Creating Bridges to End the Epidemics

Bridge Work
by David Waggoner

Stay on track. That’s what I tell myself when I sit down to write my letter from the editor, or edit the magazine, or think about the fight to end AIDS in a more global sense. There are so many issues that might pull our focus away from the task at hand. Some of these need attention (a personal medical issue that cannot be dismissed; cruel edicts lobbed from the White House; the latest bulletins on bullets and the lives taken by shooters with military-like weapons) and need to be addressed. But we need to keep working—to educate and help empower individuals and communities, to dismantle barriers to healthcare, to create bridges.

Conferences like the United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) in early September help us stay on track. NMAC, the conference’s organizer, notes on the event’s website, “Now more than ever, it is important that we convene together in solidarity to face the challenges that confront us and continue our important work to end this epidemic….” USCA has as its theme in this, its twenty-third year, “Ending the Epidemics in Their Memory.” In order to move forward and end the epidemics—in an insightful and inclusive way—we need to look back.

One of the many esteemed speakers at the conference is Paul Kawata, executive director of NMAC, who is celebrating thirty years of service to that organization, and Larry Buhl’s interview with the advocate in this issue highlights how we need to remember our past in order to bridge the past and future. Part of that work also means bridging the generations. This month’s cover story interview with actor and advocate Ryan O’Connell by Senior Editor Dann Dulin shows how we can do just that. When O’Connell’s grandfather died of AIDS-related causes, the family said it had been cancer. Now the star of Special works to dismantle the kind of shame-based thinking that makes people protect themselves. Talking about a friend, O’Connell says, “It wasn’t until he came out of the HIV closet and wrote about it publicly that he felt better. There…still…is…stigma.”

Beyond bridging the past and the future and bridging the generations, we also need to bridge different HIV-related issues that affect us in the here and now. We need to bridge the medical with the political with the spiritual with the psychological, and so on. That’s why the September issue, and every issue, strives to approach HIV holistically. Gallery’s Paul Richmond, interviewed by Senior Editor Hank Trout, pays tribute to those lost to HIV/AIDS in his paintings. Playwright Bruce Ward reminds us what the political and personal felt like in the eighties with excerpts from his work, Decade. Actor Paco León supports AIDS service organizations and campaigns in his native Spain. Psychologist Walt Odets delves into how gay men navigate issues around HIV. Larry Buhl examines the confusing policy around HIV at the border and the separation of families. We take a look at advances in PrEP and HIV treatment, including immune-based therapies, in LifeGuide. Guest columnist Jesus Ramirez-Valles urges us to renew our AIDS activism both on the streets and across academic sites. Bright Lights, Small City columnist John Francis Leonard urges us to interrupt patterns of abuse.

And we offer many more “bridges” in this issue. What I invite everyone reading this to do is look at the bridges in their lives and strengthen the connections already there and see what needs to be done to mend what does not connect. We will stay on track and be as strong as the Golden Gate, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Sunshine Skyway, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the Mackinac, and all the bridges across the country and around the world!

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