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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How to Survive a Plague

The AIDS quilt laid out on the Mall in D.C. in 1992.
Your Head Trucker was there, and will never forget
those three days of walking and weeping openly for
all the missing friends and lovers, known and unknown.

Coming to a theater near you in September. Synopsis from filmmaker and award-winning journalist David France:
HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE is the story of the brave young men and women who successfully reversed the tide of an epidemic, demanded the attention of a fearful nation and stopped AIDS from becoming a death sentence. This improbable group of activists bucked oppression and, with no scientific training, infiltrated government agencies and the pharmaceutical industry, helping to identify promising new medication and treatments and move them through trials and into drugstores in record time. In the process, they saved their own lives and ended the darkest days of a veritable plague, while virtually emptying AIDS wards in American hospitals in the process. The powerful story of their fight is a classic tale of empowerment and activism that has since inspired movements for change in everything from breast cancer research to Occupy Wall Street. Their story stands as a powerful inspiration to future generations, a road map, and a call to arms. This is how you change the world.



Andrew Sullivan:
People forget that HIV decimated the immune system - but people actually died from the opportunistic infections. These "OI"s were something out of Dante's Hell. So many drowned to death from pneumocystis. Or they would develop hideous KS lesions, or extremely painful neuropathy (my "buddy" screamed once when I brushed a bedsheet against the tip of his toes), or CMV where a friend of mine had to inject himself in the eyeball to prevent going blind, or toxoplasmosis, a brain degenerative disease where people wake up one day to find they can't tie their shoe-laces, and their memories are falling apart. Within the gay community, 300,000 deaths amounted to a plague of medieval dimensions. Once you knew your T-cells were below a certain level, it was like being in a dark forest where, at any moment, some hideous viral or bacterial creature could emerge and kill you. And for fifteen years there was nothing to take that worked, just the agonizing helplessness of waiting to die, and watching others get assaulted by one terrifying disease after another.

In this immense catastrophe, you had an almost epic tale: no sooner had a critical mass of gay men actually come out, established themselves in urban ghettoes, and finally celebrated their humanity and sexuality than they were struck down in droves. But the next part of the story is the most amazing. We could so easily have given up in shame or self-hatred or exhaustion. But somehow, we found the internal resources to fight back. We knew that the federal government would refuse to react as they would have had this disease occurred anywhere but among homosexuals. And so we were almost a model of self-help, activism and empowerment. We had nothing to lose any more - and that unleashed a kind of gay power that is the most powerful reason, in my view, for why we have made so much progress so quickly since. . . .
You should go read the rest of his piece.

8 comments:

Grandmère Mimi said...

That was a terrible time. Way back when, long before I was an advocate for LGTB equality, I saw Andrew Sullivan on Charlie Rose's show, and I bought his book Virtually Normal. Then I read And the Band Played On and saw the movie, so I was not completely clueless about HIV.

And my cousin died of AIDS. He contracted the virus when he had open heart surgery and needed several units of blood. This was before a blood test for HIV was available. My mother went to see him in the hospital, and he was laughing, because the docs told him he might have AIDS. Well, he did, and the family closed ranks and tried to keep his illness a secret. He died rather quickly, and the family had a private funeral, and no cause of death was given. My cousin told me that she would never tell her daughter what her uncle died of.

We all knew anyway, but his illness was the great unmentionable, even though he was supposedly straight.

It was a terrible time.

Russ Manley said...

"The great unmentionable" - non nominandum inter Christianos - of course.

Unmentionable - undeserving - unworthy - unequal - just like Samaritans and lepers and Negroes and Indians and Jews and women - yes.

To think that way, to act that way, is to disown the Faith.

I'm sorry for your loss. The circusmstances fill me with such rage that I had better say no more here except that I pray God send your relations repentance and better minds.

Davis said...

I was there as well, Russ partly to find the quilt made for my closest friend who had died the year before.

But having lost so many dear friends in that decade makes it hard to even write a few words about the experience.

Lest We Forget

Grandmère Mimi said...

I told my cousin, who was the sister of the man who died, that I thought she was very wrong not to tell her daughter...as though she doesn't know, along with the rest of the family who were left out of the loop.

Russ and Davis, I'm sorry for your losses. The response to the plague was shamefully slow.

Frank said...

We all shed tears over the quilts on the lawn in DC. For those we knew and also for those we never knew. You couldn't not become emotional at the sight.

One aspect of the AIDS epidemic that contributed to moving the LGBT cause ahead was that it "outed" so many men and made the nation aware that we are everywhere, even in your town, and possibly in your house.

I can't say I'm nostalgic for those times, but I would like to see more anger and "fight" among our young people now.

Russ Manley said...

Davis, Frank - Yeah guys, I totally lost it the moment I arrived on the Mall. Was totally unprepared for the shock, the enormity of it all - even though I was already a trained HIV/AIDS volunteer counselor at the time. A PBS crew was out there filming that day, and I don't remember the name of the documentary now, somewhere I have a VHS tape of it, but there I am in a couple of scenes, hanging on to my first husband, crying my eyes out.

You just had to be there. The young'uns now have no idea at all.

Wolf Warren said...

I was there with you at your Side Russ. I will never for get how close Bobby and I became after the signing panel. As he wrote then I write now. " to all I know here, I will be with you soon." Thanks for great memories there and in Boston

Russ Manley said...

Yes, the sadness at the Quilt aside, it was a pleasant trip for the most part.

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