Stand up for human health and rights

Health and safety for all!

Human rights and safety are things that the entire world should strive to attain for its citizens; unfortunately, that is not the case in much of the world, including our own backyard, sometimes. Let’s band together today and take action on some important issues that affect each of us today by making simple e-mails, phone calls, or even simple signatures to voice our support for human rights and human safety.

Stop Child Trafficking

When my daughter pleaded to know if slavery still existed after we discussed it, I had to tell her the honest answer—it does still exist. While I spared her from the most awful details as she’s only six, I can tell you that millions of children, as well as adults, are either in or being kidnapped or sold into the human trafficking industry right now—even in America. Our country, along with other countries, has the power to stop this; the only way it can continue is with people in power supplying backdoor opportunities. Ask your member of Congress to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act to help protect people from becoming victims and to penalize those perpetuating the slave trade. Call 202-224-3121 to speak to your member of Congress.

Support a Strong Safe Chemicals Act

How do you feel when you hear that our country not only allows hundreds of chemicals to be legal while other countries ban them, but that many of them are actually inside the food we eat and the drinks we drink? It makes me feel pretty outraged. Luckily, the Safe Chemicals Act is up for a vote right now and we can all chime in to make sure that it passes well. Click here to add your voice to the challenge, letting your elected officials know that you care about the chemicals that affect you and your loved ones.

Take Part in National HIV Awareness Month

July is almost over, but you can still take part in National HIV Awareness Month. You can tweet about it, make a donation, share information with friends and family, and get tested or help loved ones get tested. For more information or to take action today, click here.

Thank a Vet

Send your thanks, thoughts, and prayers to American military members, their families, and veterans of the military by clicking here. Many of these people are put in harm’s way to help protect others and we can thank them for their sacrifice today.

Now that's messed up!

The other day I was cursing the people who designed the Brooklyn New York Atlantic Pacific Station. Because of the layout and the fact that the one station is actually two stations combined, any transfer there involves at least seven sets of stairs. However, as I was walking quickly past some of the HIV prevention billboards in the station, I saw something that got me huffing and puffing more than the muliple sets of stairs.On all of the HIV awareness posters, beautiful posters I might add, of male couples with sentiments like “I get tested to protect the man I love” and such, someone pasted a sticker over each face. On each of the HIV awareness posters. On each face.

The stickers said Romans 1:17-28, which, if you're not familiar, is a way of indicating a verse from the New Testament of (usually) the Protestant Bible. In this particular instance, my guess would be that the people distributing the stickers was referencing the particular dose about being queer: "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error."

Well, OK, if being gay is against your religion, fine, just don't be gay. But don't try and distract from an important message of not transmitting a serious (and sometimes still fatal and at least, chronic) disease. Even the Pope said it's OK to use condoms to prevent HIV; this means whoever was so sticker happy is actually more conservative than the current Pope, which isn't something that should make anyone proud.

No matter. The stickers came off pretty easily with my fingernail and a pen. And as long as I see them up there, I will take the time to pull them off.


Friends Indeed...A Friend For Those In Need

If you've ever seen the stage play or movie Rent, you're familiar with the work of Friends Indeed. I'm not saying that Rent is actually the perfect picture of anything related to the actual HIV epidemic (ahem cough straight people were not the heroes ahem cough) however, the support group which is called Life Support in Rent is actually modeled on the support groups that take place at Friends Indeed.Friends Indeed is an interesting place to get services. No one makes you tell your name, or at least not your full name. No one makes you fill out a form. Certainly no one asks you if you have insurance or demands to see your medical card. No, in fact this is what you do to get services at Friends Indeed: you walk in. Notice I didn't say “you walk in, fill out a form, wait for an appointment, tell your life story, beg for them to give you a break and then get services.” Nope, it's not that complicated. You really do just walk in the door.

Friends Indeed says the “heart and soul” of what they call “the work” is something called (somewhat vaguely) the Big Group. It's kind of hard to describe what exactly goes on there. I mean, no one really breaks into a chorus of “Will I Lose My Dignity” but you get the feeling it could happen. After the Big Group you can sign up for individualized services like crisis counseling and various kinds of body work, and at least once a week they have specialized workshops. But if you're dealing with caregiving, bereavement or any type of serious illness, start at the Big Group. It's really hard to describe, but it's worth a try.

Stitching A Revolution

We all know the charges that get leveled at the AIDS Quilt, that it's not “real” activism, that it was “soft” or part of what came to be known as “AIDS kitsch” The trouble with all these accusations, though, especially the last one, is that these couldn't really be made until after the first years of the epidemic had transitioned into something tragic but less always immediate. The idea that anything that commemorated the deaths of your friends who died by the hundreds of thousands while the government and mainstream America ignored their cries and demands for help could be called “kitsch” is a creation of the space provided by history.And while the quilt may seem “sweet” or “quaint” to some of certain political persuasions, it's important to remember, as Stitching A Revolution documents, there was a time that displaying the quilt or even mentioning it was highly controversial. Celebrities didn't visit at first, families didn't come out at first, and it wasn't even until the Clinton administration did a presidential liason come to the Quilt when it was displayed, even though it was displayed on the Mall numerous times before that.

Although the trend is for people to come out earlier and earlier and the closet seems to be more the exception than the rule at least among LGBT people in the United States, when the Quilt first started being widely displayed, this was not the case. Families of origin often met their dead son's chosen family for the first time at the Quilt. Perhaps it was “safe” but it was safe enough that worlds could bump into each other, and that is its own kind of revolution.

About the United in Anger Premier

I know some folks say it helped the cause, but I hate the movie Philadelphia. Every time it's on television, I end up watching it against my will and shouting at the screen “homophobic straight men were not the heroes of the AIDS epidemic.” I finally saw the antidote to Philadelphia; the new movie about ACT UP, United in Anger.Everyone should see this movie. It's an amazing story of how severely traumatized people, severely opppresed and vilified people stood up and demanded that their lives mattered. It's also a great example of letting people tell their own stories. The narrative arc of the movie was moved along by people talking about their own experiences rather than any outside narration. Much of the footage was from the ACT UP oral history project, and in this footage, you could actually see the oral history subjects thinking, considering as they spoke.

I was also touched and impressed that the film was able to vividly communicate how people banded together in refusal to be demonized/victimized without a fight, yet didn't neglect showing some of the more difficult scenes of complete tragedy.

I stood in line with some young people...young enough to have found out about the movie while looking through Next to see if any of the places that didn't check ID closely were having drink specials. While I was chatting with them, they kept the conversation going while at the same time texting, checking facebook statuses etc. When we got in, I went to sit with my friends, but the kids sat not too far away from me. I looked over at them about 15 minutes into the screening. They all sat completely still with their phones in their hands, eyes on the moviescreen, rather than their phone screen. NOT texting.

In the Company of Solitude

In the preface to In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Epidemic, Michael Klein admits “When Michael Braziller of Persea Books asked me to edit this anthology, my immediate thought was, I can't. I can't read another word about AIDS...I just didn't think I could bear reading more testimony in this particular historical transcript.” It's a brave admission, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book.

In the Company of My Solitude was published in 1995. Consequently, many of the pieces in it were at least conceived before the full possibilities of long-term survivorship possibilities were known and the book provides an interesting insight into those moments of real fatigue that were so present in what one activist called “the last years of the worst years” of the epidemic.Another thing that makes In the Company of My Solitude a particularly interesting read is the fact that the editors chose people with such divergent stories of infection, affection and effection. In the used copy I got at a bookstore in Provincetown (where, it is likely that Klein did much of his editing work) there are annotations next to the names of the stories in the table of contents: “ Waiting for death, deteriorating environment” is written in highlighter and then “prostitute with AIDS who turned her life around” and when you turn the page “vampire lesbian who wants to get tested.” The slightly reductive comments in the margins inside, the former of the book did see really understand the power of it: the writing of people living (and in some cases, dying) with AIDS, diverse in circumstance but united in it nonetheless.

Like People in History

Felice Picano's epicesque novel Like People in History is not a simple novel about HIV/AIDS. Well, not exactly. It's not simply a caregiving story, or simply a dying lover story. Instead, it is a novel about some individual stories of intertwined lives lived within the gay men's community over a period of thirty years, set against a backdrop of changing political conditions, with the coming epidemic foreshadowed throughout.What makes the book considerably less simple, besides the nonlinear storytelling style, usually not my cup of tea, but well enough done to not be distracting, is that the epidemic is at its worst by the time two thirds of the stories are told, yet the agony is so understated that this fact is almost easy to miss.

The narrator, who seemed to me to be deliberately portrayed as having an ambiguous HIV status throughout the book, remarks little on each event as it happens: the death of a lover, the death of a friend, the death of friend/relative with whom he has an ongoing and at times difficult, relationship, with little emotion. This certainly doesn't distract from the realism of the book, it just deepens the tragedy of it and, perhaps more accurately, the trauma of it. More than one soldier has talked about the moment in a battle when there is no more screaming. It seems like Picano's characters were caught in this state; almost in slow motion, enduring, fighting, protesting and in some cases even still loving and partying, while a tragedy unfolded around and even within them. It makes for a heart rending read because you never grow weary of the pathos because it is written so completely into the daily journals of the characters' lives.

United In Anger

Why We Should Be Listening

As far as I'm concerned, it should be mandatory in Queer 101 Curriculum: Come out, get your first boyfriend/girlfriend/public insert euphemism here-and watch part of the ACT UP Oral History Project. It is sometimes part of a travelling exhibit, but much of the project, interviews with surviving members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, can be found online here; what's not on the website in the form of videos is available in transcript form, downloadable as pdfs. You can pop in anywhere on the site for a story that vividly illustrates what was happening within  and because of ACT-UP during the worst years of the AIDS epidemic. However, if you want to get a more comprehensive picture and understand how ACT-UP changed culture and demanded (and forced) concrete solutions to the epidemic, spend more time with the videos and reading the transcripts. They're not all easy to watch or read. Many of the participants lost many of the people they loved most during the epidemic and though some time passed between the end of the worst years of the epidemic and the interviews, the emotions are sometimes very raw. This is exactly what makes it important for LGBT people especially who didn't live through that time to experience these interviews; to understand not what happened (passively) to our people, but how our people fought back and changed the world.

The ACT UP Oral History Project has also developed into another very exciting project: Jim Hubbard and Sarah Schulman, who coordinated the project, recently finished the film United in Anger: A History of ACT UP. The film, which uses footage from the oral history interviews as well as archival footage of ACT UP actions, will be featured at the Opening Night of the Museum of Modern Art's (NYC) Documentary Fortnight, on Thursday February 16, 2012. For more information about the film, check out the United in Anger website.

Can't Believe This

I know it's certainly not anything like Reagan did to make the spread of AIDS possible, but I'm not so keen on Obama this week.

Syringe exchange is a harm reduction public health practice that has been show through multiple multiple studies and in multiple settings, to decrease HIV transmission. We know it works, no question about that, the mainstream public health studies have confirmed it. Syringe exchange has a public image problem to be sure. I used to provide flu shots for the local (Philadelphia) syringe exchange sites and neighbors would stop by sometimes, complain about “giving away needles” when in fact, nothing of the sort was taking place. The thing is, most folks don't want IV drug users hanging around in groups in their neighborhoods. Okay, that makes sense on the surface, but every needle exchanged is a dirty needle off the street, which makes for a safer neighborhood. Workers at the exchange would often stop to chat with neighbors and explain the concept and process behind the exchange. Most would ultimately come around, and I remember one of the virulent exchange haters after a time began bringing cookies to the workers and exchangers after he realized, the more they came around, the less needles were hanging out in the empty lot next door.

At any rate, the Republicans shoved in—and the Democrats allowed-- a ban on federal funding for syringe exchange in a piece of budget legislation that passed this week. Since we know syringe exchanges prevent HIV transmission and since I'm assuming Obama and the congressfolks aren't living anywhere they have to deal with exchanges in their neighborhood, the only conclusion I can draw is that they don't care if poor folks get HIV. Or worse.  

Illegal Meats Are a Source of Transmission

With the rising awareness around the world about the transmission and prevention of HIV/AIDS, many people seem more concerned about the transmission of the disease from human to human contact. But did you know that in the past, the disease was actually acquired from infected animals and infected meats. As far as we have come with the screening of meats that make it into the produce world, it is a bit scary to see that we now have to worry again about contaminated meats.

Apparently, more and more people are killing illegal wildlife, smuggling and selling it. The risk is where an infected animal bites another animal and then one or both animals are killed. They say that as of now there is no need to be alarmed about any risk of human infection or contamination; however some viruses like SFV can be passed to unknowing victims thru the meats.   Victims who ingest the contaminated meats, may not exhibit any symptoms for days or even weeks.  Although there have been no results to show any transmission of HIV/AIDS from contaminated meats at this point, it remains to be seen exactly what viruses and other harmful or potentially lethal microorganisms can be.

If there is anything that we have learned as far as epidemics and the past; it is that history often repeats itself if we do not pay attention and take the necessary precautions to correct the behaviors that lead up to the catastrophes.  Taking action and becoming more diligent on preventing the hunting of illegal wildlife and more through screening of foods, will ensure the health of the public and prevent the start and spread of epidemics.