Fighting for Our Lives—Again!: Blog by Hank Trout

The U.S. presidential election summons old ghosts—and the spirited activism of the past

by Hank Trout

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Last night, on a gloriously warm moonlit Wednesday, 9 November, I marched with thousands of other people in a candlelit anti-Trump rally here in San Francisco. We marched in unity – LGBTQ folks, women, undocumented immigrants, elderly straight folks, young kids, African Americans, Latinos—all the marginalized people who face dire and immediate threats from a Trump administration. From the Cable-Car turnaround on Market Street thru the Castro to the Mission District, we marched and chanted. We held each other, we commiserated, we cried and laughed, we pledged to support each other and to work together against the forces of racism and bigotry that have won this temporary victory at the polls. We pledged Solidarity.

The night was entirely peaceful—not one violent incident, not one arrest. It was inspiring and uplifting—it made my heart sing to be among such a diverse, dedicated, shell-shocked but determined group of people. It was heavenly.

It was also almost too much for my long-battered queer little heart.

Photo by Alex Ray © 2016. All rights reserved
Photo by Alex Ray © 2016. All rights reserved

After the brief speeches (thank you, Cleve Jones! no one can fire up a crowd and give us hope the way you do!), those of us who had gathered in the Castro were joined by the marchers from downtown and began the trek down Castro to 18th Street and on to the Mission District. Then, about half a block down Castro, I was stopped, frozen in my tracks by a hand on my chest.

There was no one in front of me.

I’ve never believed in an after-death, but I know as surely as I know my own name that the hand I felt on my chest belonged to one of my friends long dead from AIDS. Suddenly, as I stood there in the middle of Castro Street, hearing the chant of “ACT UP! FIGHT BACK!” I felt surrounded by the ghosts of the thousands of men with whom I have marched down that same street over the course of the last thirty years, chanting, fighting for money for research into AIDS, fighting for access to life-saving medicines, fighting for OUR LIVES. At the first protest I marched in, I never would have guessed that thirty-some years later I would be back on Castro street, again, chanting “ACT UP! FIGHT BACK!” again, fighting for my life. Again!

And that’s exactly what I did last night—I fought for my life. That is neither an exaggeration nor a hyperbolic overreaction to this election.

Trump and Pence have stated positions and made proposals that qualify them as the most vehemently and openly anti-LGBTQ administration in my sixty-four-year lifetime. For starters, Trump has frequently and loudly vowed to overturn the Supreme Court’s “shocking” marriage equality decision. Now, I know that a president cannot overturn a SCOTUS decision, that only a Constitutional Amendment or another SCOTUS ruling can do that. But consider: Yes, an amendment requires ratification by thirty-three states—but with Republicans firmly in total control of the legislatures in twenty-nine states, and in control of at least one state house in half of the other states, gathering another four states to sign on is not as farfetched as it might seem. As for another SCOTUS ruling, Trump has vowed to replace Justice Scalia with another Justice Scalia—and Justice Scalia vociferously opposed the marriage equality ruling.

Trump has also vowed to pass and sign a national “religious freedom” law modeled on the one that Gov. Pence signed in Indiana. We all know that these “religious freedom” laws are misnamed—they are “religious people’s freedom to discriminate on whim” laws. That is their intent; that is their effect. And with both houses of Congress firmly in Republican control, the passage of such a law is nearly guaranteed within the Administration’s first 100 days.

And what of funding for the life-saving work of the Ryan White CARE Act, including ADAP, the AIDS Drug Assistance Program? We know that Gov. Pence, when he was in the House, wrote to his colleagues that “Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” In other words, use the money for “conversion therapy,” including sensory deprivation, electroshock, and non-stop religious indoctrination, which has been condemned by the American Psychiatric Association as ineffective at best, harmful at worst, and outlawed in several states as cruel and unusual. What’s to stop Trump and Pence, with the assist of their equally bigoted minions in the Congress, from cutting or simply eliminating funding for Ryan White and ADAP, condemning hundreds of thousands of people with HIV to die, or diverting the funds to ineffective, harmful, cruel, unusual “therapies”?

Have we forgotten the amount of damage that the bigots in this Republican-controlled Congress can propose and pass, with President Trump to rubber-stamp them into law? Remember: Republicans opposed the repeal of DADT; opposed the repeal of DOMA; opposed ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act); opposed AIDS funding for many years; opposed including sexual orientation in hate-crime laws; opposed the ACA, which eliminated discrimination against HIV as a “pre-condition”; opposed every nomination of any gay person to an ambassadorship (remember the fight over Hormel?); etc. We have only to look at Indiana to see the effect of Gov. Pence’s draconian anti-LGBT policies: he slashed Planned Parenthood funding in half, spurring the closure of five of its smaller clinics which provided HIV and STD testing. Scott County, home to one of the closed clinics, became the hub of a totally avoidable HIV outbreak.

Haven’t we learned by now never to underestimate the hateful vindictive bigotry of Republicans who get power?!

But even if Trump and Pence and their minions fail to enact all of their draconian and viciously anti-LGBTQ policies, it should scare the hell out of us that they WANT TO.

Cleve Jones. Photo by Alex Ray © 2016. All rights reserved
Cleve Jones. Photo by Alex Ray © 2016. All rights reserved

Even more than Trump’s and Pence’s uber-bigoted proposals to harm the LGBT community scare me, it genuinely horrifies me to know that nearly 60,000,000 of my fellow citizens just voted to give Donald Trump and Mike Pence free reign to treat you and me as second-class citizens, or far worse. Some 60,000,000 of our countrymen just unleashed rabidly fascist sexist bigoted attack dogs on us. And long after Trump and Pence have faded from our memories, those 60,000,000 countrymen will still be here. They fucking terrify me.

All over social media, and even from the defeated Democratic candidate, I have seen and heard many exhortations to accept this election’s outcome and move on, to try to find common ground with the 60,000,000 Trumpettes and work with them, to “give him a chance to lead.”

To which the only appropriate response is, OH HELL FUCKING NO!!

How dare Mrs. Clinton or anyone else counsel me to “make nice” with the bigoted cretins who just voted to strip away every basic human right that we have fought and died for over the last forty years?! How dare anyone advise me not to “overreact,” not to jump to conclusions, not to fight like hell?!

I’ve noticed that most of that advice has come from rich straight white folks. Easy advice coming from those privileged enough not to be on the Republicans’ hit list!

Photo by Alex Ray © 2016. All rights reserved
Photo by Alex Ray © 2016. All rights reserved

Last night, after I felt those ghosts surround me, I felt them guide me to the sidelines of the march, where they set me down on the curb of Castro Street, and I sobbed. I cried for, and felt with me, the thousands of men who were too sick to march with us in the eighties and nineties; I cried for, and felt with me, the dozens who did march no matter how sick they were, but are no longer here; I cried for those of us alive now, old and tired as we are, STILL fighting the same fucking fights. I cried for my Tribe and for the fights to come.

And after I had sobbed for several minutes, I felt the hands of all those ghosts lifting me back up to my feet, brushing me off and wiping the tears from my cheeks, steadying me on my cane and pushing me back into the marching crowd. And I heard them again, all around me, yelling along with us the only words that make any sense to me right now—

ACT UP! FIGHT BACK! ACT UP! FIGHT BACK!

I’m old and tired, but I’m not dead, and I am never going to back down. I am never going to “try to find common ground” with hateful bigots.

I am going to fight like my life depends on it.

Because it does.

Again.


Hank Trout writes For the Long Run, a column about long-term surviving from a personal and political standpoint. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.

  • David Runkle

    Great article, so many people didn’t believe such a thing could ever happen!! Hold on your seeds it’s going be a bumpy ride. some of you that voted for this fascist pig we’ll probably put me in my grave not everybody just has HIV some of us have a strain that is very resistant to treatment we wouldn’t last a week without our meds. And for those of you that we’re so worried about your children what are you think these fascist pigs will do two children of gay parents!!. It was just three weeks ago I asked her her local council meeting while we were on the phone with Kareem Murphy and after his report, I asked him what the views on the candidates where is exactly on AIDS and the LGBTQ community. He says well Hillary is staying with the president strategy on AIDS and going to add to it as much as possible. Donald Trump strategy on AIDS ” He will disassemble Ryan White as we know it” as for gay marriage I’m sure he’ll undo all that that was gained with the previous administration.

  • Bruce Richman

    Thank you for this inspiring and moving piece. It’s what I needed to hear today – and although my activist history is much shorter, I can relate in some ways. The ghosts of those I lost and the heros I never met are with me. I am so tired of fighting today in my work, but I will never be too tired.

  • Jim Coe

    great article I was discrimated in hospice even though I wasn’t dying of aids I was treated like 1988 aids I have started to ask people to go to their samrtian hospice facebbok page samartian hospice in Corvallis Oregon put in line shame or a page of shame as an ex member act up now its time to fight for our history dignity and most of all lives retired RN here