Reunited (And It Feels So Good)
by David Waggoner
Jumpstarting their engines, individuals, organizations, companies, and schools across the U.S. are lifting the lockdowns and trying to return to face-to-face interactions. Dining, going to the movies, traveling by plane—options for getting out of the house are slowly increasing. The summer still seems to be a season of caution, but fall looks to be the time when large gatherings will be convening. That means HIV/AIDS conferences will begin to leave cyberspace for brick and mortar venues.
For instance, the United States Conference on HIV/AIDS (USCHA) will gather advocates, AIDS workers, and researchers, among others, in Washington, D.C., from October 28-31. “Homecoming”——this year’s theme, “invokes feelings of remembrance, reconnection and celebration. Let’s come together to honor those we lost and strengthen the bonds created that allow us to continue with our goal of ending the epidemics,” states the welcoming message on the conference’s website.
This month’s cover story subject, singer and performer Tony Enos, knows first-hand how bonds can be strengthened when he didn’t fully capitalize on an opportunity. He told Managing Editor Chael Needle about an inspiring experience at USCHA: “The vehicle for the POSI+IVE album was really when I was the opening performer at the 2019 United States Conference on HIV/AIDS in Washington, D.C. Here I was in this amazing affirming and safe space for people living with HIV, and I decided to stay closeted about my status. It caused me so much more anxiety and discomfort, but I also wasn’t able to commune with other people living with HIV and share that lived experience and say ‘me too!’ or ‘I’ve been there, it will get better.’” He came out publicly after that and amplified his (singing) voice even more to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. Photographed by Holly Clark in an ensemble that honors his indigenous roots, Enos shared many insights, all of which are threaded with HIV-centric connection and communication.
These two aspects of awareness—HIV-centric connection and communication—are hallmarks of many of the message-makers in this issue. First we have advocates like Positive Women’s Network’s Venita Ray, interviewed by Ruby Comer, and vlogger Stephen Hart, interviewed by John Francis Leonard. Both mulitply the spaces for others to advocate for themselves and their community.
Second, we have writers like poets Robert Carr and Shaun Hill, both of whom have created pieces that shoot an arrow into the heart of our community. Arts Editor Alina Oswald reports on art exhibits that try to unearth connections that have been supressed in this month’s Gallery. Senior Editor Hank Trout offers another For the Long Run entry that reminds us how to resist the forces that try to disconnect us from our humanity—and each other.
With any hope, we will return to face-to-face interactions, not only with a renewed sense of importance about the work of HIV-centric connection and communication, but also a sense of how precious being in each other’s presence can be. I know that, when I or another A&U staffer is at a conference booth, it is a pleasure to meet readers of the magazine and listen to their enthusiasm (and even their criticisms). I look forward to the next gathering when we can reunite. Zoom, phone calls, and texting have their place, but nothing beats a handshake, a hug, a shared laugh.
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U: Art & Understanding, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.