Mass shootings in American schools have occurred so frequently of late that when you bring up the topic in conversation, your listener is likely to ask, “Which one are you talking about?” This is a sad state of affairs, one that should not be the status quo.
So, to clarify, I’m writing today about the tragedy in February. A teen gunman has been charged with opening fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and killing seventeen people. It is the second deadliest shooting at a U.S. public school.
Even though I have a long-held perspective about what needs to happen in terms of sensible gun control, we as a society are still in the “let’s have a discussion” phase. People still think we need to discuss gun control. Okay, fine. When it comes to laws and policies, we have a lot to work out and fine-tune. Let’s discuss!
Yet, there are others who want no discussion at all. Now, protestors—like Parkland students, like Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, who have given speeches and made statements to ask for a solution going forward—are being accused by online trolls and media pundits of being actors or coached by the Left. Students in other school districts who are planning a walk-out are being threatened with suspension. Imagine being sent home from school for railing against the threat of injury and death in your classroom!
We cannot tolerate the disparaging of our freedom of speech. We cannot allow for others to shut down our voices. The youth activists speaking out remind me of AIDS activists, past and present. Significant, lifesaving gains were made in the eighties and nineties because AIDS activists spoke up. The tradition continues today, as protecting our healthcare and access to medications as well as fighting against unjust laws around living with HIV still demand action.
That’s why I am heartened by the activist spirit represented by this month’s issue. As A&U contributing writer and columnist John Francis Leonard discovered, cover story subject Mark S. King is fearless when entering the public conversation about HIV/AIDS. About U=U, for example, he states, “It is the most significant development in the history of HIV treatment and prevention since combination therapy came out in ’96.” He champions the campaign and wants others to feel the empowerment he felt when he learned about the evidence that shows sustained treatment can make one’s viral load undetectable to the point where one cannot transmit HIV.
Others featured in this issue also stand up for the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS. In our LifeGuide column, Access to Care, Larry Buhl interviews advocates about the new administration’s scorecard on HIV/AIDS and discovers there is much work to be done to secure our future. Hank Trout, in his For the Long Run column, speaks out about elder abuse and discrimination as we age and seek out new services. Arts Editor Alina Oswald talks with Brandon Lee, who works for The Alliance for Positive Change, in New York City. He advocates for the importance of tailoring HIV prevention and treatment according to the cultural needs of clients. Though he is talking about one-on-one interaction, what he says about communication is an important reminder about our public-health discussions: “Once you open a dialogue and take the time to listen to what people want to talk about, you can find the root of the issues in their lives.” It’s the art of understanding and the practice of empathy that we are nurturing that promotes positive change.
We can create dialogue in the streets under a banner, but we can also create dialogue in our everyday lives. Engage in challenging discussions and learn how we can unite everyone around a goal for good. Surely, this is a more lasting solution than requiring people on Medicaid, many of whom are living with a disability but unable to qualify for insurance, to be employed in the paid-labor sector, or buying our children bulletproof backpacks.
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.