July 4th is one of the most important birthdays on the planet; it’s a day known around the freedom-loving world as a day when Americans and those who aspire to become Americans (either through naturalization or marriage) share a common bond of citizenship and fraternity, or should I say, sorority? While most Americans are welcoming, there are plenty out there who have chosen bigotry and prejudice over love and acceptance. Witness sporadic moments of hatred and intolerance of others reported in all fifty states: From mass shootings at churches and synagogues over the last few years, to shootings at nightclubs and amusement parks, and movie theaters, America has seen an unprecdented level of incivility. America has the highest murder rate in the industrialized world, as well as more men and women behind bars than anywhere else on the planet. America has separated children from their families at the border and is housing refugees in concentration camps.
Instead of a bloated parade and the hollow reports of fireworks over the Capitol, we need American leadership that works and that means leadership that is willing to accept difference as an asset rather than a liability. That is why I was heartened to see a diverse array of Democrats vying to become long-run Presidential candidates at the debates last month. People of different ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, language use, and ages were seen as a positive rather than a negative. I was especially heartened to see so many candidates who are women: Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Marianne Williamson [A&U, August 2016], and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. Women-led countries and communities are nothing new, though we do seem to have record numbers across the board of women being elected to high offices. This is good for those of us fighting for healthcare access. Why? Because healthcare has historically been a “women’s issue,” no matter the cultural background. Healing itself is arguably a feminine tradition.
So, I was excited to read our cover story subject’s book, Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community. Activist and author Victoria Noe has documented the contributions of these individuals, many of whom have gone unrecognized for their efforts. Some are famous of course: Elizabeth Taylor [A&U, February 2003], Jeanne White-Ginder, and Joan Tisch. Some do not have bold-name status but their actions were bold nonetheless: activists like Terri Wilder and Rosa E. Martinez-Colón, but also mothers like Marion Nicholson and Louise Ray. Researchers, spiritual leaders, educators—Noe recounted as many as she could, and even mentions that she has many other accounts she could not fit in. Interviewed and photographed by A&U’s Arts Editor, Alina Oswald, Noe has added an important tool to our fight for people living with HIV/AIDS, particularly a lesson in unity: “One interesting thing about the involvement of straight women in the epidemic is that we weren’t competing with each other. I certainly never felt that there was the competition I’d seen, for example, in a more traditional workplace. There was so much critical work to be done, in big cities and rural communities, that we just did it. We didn’t have time for bullshit. We still don’t.”
I agree. We don’t have time for competition, or divisiveness. We need to come together and use our differences to make a positive impact as we fight for healthcare access for all.
Alongside our cover story, we offer a book excerpt from Victoria Noe’s book; in addition, we are featuring the winners of the seventh annual Christopher Hewitt Awards: Travis Chi Wing Lau, Joe Gulla, and Claire Gasamagera. The essay by Gasamagera is exactly why we need the stories of women in our activist consciousness: “How Online Dating Empowers Women with HIV” delves into a good faith effort to accept others’ differences on the part of the narrator as she, an immigrant woman of color, tries to date a white man, but his family’s racism makes America not so great again.
So, as you celebrate Independence Day, take a moment to reflect on our foremothers and all those women today who are working for a better world.
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.