Day Without AIDS


by David Waggoner

Day With(out) Art (December 1) used to be the one day of the year that was universally recognized as the opposite of business as usual: galleries covered up their works of art and even entertainment venues from Broadway to the West End in London turned off their marquee lights to record the colossal loss of thousands of members of the theatrical community, and of mega rock stars like Queen’s Freddie Mercury and Hollywood leading men such as Rock Hudson and Tony Perkins. One year they even turned off the famous Hollywood sign for a few minutes. But then came protease inhibitors and all of a sudden scores of men, women, and children were—like Lazarus in the Bible—able to get back to living again!

The same acting community (Elizabeth Taylor comes readily to mind) that had helped raise millions to fund the discovery of new drugs to overcome the silence of presidents and the outright homophobic hostility from members of the United States Congress led to the grassroots founding of thousands of nonprofit organizations, both large and small, to house, feed and care for over a million Americans living with HIV/AIDS.

But then something strange happened on the way to a cure…. AIDS was no longer deemed a compelling health crisis. AIDS ribbons were no longer part of the glamorous dress code of the big awards shows. These days it’s unusual to see the once-ubiquitous AIDS ribbons at awards ceremonies (Emmys, Tonys, Grammys, Oscars and more). One Hollywood pundit put it this way: “Let’s auction off a few of those jewel-encrusted AIDS ribbons from yesteryear and we might fund a cure for AIDS.” AIDS is still a compelling health crisis for many, but strides have been made to conquer it, too. Although we still don’t have a cure, we do have an amazing new preventative tool: PrEP. The PrEP movement and the U=U mantra have broadcast the news that the acquisition and transmission of HIV is all but impossible for those who are on the prevention regimen and those who are undetectable, respectively.

Whose activism and leadership can be thankful for? This month’s cover story, Greg Owen, the British PreP activist who was handsomely photographed by A&U’s Sean Black and interviewed by John Francis Leonard, is the man of the moment; he doesn’t take “ no” for an answer from governments and pushes for other health insurance providers to cover this humanitarian and proven lifesaver. In the activist’s own words, the end of AIDS is entirely possible if we test, treat and prevent. With PrEP becoming increasingly accessible, it’s only a matter of time for HIV to be eradicated in some of the hardest hit communities. For a young man who proudly shares his birthday with Princess Diana, and is inspired by her own unflagging brand of royal activism and support of the gay community, “the interesting thing for me, being the new kid on the block, is that there is a real problem here [in the U.K.] with late diagnosis and the black, African community is within that demographic…in the future if we continue to see the drop in MSM over the coming years our jobs will still be really hard, it’s suddenly going to be an epidemic for women and people who have sex who aren’t aware of the risks.”

But Owen is engagingly modest about his brand of activism: “I’m paying my dues to the people who came before me when there was no hope and nothing much to hope for. They did their best in very trying circumstances.” As we work toward a future Day Without AIDS, we honor in this issue those who have fought valiantly and died (see Gallery’s spotlight on the AIDS activist photographs of Bill Bytsura) and those who have long been in the fight and continue to persist: long-term survivors like Henry Goldring, researchers like Dr. Glenda Gray, and advocates like Maxine Waters and Phill Wilson. Take a moment to read their stories and learn why the future cannot be dimmed.

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