 years there still are “50,000 new infections per year in the United States and two million new infections worldwide.” (Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the NIH.)
After 34 years there are 35 million people living with HIV worldwide. By 2013 an estimated 1.5 million had died of AIDS-related causes. (Poz magazine.)
I am tired of hearing that HIV is a slippery virus and that’s why it’ s taking so long for a cure. America is a country that built an atom bomb, that put a man on the moon. When it wants to do something, it does it.
From the very beginning, America has not wanted to end AIDS. There were 50,000 cases and 50,000 dead before Reagan would even say the word disparagingly. Not one Congress has dealt with this plague seriously. Not one president has either. Despite what we are hearing, the state of research into a cure is in the toilet. And Congress is refusing to fund it to the degree it needs. Indeed, Francoise Barre-Sinoussie who discovered the virus, recently said she thought that HIV could never be eliminated from the body because it was everywhere in the body. The red tape and mess that is the NIH is heartbreaking. And the pharmaceutical industry is greedy beyond belief.
AIDS is out of control. You don’t know it. The New York Times isn’t writing about this again, just as it did not write about AIDS for its first horrendous years.
So what is National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day all about? I’ll tell you one thing, I don't think it’s about outrage and fighting back. It was anger and fear and finally outrage that got us our HIV meds. Enough of us were so scared to death that we finally got off our asses and learned how to fight together.
But the outrage of yesterday has become the complacency of today. If you think sending Facebook messages back and forth is doing anything sufficient to our needs, it isn’t.
Where is outrage about no cure in 34 years, about the tragic ineptitude of the NIH, about rising HIV rates for black gay and bisexual men, about the appalling evil greed that is the pharmaceutical industry, about gay history not being taught in the schools, about our lack of community that I am told young gays are actually longing for. Oh, there’s plenty to be outraged about if you let yourself really look and think about it.
“You’ve got the meds, you’ve got marriage, when are you going to shut up, you loudmouth?” Straight critics of my novel and many a gay have actually said that to me. “You’re 80 years old and you’re lucky you’re still alive, so stop complaining.”
We need power. We don't have power. We have no power in Washington. We need power in every town and city and state and organization that we inhabit. How do we get such power? Well, you start by talking about it, everyone talking about it, all of us realizing that the Supreme Court has given us this great gift and platform to fight from, and how do we do that most effectively. ACT UP showed us how we could do this successfully. Its template is as relevant and useful today. It’s not all that complicated. But it requires anger, outrage, hope, and love. As I said we’re much too complacent at this crucial moment in time.
I want to end this by quoting two great gay activists who were also great gay writers, both of whom have given me great inspiration to never shut up…
“I am a moral agent. My stories are complicated. They are intended to educate our capacity for moral judgment. To be a moral human being is to pay, be obliged to pay, certain kinds of attention. The nature of moral judgments depends on our capacity for paying attention.” Susan Sontag
“You know my fury about people is based precisely on the fact that I consider them to be responsible, moral creatures who so often do not act that way. I wouldn’t sound the way I sound if I did not expect what I expect from human beings, if I didn’t have some ultimate faith and love, faith in them and love for them. What I am demanding of other people is what I am demanding of myself.” James Baldwin
…and with this quote from Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale (straight but with a gay brother) who is expounding revolutionary new theories of the Holocaust (his new book is Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning):
“Those who wish to kill large numbers of people will end by doing so. And they will find more or less sophisticated reasons for ensuring that this can happen, just as they will lay hands on the means of execution.”
Snyder is telling us to pay attention, that holocausts are now happening all over the world.
Well, we have been living through one that’s lasted for hundreds of years.
So we’re experienced.
So what are we going to do about it now and at last?
He will be appearing at the New Yorker Festival with Calvin Trillin on Saturday, October 3.
The Advocate's #6in10Men
If nothing changes, 6 in 10 black gay and bisexual men in the United States will have HIV by the time they are 40 years old. Learn more about this crisis in The Advocate's series #6in10Men: http://www.advocate.com/6in10men
Posted by The Advocate magazine on Friday, September 25, 2015