Conventional Speech


by David Waggoner

David Waggoner[dropcap]A[/dropcap]tlantan Daniel Driffin, a gay Black man living with HIV, spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention to support the Presidential nomination of Hillary Clinton [A&U, April 2005]. What a beacon of hope! The thirty-year-old is the founder of both Thrive SS and Undetectables Atlanta, a group of over 400 gay and bisexual men with HIV; he also serves as co-chair of the Task Force to End AIDS in Fulton County, Georgia, and is Youth HIV Policy Advisor for the LGBT organization Georgia Equality [A&U, April 2016].

In his speech, Driffin listed Clinton’s achievements in the fight against AIDS but also gave voice to a generation at risk: “We know how to prevent the virus now. We know how to diagnose the virus now. We know how to treat it and we know how to suppress it. We have learned all about it within my lifetime. But still, there are many living with HIV. And do you know who is most at risk? Young gay black men. Men like me. In fact—one in two gay black men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime if current rates continue. If we have enough data, I’m sure black transgender women are more at risk, too.”

As Driffin states, we are no longer in the dark about HIV transmission and treatment and it reminded me how far we’ve come since Mary Fisher [A&U, February 2001], a woman living with HIV, spoke at the 1992 Republican National Convention. Her plea to end prejudice resonates today: “We may take refuge in our stereotypes, but we cannot hide there long, because HIV asks only one thing of those it attacks. Are you human? And this is the right question. Are you human? Because people with HIV have not entered some alien state of being. They are human. They have not earned cruelty, and they do not deserve meanness. They don’t benefit from being isolated or treated as outcasts….”

Twenty-four years later we are still fighting for inclusion because not everyone living with HIV in the U.S. has access to lifesaving medications. Or, sometimes, even if they have access, the stigma of others and self-stigma prevents them from getting tested or, if positive, staying on top of their health.

We need to get better at inclusion because, as Fisher stated, we are a nation at risk. Sometimes even our own AIDS community forgets about the health of individuals who are trans. Or we forget about the needs of long-term survivors. As Mary Bowman, this month’s cover story, tells A&U’s Chael Needle, we often forget about individuals living with perinatal HIV infection.

Bowman is determined to include others like herself whose voices are not being heard: “We’ve lived through these experiences since birth, through our entire lives. And, so, one, I feel like we have a lot more experience than people really [give us credit for] and, two, our stories are valid, and I don’t think they [are recognized as such]. That’s why I do what I do because I want to create a space for perinatally infected youth and adults to tell their stories because we’re so unrecognized—and that’s not fair.”

Creating a space for underrepresented voices is really what this magazine has been about from the start in 1991. As you read this issue, note our Gallery interview with Lester Blum and Vladimir Rios, who are fighting for LGBTQ and positive visibility. Or read the columns Brave New World, by Corey Saucier, or Our Story, Our Time, by George M. Johnson, both of which broadcast that Black Lives Matter. Read Hank Trout’s interview with Jesús Guillén, who is intent on expanding support for long-term survivors, or Dann Dulin’s interview with Marianne Williamson, one of those who identified the need for HIV support early on in the epidemic.

As Fisher pointed out in her speech, inclusiveness has no political party. We must continue to cast our votes for individuals living with HIV/AIDS, even if we do not see ourselves on the ticket. Write your name. Write my name. Write our names. Our lives depend on it!

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