Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2016-10-19
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



Letter from NYC: An AIDS reunion
by Frank Pizzoli

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

By the time the first national AIDS education campaign was launched in 1988, when 107 million brochures entitled "Understanding AIDS" were mailed to every U.S. household, there were 83,000 U.S. AIDS cases, and more than 45,000 people had died.

Twenty-four years later on May 9 in New York City, 500 people, mostly Caucasian men, gathered to discuss both long-term survival and alarming data by University of Pittsburgh researcher Ronald Stall suggesting that if current trends continue 50% of African-American men who turned 18 in 2009 and have sex with men will be HIV+ by age 35. Fifty-four percent of all men who have sex with men will be HIV-positive.

Before the panel discussion began for Is This My Beautiful Life? Perspectives from Survivors of the AIDS Generation, Windy City Times talked to individuals filtering into the auditorium of Baruch College's Mason Hall, in Chelsea.

Many in the room lamented the fact that AIDS service organizations have all but abandoned regular support programs for long-term survivors. So have national gay organizations, like HRC and the nation's network of "equality" organizations panelists said.

Worse yet, gay/bi men are only about 2-6% of the U.S. population (depending on who you ask), but are the fastest growing group of new infections, 63% of total infections in recent years. There has been a 12% rise in HIV transmission for men who have sex with men between 2008 and 2010, the year for the latest estimates. The rise occurred even as rates dropped in all other populations.

Originally from Chicago, Yvonne Ghareeb, a 23-year staff veteran of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, one of the evening's sponsors, said in a voice tinged with concern that she's saddened so many survivors are forgotten. "And suicides are up with long-term survivors," said the former Off-Broadway theater coach.

In fact, it was the Dec. 18, 2012 death of Spencer Cox, 44, early ACT UP participant, who apparently had stopped taking his HIV medicines, that moved his friends to act. Cox was featured in the Oscar- nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague. His unexpected death pushed friends to revamp The Medius Institute for Gay Men's Health, originally active in 2006-2007, and now reconstituted as the Medius Working Group, and a program sponsor. His medical proxy, Carly Sommerstein, said, "Early in the epidemic activists were in media's face. That needs to happen again. Survivor support is down. Infections are up."

The Medius Institute for Gay Men's Health advocated for research into the emotional, mental, and physical stresses facing gay men in midlife. Two papers by Cox, one on gay men in midlife and the impact of AIDS, and another on the role depression plays in risk-taking behaviors are online under Writings by Spencer Cox at .

In media interviews after his untimely death and on the night the NYC meeting, Cox's friends wondered aloud if their buddy lost his way. A New York Times blog at the time of his passing asked if Cox had succumbed to "pill fatigue," since doctors indicated he apparently had stopped taking HIV medications.

"I've been lost since surviving," said Pennsylvania native Sean McKenna, now an NYC resident. At one point, McKenna authored Love Danny, Advice from a Positive Perspective, which ran in WCT and other publications. McKenna said in a concerned voice, "I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop, especially with my health." He feels too old to begin a new career and too young not to have one.

HIV stigma has stymied McKenna too: "I feel treated like the 'bad gay' who got infected, not the 'good gay' who didn't." He readily cites reported low levels of safer sex being practiced by g/bi men and asks "How do we close the gap, where's the disconnect?" One disconnect McKenna talked about with resentment is how Gay, Inc., devoted exclusively to equality issues, has abandoned gay men, a theme panelists also explored.

The formal panel opened with a segment from How to Survive a Plague. A local screening of the film is set for Center on Halsted June 6, 5 p.m. when Chicago Department of Public Health, the Illinois Department of Public Health and ViiV Healthcare hosts an HIV testing seminar. The film covers the dark days of 1987, when the country was six years into the AIDS epidemic, a crisis that was still largely being ignored both by government officials and health organizations—until the sudden emergence of the activist group ACT UP in Greenwich Village, largely made up of HIV-positive participants who refused to die without a fight.

The June 6 event offers free, rapid HIV testing available all day in observance of National HIV Testing Day at Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St., Chicago. The program begins at 5 p.m. with keynote speaker Dr. Robert Dodge, University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Free dinner will follow followed by the film at 7 p.m. in the Center's Hoover-Leppen Theatre. For information and registration, contact; 773-472-6469 ext. 403.

Panel moderator Perry Halkitis set the NYC evening's tone by commenting that if World War II's generation was the "greatest" the AIDS generation was the "bravest".

Peter Staley delivered the evening's most dramatic indictment, echoing what audience member McKenna said privately. "I feel abandoned by Gay, Inc., by the same organizations who built their national platform on what was originally put into place by AIDS organizations, something they now forget," Staley argued. He wondered how much lower HIV infections might be, instead of rising so rapidly in recent years among gay men, "if HRC devoted 5 or 10% of their budget to prevention and education."

Staley also touched on the big AIDS elephant in the room—current HIV drugs are easier to take and produce fewer side effects making HIV treatment a vastly different experience for younger men. "The death and dying, the constant diarrhea, body changing lipodystrophy (loss of facial and limb fat, distended belly), they ain't seen it," Staley said. "We need to meet young men where they are. Listen to them and their concerns."

Connecting his thoughts to both Staley and audience member McKenna,

Joe "JoeMyGod" Jervis noted how guys in their online bios refer to themselves as "clean" which means "I'm not infected. If you are you're dirty."

ACT UP veteran Jim Eigo, who has returned to weekly meetings, said his experience with younger men has been positive, especially when they discuss Plague and United in Anger, another history of AIDS film. Eigo said, "It really registers when I explain how we used to say to each other 'Will the last man in Chelsea turn out the lights.'"

Jesus Aguais, who was 20 years old in 1988 when he learned he was infected shared that empowerment comes "when your political mind wakes up. You're not supposed to witness all that death so young," telling the audience how he transported the ashes of four friends back to Venezuela. He underscored what Staley noted: That's not the experience of younger infected men today. HIV is no longer a death sentence. It's successfully treatable, although as was murmured from the audience "That doesn't mean you want it."

Collectively, panelists weaved data, and the lack of it, around the themes of unresolved grief and guilt for survivors; the lack of data on HIV-related suicide, and "syndemics," a clustering of pressures faced by individuals—old age, HIV, isolation, depression. "Much of what we need to know just isn't collected or studied," said Mark Brennan-Ing.

L. Jeannine Bookhardt-Murray, M.D, brought a moment of laughter to a sometimes-somber evening. "I expected to witness two events in my life, the election of an African-American president and a cure for AIDS. We got one. Now it's time for the other!"

Program sponsors were ACRIA; The Actors Fund; Aid for AIDS International; Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS; Callen-Lorde Community Health Center; Center for Comprehensive Care; Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Studies at NYU; Friends in Deed; Gay Men of African Descent; GMHC, Harlem United; the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center; SAGE; Sero Project; and Treatment Action Group.

Panel photo: Panelists, left to right: Jesus Aguais, Mark Brennan-Ing, Ph. D.; L. Jeannine Bookhardt-Murray, M.D; Jim Eigo, and Joe " JoeMyGod" Jervis, Peter Staley. Perry Halkitis, Ph.D., moderator.

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

Housing opportunities for youth 18-24 living with HIV 2016-10-21 - El Rescate, an initiative of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center ( PRCC ), provides transitional housing to youth ages 18-24 who are struggling ...

Gay News

CDPH announces new fatal case of meningococcal disease 2016-10-15 - Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), on Oct. 14, announced that there had been another fatal case of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) in ...

Gay News

Howard Brown to host government officials in HIV stigma, epidemic talks 2016-10-14 - ( Chicago, IL, October 14, 2016 ) — On Thursday, October 20, Howard Brown Health will host a free community discussion to address ...

Gay News

New HIV medication and patient assistance program announced 2016-10-14 - Napo Pharmaceuticals, Inc., announced today the launch and general availability of Mytesi ( crofelemer ), the only antidiarrheal studied in and FDA-approved for ...

Gay News

HIV+ prisoners focus of AFC Black Lives Matter conference 2016-10-11 - Issues facing HIV-positive prisoners were the primary focus of the latest AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) Black Lives Matter series conference ...

Gay News

Wilmette man accused of criminal HIV transmission 2016-10-11 - A Wilmette man has been accused of knowingly transmitting the HIV virus to three women he dated, according to reports. According to ...

Gay News

Recognizing National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2016-10-05 - U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly wrote the following piece in recognition of National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day ( Sept. 27 ) Today, ...

Gay News

Northwestern to run LGBT, AIDS exhibitions 2016-10-05 - Northwestern University's Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston, will run the art exhibition "Keep the Shadow, Ere ...

Gay News

AFC's Project Elevate hosts premiere of video vignettes 2016-10-05 - AIDS Foundation of Chicago's ( AFC ) Project Elevate hosted a red carpet premiere of storyographers video vignettes Sept. 29 at the Hyde ...

Gay News

Thousands participate in AFC's 15th annual AIDS Run and Walk 2016-10-01 - On the rain-soaked morning of Oct. 1 about 2,500 participants gathered for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago's ( AFC ) 15th annual AIDS ...


Copyright © 2016 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.








About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.
[email protected]  •  [email protected]  •  [email protected]

Website Powered by