The Gift of Giving


by David Waggoner

Just as I was packing my summer book bag—the usual stash of beach stuff—I realized that I was missing something more important than the latest potboiler mystery (Sue Grafton’s latest letter-of-the-alphabet detective story; Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door): the laptop that I had won in a silent auction at a local AIDS fundraiser. I think my oversight is easily explained—I wanted to tune out all the bad news coming out of Washington, so why would I pack the one way for the outside world to get to me? Who would blame me? As we went to press, there were less than a dozen senators holding back what might be inevitable: the death notice of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare to millions of Americans who had gotten health insurance for the first time in their lives.

Who can soon forget the twenty-four-hour news coverage of thousands of Americans with preexisting conditions marching on the steps of Congress to protest the imminent course the country has been set on, noving away from health coverage for everyone, to one where even Medicaid is being threatened. An ugly world in which people living with cancer, HIV, leukemia, heart disease and other preexisting conditions would face a future where healthcare safety nets were suddenly being cut away. Unlike most of the G20 (the highly industrialized countries of the world), America is a country where healthcare is not a given right but one where you might have to fight for the right to see a doctor, get your AIDS meds, or even get HIV prevention services. What a world we might be living in if we lose the war against defunding commonsense healthcare.

One American who definitely gives a damn is a new true hero of mine, this month’s cover story, military veteran Chris Van Etten, who survived tragic injuries in Afghanistan and now is very vocal about how individuals, not just lobbyists, can make a difference in the battle for healthcare. In Dann Dulin’s exclusive interview (beautifully photographed by A&U’s very own Sean Black) with Chris Van Etten, the reader finds out what makes the Afghan war veteran a better than average G.I. Van Etten tells Dann that he’s continuing the fight for all of our healthcare rights right here in the USA. He also can relate to the stigma attached to the millions of Americans who are HIV-positive because of his own otherness being a double paraplegic, an otherness that is the source of his newfound empowerment: “I don’t think my life would have taken this direction had it not been for the fact that I was injured. In a weird way…it was a gift.”

Empowerment is, after all, one of our democracy’s most cherished promises. And yet, as this issue shows, we come to empowerment through different means, but usually with the guiding support of trailblazers. HIV and transgender rights activist Cecilia Chung, as Connie Rose finds out, wants to see everyone reach their full potential, and a key component in that journey is unrestricted access to healthcare and an equal distribution of justice. Jeff Sheehy, interviewed by A&U’s Hank Trout, brings his experiences as an HIV long-term survivor to his position as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. I was surprised to learn that Sheehy is the first openly HIV-positive individual to hold the position in San Francisco and surely this fact alone will inspire others to join in the healthcare fight from inside our institutions.

Both advocates give me hope that people in the fight against AIDS are no longer only on the outside, as we mostly were in the eighties. Like Van Etten, they are still striving to make freedom ring. Others are joining in every day. No, I haven’t given up hope on compassionate healthcare. But I will take a short break, gather my sanity, and dive back in after the Fourth.

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