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Moments in the Public Health Response to AIDS, CDPH LGBTQ Outreach Keynote June 28
by Tracy Baim, Windy City Times
2019-07-01

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Chicago Department of Public Health LGBTQ Outreach Keynote Speech, given by Tracy Baim, June 28, 2019, Chicago Cultural Center

The following keynote speech was given in an abbreviated form at the Chicago Department of Public Health Pride Reception June 28, 2019, Chicago Cultural Center. Antonio V. King, CDPH Public Health Administrator—LGBTQ Health & Outreach Liaison, introduced Chicago Reader Publisher and Windy City Times cofounder Tracy Baim. Mayor Lori Lightfoot was among the other speakers that evening. See full report here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/CDPH-hosts-50-Years-Since-Stonewall/66479.html .

Before getting into the main part of my speech about the 1980s Chicago fight against HIV and AIDS, I thought I'd share a short history of some of the individuals and movements that fed into the response to the health crisis.

Rachel Carson, a marine biologist and conservationist, was born in 1907, and started her career at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, before leaving to become a full-time nature writer.

In 1962, Carson wrote the book Silent Spring, which boosted the environmental movement. Carson, a lesbian, wrote about synthetic pesticides, which she believed caused health problems. The book was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, but it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides. It also inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In 1962, Dolores Huerta, who had been advocating for her immigrant students whose parents worked on California farms, co-founded a workers' union alongside community activists including Larry Itliong and Cesar Chavez, which was later known as the United Farm Workers.

The UFW was created through the merger of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee which was mainly Filipino migrants and the National Farm Workers Association which was mainly Mexican migrants. The UFW organized farm workers to fight against low wages and unhealthy conditions, among other battles.

The American Indian Movement is a Native American grassroots movement that was founded in 1968 in Minneapolis. AIM was formed to address issues of poverty and police brutality in urban areas, but they soon included Indigenous Tribal issues

In the decades since AIM's founding, the group has led protests advocating indigenous American interests, inspired cultural renewal, monitored police activities and coordinated employment programs in cities and in rural reservation communities across the U.S.

In 1972, activists marched across country on the "Trail of Broken Treaties" and took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs for several days. They developed a 20-point demand list that included health, housing, employment, economic development, and education for all Indian people.

Also in the 1960s, the Black Panther Party, seeing that many children went to school hungry and that this caused both educational and health concerns, started the Free Breakfast for School Children Program. Research showed the essential role of breakfast for optimal schooling, so the program launched in January 1969 at St. Augustine's Church in Oakland, California—by the end of the year, the Panthers set up kitchens in cities across the US, feeding more than 10,000 children daily.

Free Breakfast was among more than 60 social programs the Panthers renamed Survival Programs in 1971. Another program was referred to as "medical self-defense" with the creation of healthcare clinics and their own ambulance services.

Meanwhile women have been fighting for reproductive health issues for more than 100 years. But with the birth of the modern women's movement in the 1960s also came a renewed push for equitable healthcare, including abortion services.

A 1969 health seminar at Boston's Emmanuel College, organized by Nancy Miriam Hawley, created what became an international phenomenon—the book Our Bodies, Ourselves, produced by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective.

First published in the early 1970s, the book had information related to many aspects of women's health and sexuality, including: sexual health, sexual orientation, gender identity, birth control, abortion, pregnancy and childbirth, violence and abuse. The book was revolutionary in that it encouraged women to celebrate their sexuality.

The New York Times called the book "America's best-selling book on all aspects of women's health" and a "feminist classic."

Parallel to this book coming out, as lesbians felt empowered to take control of their health and take back the streets from violence, to open domestic violence and rape survivor centers, and launch crisis hotlines, gay men started to think about helping their own in cities such as Chicago, where sexually transmitted disease rates were souring. Howard Brown Health was launched in Chicago, and gay public health advocacy had begun in full force, well before HIV was known.

Transgender advocates, especially in New York City, started to form groups to help their own.

Plus, advocates pushed for homosexuals to be taken off diagnosis for mental diseases from various professional associations.

All of this created a strong foundation, one was that needed for a tragedy no one saw coming.

In 1981, the first cases of what later became known as HIV and AIDS started to be diagnosed. It was first called Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. The media coverage was biased when they bothered to cover it at all. One example is when media referred to hemophiliac Ryan White as an "innocent" victim.

In 1984, when Chicago had fewer than 100 diagnosed cases of HIV/AIDS, I started work at GayLife newspaper as an editorial assistant, with our offices located between a gay men's leather bar, the Gold Coast, and the Man's Country bathhouse.

We started to see our friends, colleagues, clients, and community members get diagnosed—and died within days or weeks of diagnosis. At times gay newspapers had several pages of obituaries, and it was news when the Bay Area Reporter published an issue without one obituary in 1998.

Because the mainstream and government health networks did not know how to handle HIV/AIDS, and did not want to treat it sensitively and without stigma, Howard Brown Health, Gay Horizons ( now Center on Halsted ) and other existing groups responded, alongside new organizations such as Open Hand Chicago, Kupona Network, Project VIDA, Chicago Women's AIDS Project, Chicago House, and AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

Political activists were fighting back horrible legislation, including quarantine bills. Funeral homes wouldn't take bodies, dentists wouldn't treat those with HIV, and landlords kicked out surviving partners.

While many people were in denial about the epidemic, others took a helpful approach, whether that was handing out free condoms through the Reimer Project or Stop AIDS, delivering meals, walking dogs and changing cat boxes, or visiting people on the AIDS wards at area hospitals.

Soon, there was also an activist response, usually a few dozen at a time at protests that really helped push for change. Chicago For AIDS Rights and later ACT UP Chicago had a tremendous impact on local and national AIDS funding for research, prevention and care.

What was so powerful about the fight against HIV and AIDS in the 1980s was the role that people living with the disease played in making change for themselves and others they knew would later contract the disease.

They reclaimed the language of being "victims" to be people living with AIDS, or PWAs. They confronted slow-moving government officials, scientists, and pharmaceutical companies. They traveled to Mexico for unproven treatments. They got arrested fighting for their lives.

Bobbi Campbell was a gay San Francisco man who was diagnosed with AIDS in September 1981. Bobbi began meeting with another HIV-positive man, Dan Turner. They laid the groundwork for what was to become known as People with AIDS San Francisco.

Those men joined with others from across the U.S. in 1983 for the Second National AIDS Forum at the National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference, sponsored by the Lesbian and Gay Health Education Foundation. At the conference, people with AIDS from around the country met.

Discussions led to the drafting of The Denver Principles, a groundbreaking document.

They read:

We condemn attempts to label us as 'victims,' a term that implies defeat, and we are only occasionally 'patients,' a term that implies passivity, helplessness, and dependence upon the care of others. We are 'People With AIDS.'

Recommendations for all people:

— Support us in our struggle against those who would fire us from our jobs, evict us from our homes, refuse to touch us or separate us from our loved ones, our community or our peers, since available evidence does not support the view that AIDS can be spread by casual, social contact.

— Don't scapegoat people with AIDS and blame us for the epidemic or generalize about our lifestyles.

Recommendations for people with AIDS:

— Form caucuses to choose their own representatives, to deal with the media, to choose their own agenda and to plan their own strategies.

— Be involved at every level of decision-making and specifically serve on the boards of directors of provider organizations.

— Be included in all AIDS forums with equal credibility as other participants, to share their own experiences and knowledge.

— Substitute high-risk sexual behaviors with lower-risk ones for People With AIDS who would risk endangering their current partners; we feel people with AIDS have an ethical responsibility to inform their potential sexual partners of their health status.

Rights of People With AIDS.

— To as full and satisfying sexual and emotional lives as anyone else.

— To quality medical treatment and quality social service provision without discrimination of any form including sexual orientation, gender, diagnosis, economic status or race.

— To full explanations of all medical procedures and risks, to choose or refuse their treatment modalities, to refuse to participate in research without jeopardizing their treatment and to make informed decisions about their lives.

— To privacy, to confidentiality of medical records, to human respect and to choose who their significant others are.

— To live and die with dignity.

The drafters of The Denver Principles stormed the closing of the conference in order to present their work.

The presentation reportedly brought the crowd to tears. The keynote speaker, Ginny Apuzzo, in response to the presentation, opened with, "if those health care providers in attendance were the health care pioneers, then those of us with AIDS were truly the trailblazers."

Chicago had thousands of similar trailblazers, some of them still with us today. Let me tell you brief stories about three men lost to AIDS, men I spoke about at the governor's reception on Monday.

Robert Ford, born in 1962, died 32 years later in 1994. He was a freelance journalist, publisher, and activist born and raised in Chicago.

He was a frequent contributor to local publications like Jam Sessions, Chicago Music Magazine, Jazzgram, Planet Rock and Babble.

His groundbreaking African-American-focused AIDS column ran in Pulse magazine until the time of his death.

Ford collaborated with Trent Adkins and Laurence Warren to found Think Ink, an arts magazine that was, "very Black, not very gay but queer-friendly."

The publishing trio launched THING 'zine. Running from 1989-1993, THING—"She Knows Who She Is"—became legendary in 'zine communities.

Dr. Ron Sable, an openly gay physician, co-founded the first comprehensive HIV/AIDS clinic at Cook County Hospital. Sable spent his entire medical career at Chicago's Cook County Hospital. Sable was also a medic for 13 months in Vietnam.

He was active in local politics, running twice as an openly gay candidate for 44th Ward alderman ( in 1987 and 1991 ) and founding IMPACT, a gay and lesbian political action committee.

Even though Sable lost both races, his campaigns themselves were important catalysts. In particular, his 1987 campaign drew in many new activists, who went on to work on the March on Washington.

His AIDS activism extended beyond County Hospital—Sable was active in city, state, and federal AIDS issues. He helped to found the AIDS Foundation of Chicago

In 1993, Sable announced, in a letter he sent to hundreds of friends and colleagues, that he was HIV-positive. He died December 30, 1993 at age 48

Danny Sotomayor was born in 1958 and died in Feb. 5, 1992, a short life but one filled with passion.

Sotomayor's life changed dramatically with his AIDS diagnosis in 1988. After experiencing the power of ACT UP/New York at the Food and Drug Administration demonstration in Maryland, Sotomayor returned to Chicago transformed. Along with Paul Adams, Lori Cannon, and many others, he helped create the Chicago chapter of ACT UP, and Sotomayor became a highly visible member of the organization. He was a graphic designer and his colorful HIV-awareness and safe-sex T-shirts, buttons and posters helped give the group a visual identity and raised funds.

Sotomayor also gained notoriety for his confrontation of Mayor Richard M. Daley on the issue of AIDS rights and funding. Daley once said of him, "Why is that man always screaming at me?" Sotomayor's tactics are considered a major factor in Daley's increase in AIDS funding.

In 1989 he became the first nationally syndicated, openly gay editorial cartoonist, contributing more than 200 cartoons in several gay publications.

It is now 2019. There are approximately 35,728 people living with HIV in Illinois. More than 1.1 million are living with HIV in the United States.

There are 19,704 living with HIV in Chicago.

African Americans continue to experience the most severe burden of HIV, compared with other races and ethnicities. In Illinois 46.8% of those testing positive for HIV are Black, 27.4% are Hispanic/Latinx, and 19.1% are white.

The U.S. lost 116,516 in World War I.

405,399 in World War II.

54,246 in the Korean War.

58,209 in the Vietnam War.

2,216 in Afghanistan.

4,497 in Iraq.

As of early 2019, about 700,000 people have died of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. since the beginning of the HIV epidemic. 700,000.

That is more than the total U.S. losses in the wars I listed above.

But many people in America have never acknowledged we have been in this war for almost four decades.

Thankfully, and thanks to many people in this room, we knew there was a war on, and we responded.


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