When GK and I started talking about collaborating on an art project together, we wanted to do something that made a difference. For me, I wanted to take meaningful portraits, ones that give people a connection to a real person dealing with the trials in their life; for GK, he wanted to continue an aspect of his outreach work that he started with the Please Touch Community Garden.
After going over many different topics, we settled on HIV/AIDS awareness.
In the San Francisco-Bay Area, you are constantly surrounded by posters—sometimes 6’ tall, advertising to users of retroviral drugs, as if it is something as trivial as botox: “Do you have HIV belly? Ask your doctor if ______ is right for you.” The tone of voice used is not that this is a life-threatening disease, but an aesthetic nuisance to be dealt with. In effect, these adverts have become wallpaper; our focus has shifted from prevention to disease management.
For this reason, we started Contracting an Issue to help bring focus and awareness back to prevention, to make HIV/AIDS real again, the way it was when we were kids, when Rent made a splash on Broadway and when we all held our breath to see if Magic Johnson would die.
I recently read a series of articles attempting to shame Zachary Quinto for saying, “I think there’s a tremendous sense of complacency in the LGBT community” towards HIV. The LGBT community lashed out at Quinto (an openly gay public figure) calling him internally homophobic and “pozphobic.”
His full statement is this:
“AIDS has lost the edge of horror it possessed when it swept through the world in the 80’s. Today’s generation sees it as more something to live with and something to be much less fearful of. And that comes with a sense of, dare I say, laziness.”While I wouldn't say laziness is an appropriate word, I would say complacency and lack of continued education is. While I cannot speak for the LGBT community, I can say that in the straight community, HIV/AIDS hardly registers.
People are no longer dying in droves large enough to make the evening news: I doubt any teachers are screening the movie Philadelphia with their students as they did when I was in high school. Also, it seems like you never really hear of anyone getting to the stage of full-blown AIDS anymore. We are no longer afraid to have “poz” friends for fear of contracting it from a hug. While I know very few HIV-positive people, it seems like the burden of prevention has shifted back to gay men, even though they are not the only ones affected.
When GK moved to Kansas City to start the next installment of Contracting an Issue, he attended a party. At one point he began describing our project. The reactions, to us, were shocking, ranging from,
Is HIV still a thing? Is that a very relevant project?
According to AVERT.org: “There are currently around 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States of America (USA), with 16 percent unaware of their infection. Since the beginning of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, 600,000 people have died of AIDS-related illnesses in the United States of America, with around 50,000 new infections per year.”
This should be a frightening statistic. This should be in our health text books; it should be in after school specials; it should be on parents’ lips when they talk about safe sex; it should be on pastors’ minds when they address their congregations; it should surpass the antics of starlets. It should still be front page news!!
The implied indifference behind Why is also the reason why women account for 1 in 5 of the new infections in the US. The hardest hit are African-American women. They account for the third largest population of HIV victims. Put another way, they represent 65% of new HIV diagnoses in women.
For these reasons, I couldn't understand why Zachary Quinto’s statement was received with such hostility, instead of becoming a resounding battle cry to redouble the fight.
This fight isn't against those with a positive diagnosis; it is against the spread of a preventable disease. It’s about keeping HIV/AIDS in the forefront of the news and reaching the communities that are at the highest risks. It is about understanding that the fight against HIV/AIDS must be championed by all of us if those numbers are going to decline, and it can’t be left for the select few that society thinks it affects because eventually it will touch us, be it our own bodies or a family member or a friend; all it takes is once. - Allison Webber
Please check out this related World AIDS Day article
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