Originally Heard on the John Selig Outspoken Podcast
As I listened to Skip Allen share the nightmare that his family had thrust upon them in the 1980s and continue through its devastation well into the 90s an attractive healthy man sat in front of me. Twelve years ago Skip’s body was ravaged with a disease that had him at death’s door. Today, Skip is vibrant, healthy looking, productive and in a good place in his life all because of a drug cocktail.
It would be easy to listen to the last part of the Allen family saga and take away the notion that Skip beat AIDS, that the disease has been conquered, that if somebody comes down with AIDS today all they have to do is take the cocktail and everything will be okay. Just pop a few pills, the way some folks pop vitamins and nutritional supplements, and that’s all there is to it.
Those of us who were already out in the 80s and 90s buried more lovers, friends and loved ones than we care to remember. We watched far too many people suffer through opportunistic infections and die horrible deaths. The LGBT community was mobilized with all sorts of AIDS services, buddy projects, news articles, books and movies. Many gay men owed their dignity as they lay dying to other loving gay men and lesbians who provided care and nurturance that far too many biological families refused to give. Fundraisers to fund a plethora of AIDS organizations consumed our community. So did protests held by Act–Up which stood for “The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.”
Act–Up became etched in the public’s eyes through its famous “Silence = Death” poster and countless protests and acts of civil disobedience. The “in your face” protest group was founded by legendary activist Larry Kramer. Act–Up took on the drug industry, politicians, the New York Stock Exchange and even the Roman Catholic Church screaming “Act–Up! Fight Back! Fight AIDS!” Protests ranged from pouring fake blood at targeted locations to protestors chaining themselves to columns inside New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York during a solemn pontifical mass being celebrated by Cardinal O’Connor.
The actions of Act–Up lured healthcare organizations, researchers and politicians into speaking with more moderate AIDS activists to listen to their demands and work on AIDS, whereas they never would have listened without the pressure generated by Act–Up. In a way it was similar to those in power in the 1960s listening to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for fear that Malcolm X would be breathing down their necks if they didn’t.
Today when we socialize or volunteer within the LGBT community we don’t see friends everywhere we turn with lesions from Kaposi Sarcoma and/or wasting disease. We don’t find ourselves losing count on how many funerals we have attended in the last year of friends who have died because of the AIDS nightmare. Still, AIDS is no picnic and it is far from cured. It still ravages the bodies of millions around the world. Many have no access to cutting edge medical care. Others respond to drugs differently. Nobody knows how long the cocktail will continue to work.
A dear friend who was my best man at Rodolfo’s and my wedding in Canada in 2004 is an amazing physician who practices medicine full–time in a large HIV/AIDS clinic. He tells me about patients still being ravaged by this horrible disease, that he loses patients nearly everyday and the impact that their deaths have on his life.
I have another friend, another true hero in the fight against AIDS, who tested positive twelve years ago. Drugs have kept him alive but have wrecked havoc on his body. He wears an insulin pump and sometimes uses a cane and even a wheel chair because of neuropathy. AIDS is no picnic today, even though we don’t see it as much, even though new books on AIDS are rarely published, new films aren’t produced and Act–Up protests no longer occupy the headlines. Instead, funding for AIDS support organizations continues to be slashed.
I suppose one of the things that scares me the most is that so many young people feel invincible and many no longer fear becoming HIV+. Many now engage in bareback sex. Exposure to the HIV virus is dangerous to all whether HIV negative or positive. Go online and you will see personal ad listing after listing looking for bareback sex.
I fear yet another generation will have to live with this unforgiving, deadly virus. I cannot end the story about the Allen family battling AIDS with Skip Allen being pulled back from the brink of death for fear that anybody might think AIDS is no longer a big deal. AIDS is a huge deal! We must all do everything in our power to find better ways to treat those who live with AIDS, to work towards a cure and to prevent its spread through the continued practice of safer sex. The AIDS tragedy isn’t over!
© 2007 John R. Selig. All rights reserved.