Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She would be 116 today, had she lived to that astonishing age.
In honor of that grandmother, I chose my confirmation saint because she had December 1 for her feast day. Saint Natalia. (Check her out if you’re interested; she carried her martyred husband’s hand around Europe, I believe. Creepy.)
Nonetheless, another day is uppermost in my mind.
I observe with sorrow and celebrate with fierce love today, World AIDS Day. These are only my reflections, my remembrances, and my admonitions. Please don’t read this expecting an essay on the state of HIV in the 21st century. You’re not reading that essay.
I observe World AIDS Day in honor of all those I have known since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. I observe it for the Executive Director of the AIDS Service Organization for which I worked “fired herself” so that there would be enough money in the budget for services.
I observe it for those who have lived—one in particular I know who has been positive since the early ‘80s or maybe even late ‘70s—and for those for whom I helped make Quilt panels. I observe it especially for the trans women sex workers who died in waves early in the epidemic and often died alone.
I observe it in honor of a client of mine who died alone and afraid, with no family or friends beside him. Only my dear colleague, to whom he gave his one prized possession—a bandanna.
I observe it with furor at the state of health care in the United States and in many other countries.
I observe it in honor of the lovely young woman I know who became radicalized to AIDS activism because of Freddie Mercury. I watched as she sat and sobbed over a Quilt panel of is.
I observe it with concern. For my young, white, privileged, queers who think of AIDS as “something manageable,” “not a death sentence,” and who go to “barebacking parties.”
I observe it with furor at the Reagan administration and their refusal to acknowledge the plague that was attacking those seeming beneath contempt. And in honor of Princess Diana, who was such a model for others to follow.
I observe it in honor of all those vulnerable human being who are enslaved to sexual predators in human trafficking.
I observe it in honor of all those who continue to struggle with the diseases associated with HIV all over the world. After all, it is World AIDS Day.
And I celebrate this day, as well…
I celebrate the fierceness of those years I worked side by side my kin, queer and not. Lily, the elder Catholic woman at whose funeral I sang, was one such woman. She gave years of work as a volunteer bookkeeper and example of faithful service.
I celebrate my dear friends and colleagues who work with resilience and care, taking their meds faithfully, delighting in their low-to-undetectable viral loads. I see them age and thank all the divine healing and human labor that makes their lives possible.
I celebrate in honor of Larry Kramer, curmudgeon and difficult visionary, and in honor of ACT UP and the work we did.
I celebrate in honor of hope.
There were years we thought everyone gay, everyone Black, everyone incarcerated would be lost to us. And here in the US, in most places, that doesn’t feel true anymore. It feels like there’s hope, true hope, even for ravaged places elsewhere in the world.
But hope is not the same as optimism.
Hope is in action. Hope is not in apathy, forgetfulness, or denial.
Hope is in love that speaks in public – justice.
Hope is in not forgetting. Not forgetting the fierce terror that gripped communities in the US. Not forgetting or leaving behind all those with no permanent housing—how can you take meds on schedule when you have no home to put them in?
And not forgetting that it’s not over. There are cities in the US with upticks in new cases. And the places all over the world where people are stranded with no help, no meds, no real health care.
Silence = death, as we wrote, chanted, and papered back then. And it’s just as true today.
Please, please remember. Don’t let this day pass without note. Let us observe, celebrate, hope, love, and act.