Justice for All
by David Waggoner
Justified and Ancient. Remember the ‘90s song by KLF (infamous for torching one million British pounds on a remote Scottish island) and Tammy Wynette (“Stand by Your Man”)?
We’re justified and ancient because the existence of HIV has been known for forty years and A&U has been around for thirty years, and still no cure. Even with Bill Gates having poured billions of his own money to find a cure or vaccine to prevent HIV infection in all continents of the globe. The current global COVID pandemic has attracted a lot of much-needed research attention, yet HIV/AIDS is deadlier—the virus has killed close to 60 million people on seven continents. COVID and its multiplying variants, on the other hand, are no match for science-based treatment, vaccine development, and even orally administered therapeutics from Merck and Pfizer, as of this writing.
I don’t begrudge these scientific advances and how they have saved lives. But both viruses demand our attention. Yes, thanks to antiviral medicines, most individuals living with HIV who are engaged in care and taking regimens consistently can expect a normal lifespan. However, AIDS isn’t over—managing HIV disease is not the same as curing the disease.
We’ve been advocating for a cure since the 1980s, as long as we have been trying to understand how to live with the disease—physically, but also emotionally, mentally, and, for some of us, spiritually. This month’s cover story interview with Magic Theatre artistic director Sean San José (written by Senior Editor Hank Trout and photographed by Saul Bromberger and Sandra Hoover) reminds us it has been a long road for many. He states: “Both my parents contracted AIDS. And at that moment. I was so overwhelmed with how to live, how to respond to the world. I was living in this country that was just fucking maddening, man, living through that piece of shit Reagan and watching people dying. And so when it finally happened….” His “cure” was to honor them and others with “Pieces of a Quilt,” a project that enlisted many playwrights writing about HIV/AIDS, each offering a perspective on the realities we were facing. The plays were produced in the 1990s to acclaim.
Playwright Edward Albee was instrumental in helping San José and even wrote a playlet. Albee’s work remained unproduced (its acting requirements too hefty for a quick run) and it remained unpublished—until now. Special Projects Editor Lester Strong introduces Touch (an Improvisation) in this issue and I couldn’t be more proud to bring this work to our readers.
As Managing Editor Chael Needle discovers, musician Emily Wells also reaches into the past; her new album features a musical conversation with David Wojnarowicz and other artists, such as Bill T. Jones and Kiki Smith, who responded to the early epidemic.
“AIDS is not over” points to (among other things) the need for a cure, and it is another way of saying, AIDS is not history. And this month’s featured Gallery artist, Boré Ivanoff, is adamant about destigmatizing the virus with which he lives. He advocates for the AIDS community as a whole because, even in “enlightened” Paris, where he lives and works, AIDS awareness is marginalized.
The arts that we feature in the magazine, both literary and visual, are our victory over stigma—the uncured and defenseless situation that all of us face on a daily basis. It has been my sole goal to destigmatize people thriving with HIV/AIDS. In light of the fact that we have no cure for HIV/AIDS or the stigma heaped upon us, A&U will continue to fight back. Its activism will continue to showcase hope. Its activism will continue to seek justice for all.
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U: Art & Understanding, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.