Gun Control as Public Health

Then & Now
by David Waggoner

David Waggoner[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ust when a few of A&U’s staff said they might skip Pride this year, Orlando happened. The Pulse nightclub in that Disney capital was attacked by a gunman on Latinx Night. Forty-nine people lost their lives; fifty-three were injured, some severely. Needless to say, everyone who said they might skip Pride went to be counted, to mourn our fallen brothers and sisters, to mourn an attack on the Latinx community, to mourn an attack on the LGBT community.

As many of the victims were LGBT, it sent shockwaves through the community. As anyone living with HIV/AIDS knows, when we find a space where we feel free to be ourselves, we treasure it. The owner of Pulse knew this—she built the club as a tribute to her gay brother who had died from AIDS-related causes.

No, these spaces are never completely “safe.” Both communities, I would say, have never been perfect at inclusion, but we all come from experiences of being excluded so it’s never hard to empathize when one of our own feels left out. What we don’t expect in these spaces is out and out violence.

The best analogy is probably being attacked in one’s home. Dance clubs, community centers, and HIV-centric organizations are our homes. These are the places where we often live fully. These are the places where we often feel least isolated and most loved. These are the places where we take a breath and dare to dream.

I don’t have space to delve into differing perspectives on either side of the gun control issue, but one aspect intrigued me: The study of guns as a public health issue has been effectively disallowed. As recently as April, a coalition of 141 medical groups drafted and delivered a letter to four senior members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to encourage them to restore funding for gun violence research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You see, the Dickey Amendent, which was part of a 1996 appropriations bill, steers the CDC away from using funds to advocate for or promote gun control, and this has stalled all gun violence research. As gun violence reportedly claims more than 30,000 lives every year, it seems to me that it should be studied, like other public health issues.

We in the AIDS community know full well what happens when a public health issue is downplayed or marginalized. We lose, all of us; and some of us lose our lives. We had to fight for fast-tracking anti-AIDS meds and for more clinical research among other issues. We knew inaction and indifference, although not as obvious as guns, could inflict wounds that were just as fatal.

That’s why it’s important to study, if you will, what’s happening around HIV/AIDS, then and now. As for “then,” our latest column, Second Acts, will each month feature the voice of a long-term survivor. Led off by regular A&U contributor Hank Trout, this month’s column delves passionately into why those of us at the beginning of the pandemic need to testify to what actually happened and what continues to happen. In this month’s Gallery, A&U’s Sean Black interviews Nicholas Nixon, whose photographs of people living with AIDS early in the epidemic helped to humanize our community. We also feature an article, penned by Stevie St. John, about The Lavender Effect, an initiative documenting AIDS history in West Hollywood with the use of video interviews.

As for the “now,” we are excited to feature interviews with a new wave of advocates who are living with HIV/AIDS, Wanda Brendle-Moss and Rev. William Francis, as well as an incisive look by Jeremiah Johnson at how Florida’s HIV policies are impacting the health of PLWHA. Last but not least, A&U’s Dann Dulin talks with out and positive singer-songwriter John Grant, this month’s cover story. One single statement perhaps shows us how far we’ve come since 1981 on the treatment and empowerment fronts: “For once in my life, I took control. Being positive was one of the greatest things that happened to me.”

David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.