Different Threads of Red

Different Threads of Red
by David Waggoner

Journeys call on us to be prepared for the unexpected. I am not talking about obstacles or shortcuts, although those can certainly fit the bill. I am talking about the people we might not have expected to meet along the way, people who walk with us for a time and then depart or people who join in and continue on till the end. On this journey called living with HIV/AIDS, and which publishing A&U only intensified, I have met people I never thought I might meet and learned about concerns that were beyond my ken. Call them different threads of red that bind together the AIDS awareness ribbon.

I am not talking about bold-name celebrity activists, though I did meet Annie Lennox unexpectedly in a café in Vienna during the International AIDS Conference in 2010. She kindly stopped to talk to Lester Strong (our Special Projects Editor) and me, after recognizing the magazine for which she granted an interview a few years before, which ran as a cover story in December 2007. Actually, Ms. Lennox is a good example of a different thread of red, for she is one of the advocates who introduced me to the the impact of gender violence on HIV risk and HIV/AIDS healthcare.

Like Lennox, advocates of all stripes have shone a spotlight on a kaleidoscope of ideas and experiences related to HIV/AIDS advocacy over the years—culturally tailored language in safer sex campaigns; the need to define AIDS with cisgender women in mind; the “worried well”; condom fatigue; HIV criminalization reform; advocacy for long-term survivors; thinking intersectionally. Different threads of red.

A&U’s Drama Editor Bruce Ward recently had a chance to talk to Tom Viola, executive director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for our cover story interview, and he had similar ideas about appreciating difference:

“We created resources that didn’t exist before. And any money raised helps make funding for HIV/AIDS programs even more possible. We consider BC/EFA to be ‘the philanthropic heart of Broadway.’

“We are also responsive to issues that the Broadway community feels are important to its members. Reacting to events such as Hurricane Katrina, and issues like racial justice, keeps us from being old news or an anachronism, while also maintaining our commitment to [the changing needs] of AIDS services.”

Photographed beautifully by Stephen Churchill Downes, Viola knows a lot about finding unity in diversity. Other features echo this celebration of difference. Senior Editor Hank Trout interviewed a range of activists about their thoughts on the AIDS pandemic (as we know it) turning forty. Claire Gasamagera offers new insights about changing infant feeding policies and suggestions for women living with HIV on sustained treatment. We also feature activists who know how to amplify their voices and those of their communities, for example, Yonce Jones, interviewed by Chip Alfred. Check out the Gallery featuring the powerful works by someone we lost too soon, Jerome Caja.

My first introduction to AIDS, apart from early reports in newspapers, came when it impacted my own circle of gay male friends and the wider (local) community. But I quickly learned, and this lesson was reinforced when I started A&U in the early nineties, that different gay men navigated AIDS and HIV risk differently. And then of course different straight-identified women navigated AIDS and HIV risk differently. Same-gender-loving men, individuals with hemophilia, injection drug users, men who did not consider themselves gay but who had sex with men, people of trans experience—different individuals within any particular identified risk group had different ways of living with, thinking about, doing something about HIV/AIDS. Different threads of red. It’s one of the reasons I started the magazine—to create a public forum for our differences to weave together (or unravel, if they must). So the next time you have something different to add to the conversation, don’t hesitate. Share your red!

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