The Remnant AIDS 2012

| July 27, 2012
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The Remnant AIDS 2012

By Craig Washington

AIDS Quilt on the National Mall

One of my colleagues who would kill me if I named him once revealed that he had little use for the AIDS Memorial Quilt. He said it does not change anything or offer anything new. “It is like a traveling graveyard.” After spending half a day at the 19th International AIDS Conference on Sunday, my friend Mark and I took a short cab ride to the Mall to see the Quilt. Again. Between us there are almost 60 years of life spent negotiating an unsettled peace with the virus. Still the Quilt arrests our boy watching giddyness to long pauses between words that ebb into silence. The sustained sight of them, each panel one after the other, creases my heart, embarrasses my need to utter anything so that I might seem less affected than I am. It needs no commentary or sentiment. It suffices.

Viewing the Quilt today, you have before you a section, a remnant of an unimagininable whole that has grown too big to be properly laid out in its entirety. Like the plague that plucked away the angels it enshrines, it is much too vast for us to take in unless we break it into smaller pieces we can handle. How many bodies of evidence do we need to memorialize to recognize the piecemeal nature of our HIV prevention efforts?

In the beginning we branded those first stricken as either innocent or guilty victims. We first considered it a gay mens disease which for many meant it warranted no major alarm as it was of little consequence to heterosexuals. When more heterosexuals became infected, then we began saying “its not a gay disease anymore” and “it’s not who who are, but it’s what you do”. Actually while risk is directly based in behavior is is still associated with who you are as well as what you do with whom. What made is so difficult to reconcile those realities for us? Why are black women the victims and closeted black men who have sex with men and women the vectors/villains? Why does the state of Georgia continue to ignore white gay men as if it cannot reach white and black, and for that matter Latino and Asian men as well? Is it that we resist accepting multiple realities that up end our biases or just our need to not think too deeply about anything unless we have to?

Several bold and forward thinking presenters from Brooklyn to Botswana are here in DC. They are challenging constructs of gender and identity. At the “Gender and HIV: What’s men got to do with it” session, presented from Brazil, England and Uganda shared success in involving men to advocate against sexual and gender based violence. Men and the boys who watch them learn that anti violence work is not the exclusive province of women and girls. When men are liberated from such die-casts, the attitudes and identity constructs that churn AIDS stigma can be transformed.

Either/or binaries fail to address the complexities of being human and cannot meet the needs of those most marginalized. The findings of the HPTN 061 study announced today suggest that black gay men face higher seroprevalence, larger viral loads within their sexual networks, and higher probably of being infected than white counterparts with the same number of partners. I trust that what we will take from this is greater resolve to leverage the data to demand comprehensive plan for black gay men the scale of which has never yet been seen. We deserve it. The National Black Gay Mens Advocacy Coalition is already advocating for interventions that take on the structural predictors of compromised health such as unemployment, poverty, literacy, childhood abuse. We are still the ones with the spiraling rates and mortality, especially our young.

My time with the Quilt was a sobering reminder of what is at stake. There are so many tools we have now that those embroidered in memory did without. There are young black men living today who deserve health equity and full equality while they are here. Let us do right by them not by pontificating or outpourings of love after they have passed. Let our love be present and active. Let us serve them by making sure that the research is followed up with a level of response that the findings implore us to mount. The Quilt remembers so that we may never give in or forget.

Craig Washington is a writer, community organizer and HIV prevention programs manager living in Atlanta. He has been HIV+ for more than 25 years.

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Category: HIV Prevention, Human Rights & Social Justice, Queer, Trans & Gender Justice

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