The HIV supplement we present to you today is a reminder that AIDS still matters and is very real.
When it comes to AIDS, a disease once known as GRID—gay related immune deficiency syndrome—there is much the gay community can be proud about. When a President and a country turned their eyes and ears away from us decades ago, we raised our voices and gathered in protest to let the nation see and hear our concern.
We marched in the streets in the 1980’s and we have held AIDS walks and bike rides in more recent decades. We still fight the good fight, remembering those who have passed and fighting like hell for those who are still living.
Years ago, when we read of AIDS, we heard stories of death and dying. In January of 2010, when the Office of National AIDS Policy came to town, we heard stories of survival. More and more people are living longer and longer with HIV. Our higher purpose should be to let people live without HIV, not longer with it.
As a result of better treatments, higher standards of care, and more attention to the disease, we have become encouraged, perhaps too much so. Have we not also become too complacent? Has apathy set in? Too many of us are looking at living with the disease comfortably, instead of ending the pandemic urgently. Unfortunately, people are still dying.
One of the more recent victims of AIDS would have been the editor in chief of this newspaper. His name was Jerry Michael James, and he died on December 20, 2009, the very afternoon that White House officials came to South Florida to open dialogues on new ways to treat HIV.
Mike James was my friend, the onetime Editor in Chief of the Express Gay News, and a spirited activist in many causes, too many to list here today. He was proud mostly of the films he created, and the prose he wrote late into the wee hours of the morning, usually with a bottle of Jack by his side.
I dedicate this supplement to not only him, but friends whose voices have been silenced for decades by a disease which has now lived on for decades. During their time here, these individuals, like so many others before them, enhanced our awareness of HIV. They did so with spirit in the face of adversity. The Spirit News is the name of our HIV supplement, but it was Mike’s logo, his design, and his creation.
Mike James was a character like Jack Kerouac, one of those geniuses who lived on the edge, and often ran it to excess. He was a filmmaker, an artist, a writer. We spent too little time together these past few years, but I will cherish his passion; his willingness to buck the tide and assert his independence. He was truly the master of his fate and the captain of his soul. I salute him as a champion. But then, I ran an AIDS clinic for two years. I met many champions.
I saw too many young men living with HIV, but they refused to let it hinder their dreams. I also saw single moms and teenage children born into HIV who have known no other life, but still raised their kids. I saw doctors working daily on infections, colds, swellings,and diarrhea cutting through people’s bodies like razor blades. Behind the shadow of the clinics that hold car washes and art sales to raise money, there is a silent pain you cannot imagine; the fear of an unknown malady which tomorrow might bring.
There are still, in 2010, clients who need acupuncture and transportation. Case managers who need to find housing. Patients who need medicine. Recovering soldiers who need employment and hope. Mentally challenged and homeless who need counseling. Scientists and pharmaceutical researchers who need funding for new protocols. There is a hidden world of HIV the public never sees. Maybe some of these pages bring it too light.
This supplement is a moment to reflect and take hold of what is occurring presently. It is not as local as I would like it to be. There are stories to be written on the good people working mighty deeds every day at Care Resources, the AIDS Health Care Foundation, Shadowood, Broward House, Poverello, Camp 4 Health, and a host of other agencies fighting the good fight. We will get to share those stories with you in time. Patience.
Do me one small favor today. We have all had a Mike James in our lives. We all know someone who walked with you side by side in a Pridefest years ago, but is no longer with us today. Remember, recall, and revive that Spirit today. Remember too that our battle is not won, and this terrible disease, which has hurt so many, must still be conquered.