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In her book "Infectious Ideas: U.S. Political Responses to the AIDS Crisis", Jennifer Brier, PhD, Associate Professor of Gender and Women's Studies & History at University of Illinois at Chicago argues that "AIDS provides the perfect lens through which to see the complex social and political history of the 1980s and 1990s." Last year for the US National Library of Medicine (NLM), Brier curated an online and traveling exhibition,"Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics and Culture". This provided her with an opportunity to revisit her work and use images to share information. Broken down into five section (Affection is Our Best Protection; Doing Science, Making Myth; Government (In)Action; Fight Back, Fight AIDS; and AIDS is Not Over) the exhibition explores the ongoing epidemic in a US context, centered on the experiences of people living with HIV. The title itself coming from a 1987 book written by People With AIDS Coalition, New York. In the interview below, Brier discusses her personal connection to the work, her research practices, and how she understands that AIDS is not over.

Visual AIDS: Your exhibition organizes around people living with HIV/AIDS, specifically around a book entitled Surviving and Thriving which was an insistence that people "could live with AIDS, not just die from it." How does viewing the politics and culture of AIDS through the lens of people living with HIV impact what is seen and how it is seen?

Jennifer Brier: I want to answer it as a historian who has written about AIDS as well as a person who has experienced the loss of friends from AIDS and has relationships with people living with AIDS.

When Michael Callen and the People with AIDS Coalition published Surviving and Thriving with AIDS in 1988, they were writing about a movement that had its origins in a Gay and Lesbian Health Convention held in Denver in 1983. At this historic meeting (you can see pictures of it in the exhibition and read the Denver Principles), people who had once been called "victims of AIDS," as was often the case in the press when talking about the AIDS epidemic, organized and pushed back against the tendency to see people with AIDS as unable to advocate for themselves. This became part of a larger strategy to demand and secure care and treatment in the face of profound government and societal indifference to the AIDS crisis. These budding AIDS activists coined the terms "people with AIDS" and "people living with AIDS," phrases that are so ubiquitous today that we often see only the acronym "PWA." At the heart of this renaming was the idea that people were not victims of a syndrome, but rather needed to be treated humanely and ethically. It also symbolized the idea that people with AIDS were not be seen a needy or incapable, but rather as agents of change and care in their own lives. Finally, it was a way of talking about the existence of long-term survivors, people who had lived with AIDS in an era when the only treatment available was AZT, and it was given in doses so high as to produce horrible reactions.

Centering the experience of people with AIDS in the exhibition meant naming the centrality of people with AIDS in the epidemic's history. The history can never accurately be told if we focus only on how the medical or public health professions responded, or just the indifference of the government. We have to remember that people with AIDS have fundamentally changed the course of AIDS, whether in terms of providing care in the absence of state responses, imagining what treatment activism could and should look like, or keeping AIDS in the public consciousness. While far too many people have died doing this work over the last thirty+ years, the identifier "people living with AIDS" remains a critical intervention into how we think about the history of AIDS.

VA: Can you walk us through your research process? What were some of your early curiosities and how did you decide up on what to focus on?

JB: The first place I turned when NLM approached me to curate this exhibition was back to my book, Infectious Ideas. The whole process by which I came to write is too long to go into here, but a short answer is that growing up in the East Village of New York City in the 1970s and 1980s, with parents who were public employees and active in various aspects of progressive politics, meant that AIDS was part of my life as a teenager. The first person close to my family to die, a gay white man named Kevin, was in 1983. I was twelve and have vivid memories of his life and death. A few years later, a few of the men who lived or worked on my block, all men of color, none of whom identified as gay but had been in and out of the criminal legal system, got sick as well. In deciding to take on writing a history of AIDS, first as a dissertation and then as a book, I knew I needed to be able to explain, to myself and others, the larger and longer history that related to my teenage memories. The way I learned to do that in history graduate school, for better and for worst, was to find archives and mine them for historical evidence. I was lucky to find material collected all over the country: in San Francisco at the public library, UCSF and GLBT Historical Society; in Simi Valley California at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Archive; in New York City at the LGBT Community Center National History Archive in the Center; and in Chicago at the Gerber Hart Library and Archives.

Getting to curate an exhibition for NLM meant that I got to revise some of the thinking I'd done for Infectious Ideas. Most notably, this meant that I would have to exchange words for images and figure out how to tell a historical narrative in less than 3,000 words. But again I started in the archive, only this time it was the collection of AIDS prevention posters held at the NLM. I had looked at these when I was working on Infectious Ideas, but had not spent as much time with them as I did for the exhibition. The collection is stunning--sometimes stunningly beautiful, sometimes stunningly hideous--and tells a visual story of how various entities, although often public health officials, helped people understand what AIDS was and was not. Beyond the collection held on the NIH campus, we were also able to track down and use several images early AIDS activists, Michael Callen and Richard Berkowitz, men I'd written about but had never seen writing, How to Have Sex in an Epidemic.

But as I further reflect on the question, I realize that the book was about a group of people I call "AIDS workers," (a term I use to fuzzy the distinction between AIDS service providers and AIDS activists, especially as both service providers and activists struggled to make arguments about racial and economic justice as central to demands for AIDS treatment and prevention) who were not necessarily people living with AIDS. While many of the AIDS workers I wrote about in Infectious Ideas were also people living with AIDS, I did not focus on them as explicitly as I do in Surviving and Thriving. I am glad that I got a chance to emphasize the experiences of people with AIDS, and do it in a way that will be seen by many people.

VA: Both implicit, with the images you select, and explicit with the exhibition final section, you make clear that AIDS is not over. Is the idea that it is over something you came up against a lot in the creation of the exhibition?

I did not come up against the idea that AIDS is over in the creation of the exhibition, but the idea that AIDS is either over or that no one cares about it anymore is something I hear often, whether in media inquiries or in conversations about my work. I think those arguments often comes in the form of "AIDS is a chronic disease in the United States and a dire crisis in other parts of the world." The "other parts of the world" piece, is often implied to be the African continent, but is always referred to as "Africa," as if it is one monolithic place. Put in its simplest form: The crisis is over there, but not here. I find the logic deeply troubling on many fronts, and tried to address some of that in the exhibition, particularly as it relates to AIDS in the United States. (I should say here that the show's focus on the United States was a matter of space, not desire to talk to about. I would like to see another exhibition developed that might travel with Surviving and Thriving, but that is for another day). One of the clearest ways to see that we do not have sufficient and just health care in the United States is to look at the legacy of the ACT UP claim that "health care is a right!" This demand, one that appeared alongside "get drugs into bodies," suggests that many AIDS activists refused to see treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS as separate from other methods for making people healthy. Even with significant programs to address the treatment needs of people with AIDS in the United States, and with the adoption of the Affordable Care Act, people continue to struggle to get adequate treatment and care, not to mention that HIV/AIDS is often only one of the many life threatening conditions people face. Here I am thinking about lack of sufficient housing, access to harm reduction around drug use, and pipelines to prisons and not schools.

VA: Your exhibition comes at a time where there is an increased dialogue in the culture around HIV/AIDS that was not happening in 5 to 10 years ago. What do you think has changed? And what has been some of the response to the exhibition?

JB: I can best speak about the dialogue within history and cultural studies. When I first started writing my dissertation in the mid-to-late 1990s, I found myself in the middle of a huge interdisciplinary conversation about AIDS. By the early 2000s, that really started to teeter off. It seemed like all the academic work on AIDS was happening in the social sciences, behavioral sciences, and medical sciences, but not as much in the humanities. Queer Studies, which in many ways had been built through an analysis of AIDS, had moved into different terrain including discussion of homonormativity and neoliberalism. It felt a little bit like all this new work, whether in Sociology or Queer Studies, seemed uninterested in the critical intervention humanities and arts scholars had made to the field of AIDS studies. So I sort of made my way without knowing what contemporaneous body of literature I would end up in conversation with. Luckily, when my book came out in 2009 it did along side two others by Debbie Gould and Roger Hallas. It felt like a mini-renaissance. The three of us were quite excited about this coincidence and were able to have the books reviewed together in GLQ.

In the last year I have seen this uptick continue. I have just reviewed a manuscript on the history of the myth of Patient Zero for a major press and have an article on AIDS in Chicago to review for the most prestigious US history journal in my inbox.

The reaction to the exhibition has been positive, and I know that the website has been visited 19,000 times, with over 47,000 page views. This is the kind of exposure that I could almost never imagine for my published academic work. I am excited to be able to write for Visual AIDS because this has been a critical site for a conversation about AIDS, arts and culture, especially as we see the production of several exhibitions on AIDS in the last few years, including the rightly vilified "AIDS in New York: The First Five Years" at the New York Historical Society and "Why We Fight: Remembering AIDS Activism" at the New York Public Library.

Please look here to see if Surviving and Thriving is being shown near you at some point in the next three years. You can also use the site to book the exhibition for a six-week run.

Jennifer Brier is Director of the Program in Gender and Women's Studies at UIC, where she is also an Associate Professor of GWS and the History Department in 2009. She specializes in US gay and lesbian history, the history of sexuality and gender, and public history. Brier is the author of Infectious Ideas: U.S. Political Response to the AIDS Crisis, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2009, and reissued in paperback in 2011.Between 2008 and 2011, Brier co-curated with Jill Austin Out in Chicago, the Chicago History Museum's award winning exhibition on LGBT history in Chicago that ran from May 2011 to March 2012. Brier is currently at work on a major public history project called History Moves, a community-curated mobile gallery that will provide a space for Chicago-based community organizers and activists to share their histories with a wide audience. This project is designed as a collaboration across and beyond the UIC campus with team members (faculty, students and staff) from the Colleges of Architecture and Design, the Departments of History and Communication, the Jane Addams Hull House Museum, the Read/Write Library, and the Third Coast International Audio Festival. Brier serves as the Co-Chair, with Don Romesburg, of the Committee on LGBT History, an affiliate society of the American Historical Association. She just joined the editorial board of the Journal of the History of Sexuality.

Artist Cathy Busby in Conversation with Writer Amy Fung

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This e-mail exchange between artist Cathy Busby and writer Amy Fung took place in the weeks leading up to Busby's book launch for Steve's Vinyl on March 27, 2014 at READ Books in Vancouver, Canada.

Beginning as an art installation and World AIDS Day event at the Khyber Centre for the Arts in Halifax in 2011, Steve's Vinyl (2013) is published by Visual AIDS, New York and Emily Carr University Press in the Pile Driver Editions Series.

Amy Fung: In 1993 after your older brother, Steve, passed away from AIDS related illnesses, you were bequeathed hundreds of vinyl record albums, amongst other personal items, which you kept for some 18 years after several moves across the country. What made you able to finally let them go?

Cathy Busby: They felt hot, like emotionally charged for a long time. I didn't want to look at or play them because they reminded me too vividly of Steve and that he was gone. Over the years, this feeling gradually decreased. Everything about accepting that Steve had died got easier over time.

I knew the albums were interesting, both the graphics and music, and as a collection, could be the raw material for an art event. Collectively, I saw them as a portrait of an era and of Steve. I often work with collections in my practice and with commemorating people or events. And there's usually accompanying printed matter. The idea simmered in my mind for a couple of years before the time and place were right. I wanted to do something celebratory and exciting with them, something fun and memorable and the idea occurred to me to stage an installation and performance giveaway and to document it all and make a book. The idea didn't come together quite as tidily as I make it sound here, but looking back, that's what happened.

AF. Let's talk about the albums, specifically. In the book, you refer to them as a "time machine," as stimulants of memory and pleasure. I read that in terms of each object holding personal significance, but also that as a collection, they spoke of an underground gay subculture coded into pop culture and mainstream visual language. How did you relate to the underground then? And looking back, how do you feel about it now?

CB: The albums collectively, their graphics and music, take me to the 70s, even though many of them are from much later. I was in my teens. I remember playing records like Jethro Tull's, Aqualung and Cat Steven's Tea for the Tillerman in the living room of our family home on the Hi Fi stereo.

A couple of years after Steve left home in the suburbs to live in downtown Toronto, he moved in with his boyfriend, Yvon. That was 1974. I remember being with the two of them and Steve expecting me to see their relationship as normal and I soon did. They enjoyed their home-life together also liked to 'go out', together or on their own. Steve's friends, who were wide-ranging in their levels of ambition, education, their cultural and ethnic backgrounds, but they were almost all gay and I guess that was the common thread.

The part of the "underground" I recall strongly was going to Gay bars, "Boots," or something like that. There was something wondrous about this scene for me. A big dark room full of mostly buff guys with tight t-shirts and leather jackets, sometimes chaps, all hot and sweaty. I'd stick close to Steve. He'd introduce me as his sister to the guys. I remember hearing the Village People's YMCA on one of these occasions and everyone dancing together including us. It was so much fun!

Looking back, it was an exciting, mind-opening exposure to another world. It made a deep impression on me. I felt accepted, even though I was an outsider.

AF. Let's talk about the status of the outsider. I am thinking in particular of being a woman in the context of HIV/AIDS visual representation, as both a creator and a voice, but we can also talk about being an outsider in the context of gay and queer culture, especially as it overlaps with the art world. I don't think these things are mutually exclusive, but as an artist, a woman, a human being working across all of these worlds, what are the advantages of being an outsider?

CB. It's an interesting question. I don't usually see myself as an outsider, but let me try it on.

The advantage of being an outsider is mobility. If you don't mind being an outsider you can move between different social worlds. It's a privileged position to be in, being in different places and being accepted as an ally or "passing" in that setting. I don't do it casually, but it's part of my life and my art practice.

Many of the most important things I feel I've done or made have been from this position of belonging someplace temporarily. Like when I was in New York researching AA groups between 1995 to 1996. I'm not an addict or an alcoholic, but I was writing about victim-to-survivor culture as fundamental to self-help culture. I asked and was accepted as an observer in many meetings. In return, I told my story. It was a privilege because I wasn't suffering the way other attendees were; I wasn't part of their shared struggle, but I was included and trusted.

Getting back to your question, as a woman in the context of HIV/AIDS visual representation, which has always been mainly the domain of gay men, my involvement came as a continuation of being alongside my brother during his illness. While he was sick, we made a little video of all the pills he was taking where he introduced each of them and described what it was for. I didn't do anything with this video, but it was part of going through this time with him. Also in these years, I was co-editing an anthology about pain, When Pain Strikes (Burns, Busby, Sawchuk, eds, University of Minnesota Press, Theory Out of Bounds series, 1999, pg 287.) and we asked Steve to write a chapter ("Taking Control: How I Learned to Live with AIDS").

Towards the end of Steve's life, we were connecting in a new way through conversations about what AIDS meant in his life; and also through his actions, like his writing, and public presentations to medical professionals. In that sense, with Steve's Vinyl the event and the book, I picked up that thread.

Instead of an outsider, I'm more comfortable identifying as an ally. I align myself with issues where I feel there's an urgency to push for justice. I feel a need to push things to the foreground that touch my life and that I feel are important. My work is always about things I care deeply about. My art practice pushes.

AF. I think you've touched on the core of what I am drawn to, and that's empathy and the power to evoke and the power to feel and communicate empathy. Even when family and siblings are involved, there hasn't historically been a lot of compassion or understanding let alone empathy when people started getting sick from HIV AIDS. I should preface this by saying that I was born in the generation during the AIDS crisis, someone who has always known a world with AIDS and grew up internalizing the stigmatization before I ever really understood what the letters even stood for. Only in recent years am I learning how through systematic neglect, it became a political act to care for one another, to stand up for each other. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on the positions of the politically engaged artist in relation to the position of the caregiver?

CB: I remember seeing a cover story about AIDS in Time magazine in the summer of 1985, the same year Rock Hudson died. It was around that time that it occurred to me that Steve was vulnerable to this disease as a gay man. I didn't say anything about it to him then. In 1992 when Steve's HIV positive status shifted to AIDS and his health was deteriorating, he told us.

I remember the call from my dad in the winter of 1991 telling me Steve was sick. Turned out he had been HIV positive for at least five years. I'm sure Steve realized the news of the diagnosis would be excruciating hard for all of us. I know he had lots of feelings he had to deal with. The illness and Steve's decline encouraged all of us who were close to him to do the best we could to be there for him.

I'm sure there are thousands of stories of siblings, parents, friends, lovers and ex-lovers gathering around their loved one, forming support circles, listening, figuring out how go through this. I had some sense of belonging to a clan of sufferers - friends and family of those with, or lost to AIDS-related illness. I especially felt close to Steve's friends, mostly gay men, who I got closer to in the process of being with Steve in the two years between his diagnosis with AIDS and his death.

Empathy, yes. At the same time, whenever possible, empathy shouldn't be without concern for the bigger picture, for public policy, for improvements to the system. As Paul Bloom writes, "Empathy has some unfortunate features--it is parochial, narrow-minded, and innumerate." (Paul Bloom, New Yorker, May 20, 2013) I attempt to attend to both in my life and art. Steve's Vinyl is about our lives; me, Steve, our family and friends. The book's about remembering Steve and it's also about contributing another story to HIV/AIDS representation and discourse, and about doing that now. AIDS isn't over.

AF. Ongoing AIDS. Ongoing Art. I think that's a good place to end this conversation for the time being. Thank you.


Cathy Busby is an artist based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She has exhibited her large-scale installations and printed matter in Canada and internationally. She was recently artist-in-residence with the Institute of Art, Religion and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary, New York and then at Emily Carr. She is currently a visiting professor at the University British Columbia.

Amy Fung is currently a Vancouver-based writer and curator who publishes nationally and internationally in journals, magazines, catalogues, and monographs in print and online. Her recent projects include There are reasons for looking and feeling and thinking about things that are invisible: a two day event on New Narratives in art writing and They Made A Day Be A Day Here.

Notes on a Flash

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Last month, inspired by recent conversation, Visual AIDS hosted, Flash Collectives: Creating Agile Strategies for Social Change at the Brooklyn Community Pride Center with artist Avram Finkelstein and members of the Fucklaws collective out of Montreal. 

The event began with a warm up discussion around PrEP, PEP, and HIV Criminalization - topics of which many people are still unaware, or have been given incorrect information about. Then, Avram led a discussion on the power of collectives, as someone who has started and been a part of many. In Montreal recently for the Concordia HIV/AIDS lecture series, he spoke about the one day Flash Collectives workshop he did in Canada, resulting in Fucklaws. Organized around ending HIV Criminalization, the collective shared experience and knowledge around the topic, and then in one day with institutional support, produced buttons, a digital billboard, stickers, cards, and a tumblr site.

Members of he Fucklaws collective were on hand at Flash Collectives to discuss their experience, provide best practices, and share questions they were left with. Wrapping the evening up, activist Joshua V Pavan asked the group the following questions, important considerations:

  • One of the premises of the day was that we would set political differences aside and not let ourselves get bogged down in fighting over details. And it was very productive. But how much of this was due to the fact that we were aiming for an introductory-level pamphlet? As we move forward on different projects that have more complex analyses, can we still just set try to politics aside or will those differences just manifest in different ways?
  • We had a very effective day creating and producing the materials, but since then have been less effective at the actual distribution of the work. Can the flash collective model be applied to the distribution side of activism as well, or is it structurally-biased towards creation?
  • Working under the imperative to JUST DO SOMETHING got us off our asses and got things done. But again as we move forward and start new projects, how do we ensure that these fit into a larger strategy and into a larger movement?

To learn more about the Fucklaws expereince, read member Jenny Doubt's essay: Collective Strategies on Visual Production on HIV Criminalization
To learn more about the Flash Collective, download the event notes (below).
If you have started a Flash Collectives around HIV/AIDS feel free to tell us about it:

Weiner Should Have Let it All Hang Out

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The latest sexting allegations against Anthony Weiner hit the day of the Mayoral Candidates Forum, Focusing on HIV/AIDS was held at GMHC. With Weiner falling behind in the polls since then,Visual AIDS program manager Ted Kerr suggests Weiner should have seized the perfect storm of the scandal and the event to talk about his own experiences, create solidarity with people living with HIV, and begin a frank discussion about sex, risk and unjust outcomes.

The Mayoral Candidate Forum Focusing on HIV/AIDS at GMHC started late because front-runner Anthony Weiner was apologizing in the next room. More sexting stories had surfaced, a setback for Weiner who was starting to overcome a related scandal from two years ago in which he resigned from Congress after it came out he was carrying on sexual online relationships outside of his marriage.

Earlier in the day fellow Democratic hopefuls Bill de Blasio and Sal F. Albanese asked Weiner to pull out of the race. He declined. Candidate John Liu told reporters, "The issue of Anthony's relationships, online or otherwise, is between he and his wife, however the propensity for pornographic selfies is a valid issue for voters."

While I am not sure it is a valid issue for voters, I do think that a discussion of them, started by Weiner, could be the beginning of a liberatory discussion around sex, drive and desire. Sitting, admiring the Keith Haring installation that bordered the 7th floor GMHC lunchroom where the forum was taking place, I hoped Weiner would use the occasion to talk about what he was going through. After all, how could he not? Wasn't the forum a perfect site? The audience was people living with HIV, and those impacted by the virus, all of who know what it is to suffer because of society's ideas of right and wrong. AIDS, for all the leaps and bounds made in research and medicine, is still complicated by stigma and discrimination. While being caught sexting is not the same as living with HIV, Weiner would be wise to seize the moment, and create community. Keith Haring, even in his final months, used his public persona to create awareness of HIV/AIDS. Certainly the virile Weiner could also do the same.

Weiner was in the perfect position to illustrate how the public's focus on sexting, instead of his record as a City Councilor and a member of the House of Representatives, was just one example of the stigma attached to sex that makes safer sex education, prevention campaigns, and getting people on treatment more difficult.

He was well poised to discuss sexting as a safer sex method, yet not without risks.

He was in a place where he could easily distance himself from his predecessors, such as Koch and Giuliani, whose puritan approach to sex not only cost people's lives (in Koch's case), but also gutted in the city (under Giuliani's rule).

And, he was situated to establish himself as something we know him to be, and someone relatable - a sexual being.

While talking about sex could be seen as a political risk, the pay off for ushering in a frank discussion may be worth it. He was after all the star attraction and sex is still the leading mode of HIV transmission. In 2010, as the CDC reports, around 30 000 new HIV infections occurred between men who have sex with men, just over 10 000 between heterosexuals, and far less than 10 000 through intravenous drug use. Since the late 80s there has been a sharp decline in HIV transmission through drug use due to needle exchange, and a concerted effort to talk about HIV and drug use. The same cannot be said around sex and HIV.

Watching Weiner, who I had only known as a tabloid subject, was impressive. With every response he connected with the audience, and in between questions he joked with his fellow contenders. Like other candidates, he felt rent caps and HASA had to change and agreed the ways in which HIV advisory board needed an overhaul; he rejected the idea that the City should consult the State about property issues that impacted the poor; and talked briefly about infections rates related to race. With every response Weiner got up, inching himself in closer to Haring's drawings, establishing himself as a man who stood up for what he believed in. 

At his most remarkable Weiner brought up undocumented gay people and access to healthcare, and the challenges facing trans folks navigating New York's bureaucracy. He did this with a deft touch, and an implied understanding that immigration reform, and self-determination (read: justice) are forms of HIV prevention.

He put on a good show. As The New York Times reported the next day, Weiner, "spoke passionately about issues like housing, gay rights and health care, distinguishing himself from his rivals by rising from his chair and gesticulating forcefully, the audience responded warmly, with shouts of "Yes, that's right!" and "You the man!""

But for all the good he did, he did not deliver.  At the center of a public conversation about desire and his body, speaking about HIV/AIDS, he did not say the word sex. He could have created solidarity, raising the profile of those who experience stigma because of sex. He did not use his privilege and unique circumstances to improve the life chances for others. He let down a group of people that could have been his best allies.

A sex positive mayor would have gone a long way for the clients of GMHC, VOCAL and Iris House (all of whom were in attendance) and the people we work with at Visual AIDS - but they will go on without Weiner. If polls are any indication, Weiner may not survive the race.

Weiner should have taken a page out of he personal playbook and exposed himself. He should have talked about sex. He missed an opportunity to show himself as a real leader, and someone deeply invested in ending the AIDS crisis. Instead, he stuck to what was expected of him, thus further enshrining the shame already surrounding sex, entrenching the notion that sex is only a private affair (even though through his actions and the ramifications illustrate otherwise), and adding to the silence around sex we know exasperates the epidemic.

Sadly, he was not alone. Not once during the forum was sex discussed in a meaningful way, not by a candidate, or the moderators. The word sex itself was barely uttered. One exception being when John Liu remarked that his interns had made safer sex condom packs at GMHC in the past.

30+ years into the epidemic and the most we can expect from the best and the brightest hoping to lead a city with a higher HIV rate than the next 3 cities combined is an off the cuff remark about condoms. Even in 2013, at a mayoral candidate forum on HIV/AIDS, with a leading contender embroiled in a sexting scandal, we still can't have a public discussion about sex. 

While Weiner may shirked an opportunity that was his to have, all the candidates failed to address the AIDS crisis head on by not talking about sex.

Does PRIDE stress you out? Get you down?

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Does pride stress you out, get you down, leaving you wanting more? 

Yet at the same time, do you too want to feel connected to history, feel in community with others, and have a reason to leave the house?

Join Visual AIDS for a weekend of events that will have you surrounded by art, action, friends, and fun...Call it the Visual AIDS Alternative Pride Weekend!

Tell your boss you need to leave early to make a difference and join Visual AIDS as we join the Audre Lorde Project for the 9th annual Trans Day of action. Then walk with us from the pier to Printed Matter where we will sweat along side artists prvtdncr & bodega vendetta for their opening House in Vermont. And then let your body be lead around the city on Elastic City's walking experience Spread!
2:00 - 5:00 PM
Christopher Street Pier / Pier 45
On Friday, June 28, 2013, Trans People of Color and allies will take on the streets of New York City once again and demand justice and to let the world know that the Stonewall rebellion is not over and we will continue fighting for justice and raising our voices until we are heard.

presented by prvtdncr & bodega vendetta
6:00 - 8:00 PM
Printed Matter, 195 Tenth Ave at 22nd Street
prvtdncr and bodega vendetta's work is a correspondence between two friends. A back and forth about their lives, place in the world and histories. Honoring all the queens who came before, some here - some not.  Simultaneously glorifying and taking it lightly. House in Vermont in curated by Shannon Michael Cane.

An artist's walk led by ELASTIC CITY
7:00 PM sharp
Greenley Square @ W 33rd street btw Broadway & 6th ave
On this participatory walk, we will investigate the language and actions of spreading. The group will spread itself like a virus, disseminating secrets and offering our desires to each other and passersby. All are welcome. Spread the word. Each walk holds about 12 people.  RSVP here.

If you don't have to work, roll yourself out of bed and check out Party Picks, photos by Visual AIDS artist member Jimmy DeSana at Salon 94, then come back to Printed Matter for Sweater Queens Collaging Group. Then the night is yours! May we suggest ice cream? Or visiting The Bureau before it relocates?

Jimmy De Sana
11:00 AM to 6:00 PM on Saturday
Salon 94, 243 Bowery
Party Picks brings together a selection of DeSana's photography from 1975 to 1987 that includes portraits of a number of prominent figures of the downtown New York art and music scene, as well as an overview of his staged investigations of the limits of both photography and the human body.

Presented by prvtdncr & bodega vendetta
5:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Printed Matter, 195 Tenth Avenue at 22nd Street
Join the artists for an afternoon of cocktails and crafting.

The Bureau of General Services - Queer Division book store
11:00 AM - 7:00 PM on Saturday
27 Orchard Street
The pop up queer bookstore and community space is on the move at the end of August! Support them now to ensure they find a great place to land.

Last day to check out NOT OVER at La MaMa Galleria. So make a day of it! Check out the exhibition, stay for the curator's talk, celebrate the launch of our newest publication--and for the really committed--stay and help us de-install. (oh, and if you want, march in the pride parade with ACT UP / QUEEROCRACY and Visual AIDS)
Hours 1:00 PM - 7:00 PM on Sunday
La MaMa Galleria
6 East 1st Street
With work from over 40 artists, spanning 3 decades, the exhibition looks at the ongoing cultural production around HIV/AIDS. Holland Cotter of the New York Times says, "Go, see it!"

3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
La MaMa Galleria
6 East 1st Street
Moderated by Nayland Blake, this conversation with curators Sur Rodney (Sur), Kris Nuzzi, and Andrew Blackley will provide a behind-the-scenes look at the making of our summer exhibitions.

5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
La MaMa Galleria
6 East 1st Street
Join us in celebrating the launch of our publication NOT OVER: 25 Years of Visual AIDS. The book includes a timeline of Visual AIDS, plenty of images and artworks, essays by C.Carr, Robert Atkins, Aldrin Valdez, Nelson Santos and an interview between Jessica Whitbread and Fred Weston. $20

Meet 11:30 AM @ 39th street and Madison
Join us as we march with ACT UP and QUEEROCRACY, letting the world know that HIV IS NOT A CRIME.

Face it, you will have Visual AIDS hang over. Nurse it by checking out our exhibition at the Fales Library entitled, Not only this, but 'New language beckons us.'
Not only this, but ' New language beckons us.'

10:00 AM to 4:45 PM
Fales Library and Special Collections
70 Washington Square South
"Not only this..." is composed of archival objects from the Fales Library's Downtown Collection coupled with newly commissioned texts from contemporary artists and writers.

About the image: Entitled, HIV is Fun the ink on paper work was created by Visual AIDS artist member Pirate Jeffrey. The image features pac-man ghosts with phrases such as "I want to kill you", "This is fun" and " Eat you alive". Using humor as a defense mechanize he realizes even other people living with HIV may not find the work funny. He released it this weekend, in time with Pride, because it is reportedly a weekend with high rates of HIV transmission.

Our Untold Stories

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On March 10th Visual AIDS hosted a public discussion entitled TIME IS NOT A LINE in which thoughts, feelings and ideas about the ongoing AIDS crisis were shared across generations in small and large groups, and through presentations. Hanging out afterwards, eating what was left of the snacks, Visual AIDS program manager Ted Kerr had a chance to speak with activist and writer Ron Goldberg who had been in attendance. Goldberg shared that he was working on a memoir about his early AIDS activism, explaining that putting history down on paper to share was important to him because of his own search for a past. Goldberg shares his experience in the essay that follows.

For many ACT UP veterans and AIDS Generation survivors, 2012 was the year our lives became "History." Long-hidden home movies - shaky videos of us marching on City Hall and storming the NIH, so young and passionate, laughing, screaming, waving innocently at the camera and angrily keening over the bodies of our dead friends - were being projected onto movie screens, and our actions of 25 years ago cited on TV, in newspapers, and on the web as a benchmark for effective activism.

It was something of a shock.

It's not that we doubted the importance of what we had done - we knew, even then, that we were changing the world - but I don't think we ever thought that anyone would care. After all, so few seemed to care about AIDS in the first place. But now that it appears they do, we have to begin to think about the history that we're sharing.

For me, this is not an idle question. For the past four years, I've been working on my own retelling of our history, a memoir of my life with ACT UP titled, "Boy With the Bullhorn" - I was, among other things ACT UP's unofficial Chant Queen - and I constantly worry if I'm up to the task of telling this dense and complex story. I worry, like Ouisa in John Guare's "Six Degrees of Separation," about turning real and profound experiences into anecdotes, and simplifying complicated events and personalities into stock figures playing out their roles in some neat and tidy narrative. I worry about presenting a nostalgic, rose-colored version of ACT UP--one that glorifies it as a golden age of community activism, but without capturing the anger, confusion, love, terror, humor, and despair that made it run.

But even if I manage to retain some control over how I tell my story, I still worry about how it will be heard. I know how hungry we can be, particularly young queer people, to discover our history. We long to find heroes to look up to and to see our lives reflected in a film or photograph, or in the pages of a book or web site.

I remember how excited I was when I started to uncover my own queer heroes. A bunch of us in ACT UP had formed a study group to search out our queer activist history in celebration of the upcoming Twentieth Anniversary of Stonewall. Most of us knew the basic outline of the story and how the riots gave birth to Gay Liberation and the gay rights movement, but we didn't understand it in any great depth. After all, it wasn't something that was taught in school or passed down by families around the kitchen table.

But then again, it wasn't being talked about in our community either. When I went looking for books on our history, I came away from the Oscar Wilde and Different Light Bookshops practically empty-handed. Oh, they had plenty of self-help and coming out books, stacks of lesbian and gay fiction and erotica, and shelves of AIDS and health-related materials, but only a small handful of books on gay history and politics, most notably John D'Emilio's essential "Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities," which introduced me to Harry Hay, Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny, and other hidden heroes of the pre-liberation age. The one volume I found on Gay Liberation, Toby Marotta's "The Politics of Homosexuality," was buried at the bottom of the discount bin.

Fortunately, I was headed to San Francisco for a week's vacation and, while there, I stumbled into an old used bookstore in the Castro where I discovered a treasure-trove of out-of-print books on Gay Liberation and the early gay rights movement. I felt like a miner who had hit the mother lode. I raced up and down the aisles grabbing as many books as I could carry--Donn Teal's "The Gay Militants;" "Sappho Was a Right-On Women," by Sidney Abbott and Barbara Love; Arthur Bell's dishy "Dancing the Gay Lib Blues;" and the remarkable "Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation" anthologies edited by Karla Jay and Allen Young. I spent hours flipping through the pages, wide-eyed and amazed at the bravery, wit, and daring of my queer predecessors, and seeing my own activist life reflected back at me through their experiences.

It took me a while, but then it suddenly hit me--why all these books were here.

This wasn't a bookstore. It was a cemetery.

Who were the men whose names were inscribed on the inside covers and title pages of these books, and what were their stories? What had brought them to San Francisco? What was it like here before the epidemic, during those halcyon "Tales of the City" days? Where were they when they heard that Harvey Milk was shot? Did they light candles and join the march to City Hall that night, and did they riot six months later when Dan White was sentenced? Who was the first in their circle to get sick? Were they caretakers or activists--or perhaps both? Did they set up tents with the ARC/AIDS vigil or volunteer with The Shanti Project? Did they sew Quilt panels or join ACT UP and block the Golden Gate Bridge? What remained of their lives, their friends, and the community they knew, and who would be able to tell their stories? 

This cruel juxtaposition is at the heart of our history, and I think about it whenever I write or talk to young people about ACT UP.

While I am, of course, happy to share our story of empowerment and queers fighting back, and hope you are inspired and see your own lives reflected in the tale, you must also understand that a crucial part - no, the crucial part - of this history is what (or who) is missing and the stories that cannot be told.

For despite all the footage and photos, the history of ACT UP is in many ways a ghost story, filled with lost friends, lovers, and comrades whose very absence has a palpable physical presence. And it is our responsibility - mine as a survivor and recorder of this history, and yours as heirs to our legacy - to not only celebrate what we accomplished, but to grapple with how much and how many we have lost.

And to remember, always, why it is they are gone. 

© Ron Goldberg 2013

Ron Goldberg is a writer and activist. As a leading member of the ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) from 1987-94, Ron organized many of the group's most famous demonstrations, participated in countless zaps and actions, and served as ACT UP's unofficial "Chant Queen." He has spoken at high schools and colleges about ACT UP and the lessons of AIDS Activism, and his articles have appeared in Poz, OutWeek, and the literary journal Central Park.Ron is currently writing a memoir, "Boy With the Bullhorn," about ACT UP and his coming of age as a gay man, citizen, and activist on the front lines of the AIDS crisis.



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