Speak Now


by David Waggoner

December 1 is officially World AIDS Day! Oh, if only this December 1 were the last day of HIV on the planet—wouldn’t that be nice? It’s unrealistic, obviously, but I’m going to send it out into the universe as a wish. There will be a last day of HIV. If we don’t step to the mike and speak what will be true, how will anyone hear us?

This month’s exclusive interview with neo-soul singer Ledisi is known for never shying away from the truth in her songs. That’s why she makes a great AIDS advocate. Legendary singer, AIDS activist, and performer Sheryl Lee Ralph [A&U, August 2015] raves about one of her favorite additions to her annual Divas Simply Singing! concert: “For at least two of those concerts we have experienced the brilliance, the giving heart, the voice that is Ledisi.” This latest AIDS diva, Ledisi, is also excited about being an ambassador for the prestigious Black AIDS Institute, whose most recent Heroes in the Struggle is profiled in this issue by A&U’s Senior Editor Sean Black. Ledisi is the perfect voice for the disenfranchised: “I didn’t know how heavy it was for black women…that has blown me away. That part bothers me.” What bothers her even more is that it hasn’t bothered the millions who should be bothered. Phill Wilson of the Black AIDS Institute recalls, “You kind of pinch yourself when you have someone of her stature say they want to be involved and someone as creative as she is.” As she intones on her latest album, Let Love Rule: “I think only when we really try to hear people / can the process toward understanding them begin to take shape.”

Too many people continue to shut their ears to the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS. They must do their part and listen to those of us who are working in the fight against HIV stigma and barriers to healthcare access. We must do our part and amplify the voices who speak the truth about AIDS in order to end the pandemic. In this issue, we underscore the idea that getting to the end of AIDS is a multi-person effort. It is going to take people like Daniel Szymczyk, who founded The HIV League to provide scholarship money to students living with HIV/AIDS. People like Allie Oakes, an individual who navigated the healthcare system to provide her son with the option of PrEP. Or people like Ruth Coker Burks, Hank Trout, and Bill Beiersdorfer, who were there in the early days of the epidemic as caregivers and who continue to provide testimony about the tremendous loss of life. We honor writers like Leslie L. Smith, who pens this month’s Second Acts column; Cory Frederick, who was interviewed by John Francis Leonard about his HIV-conscious journalism; and Robert Carr, whose poignant poem is the first selection by our new poetry editor, Noah Stetzer, who himself has written searingly, touchingly about living with HIV.

Some voices in our World AIDS Day issue already have major platforms, and they use them to great effect. The work of steadfast A&U columnist Justin B. Terry-Smith, as collected in his stand-alone blog Justin’s HIV Journal, is being archived in the U.S. National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. For Under_Reported, our column devoted to news that deserves a second look, A&U’s Larry Buhl interviews Guillermo Chacón, President of the Latino Commission on AIDS, about tailoring messages for the communities his organization represents. And let’s not forget our profile of artist Martin Wong, who is no longer with us except through earth-toned images that extol the liberation of desire in the midst of oppression.

Every December 1 we commemorate the lives of the millions of women, men, and children who we have lost to the virus. And we reinvigorate our own voices to effect the end of AIDS. There is good news that our voices are being put into action: We are getting closer to fewer new infections every new year. With nearly half of us who are living with HIV around the world benefiting from effective medical regimens that control the virus in our bodies, there is good reason to hope that the end of AIDS is getting closer—there will be much reporting of our progress at next year’s 2018 International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam. We can’t stop speaking our truth now. Now that we are so close.

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