The red ribbon that symbolizes support for the fight against HIV/AIDS filled my phone screen. I saw First World AIDS Day Observed Worldwide and the date 1988. I took in my daily early morning lesson in LGBTQ+ history on the free mobile app Quist. My mind flooded with memories of my close friend Harry S., one of the namesakes for my own Harry. And my heart ached.
Harry S. was an artist and designer living with AIDS in Los Angeles. He was smart, movie-star handsome, and one of the most fun people I’ve ever known. Harry was also friends with Pee-wee Herman. We were all in New York City at the same time in June, 1992. Harry and I had a dinner party for Pee-wee and some friends, and we cooked bow-tie pasta. Six months later, Harry died on Christmas Eve, at the age of 36. That was the year the clinical trials of new combination drug therapies had begun, and the year President Clinton established a new White House Office of National AIDS Policy.
There’s a piece of my flannel shirt in a quilt dedicated to him in the AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Harry S. and I grew up across the street from each other in Milwaukee. His sister was my best friend, and my brother was his. The four of us were like siblings. My son Harry met his Uncle Harry only once, on a visit to Los Angeles in 1991. My Harry took his first steps at Uncle Harry’s house. A photograph from Uncle Harry’s senior thesis performance piece at CalArts hangs on the wall to my left as I write this. There’s a piece of my flannel shirt in a quilt dedicated to him in the AIDS Memorial Quilt. And there’s a piece of my heart reserved just for him.
Today has meaning for me not only because of Harry and the thousands of others memorialized on the quilt, but for the millions living with HIV/AIDS today. They are all in my heart.
AIDS EDUCATION POSTERS NOW ART COLLECTION
I also checked HuffPost “Queer Voices” to see how the U.S. was observing World AIDS Day. A chilling graphic in orange and black stopped me cold. It featured side-by-side images of a target and then President Reagan, his portrait captioned “He Kills Me.” Indirectly, Reagan killed thousands with his silence. He said nothing for years after the first AIDS cases were discovered in 1981 and a national health crisis developed.
In a piece titled “Visualizing the AIDS Epidemic,” I leaned the “He Kills Me” poster is one of over 8,000 AIDS education posters donated to the University of Rochester by Dr. Edward C. Atwater beginning in 2007. The extensive collection dates from 1982 through today and includes posters from 129 countries/regions, covered in 76 languages and dialects.
The entire collection has been digitized, so take a minute or two this World AIDS Day to scroll through a few pages. The messages of awareness and education remind all of us that AIDS does not discriminate. It continues to affect people around the world, people of any gender identity, any sexual orientation, and any color, from young kids to seniors.
THE ORANGE MENACE’S MENACING PROCLAMATION
I clenched my teeth as I read the World AIDS Day commemorative proclamation issued by President Obama’s successor that shamefully neglected to mention LGBTQ people or people of color.
But here are the facts:
- An estimated 36.7 million people are living with HIV/AIDS around the world, with 1.1 million of those residing in the U.S.
- In 2015, 48 percent of those diagnosed with AIDS in the U.S. were African-Americans.
- The Centers for Disease Control in 2014 found that gay and bisexual men made up an estimated 70 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S.
- While data on the transgender community is limited, the CDC also found that an estimated 22 percent of all trans women are HIV positive.
Undeniably, HIV and AIDS remain a persistent problem in the U.S and around the globe. We need continued information on prevention, billions more condoms distributed worldwide, more research, broader access to healthcare and treatment, and less discrimination. If you’re sexually active, get tested regularly. If we know a sexually active young person, remind them about prevention and testing, too. And if you know someone living with HIV/AIDS, give them a hug. On Word AIDS Day or any day.
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