Never one to jump to conclusions, but I might as well start a new bad habit, what with the way the news flow has been of late. Witness the recent conflagration of news and fake news; every day is another healthcare scare for all of us living with HIV. Not because we can’t manage the virus inside our bodies. We have antiretroviral drugs for that. But the Twitter Estate (forget calling it the Fifth Estate) is taking up too much of my time when all I really want is real healthcare news. Facts, not spin.
It is a truly surreal place, the White House Press Office; its reliance on revisionism and mendacity has created a dangerous situation for those of us who are trying to believe in our institutions; it is why when on a recent trip to London I was innocently asked by the taxi driver if I was having a good time away from the greatest country on the planet. That’s right, even with a nation getting nothing done, we are still respected, no, loved by our closest ally on the other side of the pond. We are, after all, the heroes of the twentieth century: having defeated the Nazis, communists, and ISIS, America is more than ever the shining city on the hill. Our country is the arbiter of democracy, fairness, and inclusiveness with a statue welcoming the oppressed and downtrodden in New York City’s harbor. And with the United Nations not too far away, and housed in a building built on U.S. soil, America does represent—to millions around the world—a beacon.
That is why it is ironic that this month we are featuring one of the recent additions to Canada. In these increasingly xenophobic times, the international LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS activist Carlos Idibouo, has arrived! In an exclusive interview with A&U’s Alina Oswald, Mr. Idibouo is a shining example of why Canada is also, like the United States, a nation of immigrants who are bringing their talents and their dreams to these shores. His international brand of AIDS activism is most welcome in North America! But Idibouo is not one to paint too rosy a picture; Idibouo sums up his counting his lucky stars this way: “You see, [for immigrants] coming to North America, to the rich people country, is part of a dream process.” As a former citizen of the impoverished Ivory Coast, Idibouo is well aware how fortunate he really is. But he is also cognizant of how refugees to both the United Sates and Canada often put themselves at risk for HIV infection: “You can’t say no because you have just met someone who would be able to save your life and you’re afraid that you’re going to lose that person. And so, you’re trapped. It’s only later on, when you get your legal status, that you realize that you could have avoided [risking exposing yourself to HIV.] But by then it’s often too late.”
And so Mr. Idibouo’s journey to North America is more complicated than one might assume. But it is not without hope. Idibouo has recently founded a nonprofit organization geared to helping MSMs with the coming out process, including focusing on HIV awareness and the availability of PrEP to reduce the incidence of new infections. He’s an active campaigner for the U=U campaign, because according to this honest and forthright AIDS educator, “science is able to prove [that undetectable really means untransmittable.]”
Washington could learn a thing or two from AIDS activists like Idibouo and others featured in our issue, activists who believe that honesty is the best policy when it comes to destigmatizing the virus. Damon Jacobs, featured in Ruby’s Rap, has been an outspoken and steadfast advocate for PrEP. As a spokesperson for the Positively Fearless campaign, Jai Rodriguez bares his soul about navigating identity and sexuality in a family beholden to Latinx mores. And Davey Wavey, the YouTube phenom who always speaks his mind, aims to promote sex-positivity as a way to stay on top of one’s sexual health. As the White House spins out of control, we need to anchor ourselves in voices of these kinds of advocates, who know what is fake and what is at stake—our health, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.