“Surviving and Thriving” at UCSF

Folks in the Bay Area should visit UCSF to check out “Surviving and Thriving,” a traveling exhibit from the National Library of Medicine. Although the exhibit does not specifically focus on African American responses to the epidemic, it does feature the work of some black AIDS activists, including posters from the Brothers Network, a program by the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention (NTFAP). The library also has their own companion exhibit, based on collections from the AIDS History Project in UCSF’s holdings. Many of these deal with agencies founded by and for African Americans with HIV and AIDS, including NTFAP, Bay Area HIV Support and Education Services, and the Multicultural AIDS Resource Center.

22 Years after “The Announcement”

Twenty two years ago today, Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced in a conference at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles that he had tested positive for HIV, and would be retiring immediately from professional basketball.

After Johnson spoke, his doctors answered questions from the press about his medical condition. Note that the diagnosis of ARC (AIDS-related condition) is no longer in use.

The next day, Magic appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show to talk about his diagnosis. He encouraged people to practice safe sex and warned that the virus was spreadly quickly through black communities, but reassured the audience that he was “far from being a homosexual.” Toward the end of the interview, Magic and Arsenio referred obliquely to the rumors that journalists and “germalists” would spread in the weeks, months, and years to come. Magic had been dogged by rumors of bisexuality for years—in gay enclaves like Key West and West Hollywood, some residents reportedly sported t-shirts with the phrase “I love basketball; I had a Magic Johnson.”

A week later, Converse announced “Magic’s Athletes against AIDS,” a new campaign of public service announcements featuring Johnson and his NBA friends. Larry Johnson’s comment that “for a guy like Magic Johnson to get a disease like that… lets us know that this is not a joke” seems cruelly ignorant; by the end of the year, over 150,000 had died of AIDS in the United States alone. Overall, the PSA stressed precisely how different Johnson, an African American paragon of athletic masculinity, seemed from the most common images of people with AIDS—skeletal white gay men wasting away in the hospital or protesting in the street, and to a lesser extent, junkies who had shared needles while desperate for a fix. Kevin Johnson was not alone in thinking that “If Magic Johnson can get the AIDS virus, then anybody can get it.”

The next year, Magic and Arsenio produced a longer “edutainment” video for kids called “TIME OUT: The Truth about HIV, AIDS, and You,” with an early ’90s all-star cast, including Jaleel White, Jasmine Guy, Sinbad, Tom Cruise, Pauly Shore, and a young Neil Patrick Harris.

Last year, ESPN aired The Announcement, a documentary on Johnson’s “bleakest hour,” when he revealed his HIV-positive diagnosis to the world.

A few months later, Johnson was featured prominently in the PBS Frontline documentary Endgame: AIDS in Black America. (see my review of Endgame here) Recently, Hall and Johnson appeared on Access Hollywood to talk about their 1991 interview, as well as the ongoing racial disparities in the epidemic, particularly for African American women.

Thankfully, Johnson, who obviously has access to the best doctors and most effective treatments, remains healthy. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the vast majority of African Americans affected by the epidemic, who progress from HIV infection to AIDS and die faster than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.

New interactive website: What Obamacare can do for someone with HIV.

AIDS activism and the struggle for universal health care in the United States have often gone hand in hand. ACA is a big step forward for everyone—find out here what it means for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Attitude

obamacare-and-you

HIV positive and wondering about Obamacare? It might seem complicated, but this cool Greater Than AIDS webpage is designed to help those with the virus learn more about their Affordable Care Act options. Check it out and find out what Obamacare can do for you!

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Halloween at Harvard with Nancy Pelosi: Tell Her to Stop the TPP!

Similar to the important stand that ACT UP Philadelphia and Health GAP took 10-15 years ago against the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and the US Trade Representative’s threat of sanctions against South Africa. AIDS is not just a medical issue–it’s a social, economic, and political problem driven by other problems, including the growth of globalization and free trade policies.

Attitude

Join ACT UP and Student Global AIDS at Harvard this Halloween as they demand that visiting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi work to provide access to medicines, stronger environmental regulations, corporate oversight & government transparency!

When: Thursday, October 31st, 1:15 PM (we’ll be there before and after the speech, so if you can’t make it at 1:15, we need another big surge at 2:30)

Where: Inside Radcliffe Yard (10 Garden Street)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a massive free trade agreement being negotiated in secret by the US and 11 other countries that, among many other things, would severely impact access to medicines in developing countries, undermine environmental regulations, decrease labor standards, and block internet freedom. The Administration is trying to submit the TPP for fast-track approval, which means that Congress cannot amend and bypasses important Congressional oversight. The negotiations have thus far been secret, so members of Congress and the…

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Oral Histories in the Classroom

This week, Cathy Hannabach‘s “First Person America” class at Temple University discussed the Trans Oral History Project and African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project, along with digital items from from the African American AIDS History Project. Check out their post about oral history here.

Sequestration: Public Health Pays a Price

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For more than 30 years the U.S. has invested in public health programs and research to fight HIV/AIDS.  Now HIV infection is a chronically managed condition with far fewer people dying from AIDS. Now there is the possibility of Ending AIDS. But agencies need adequate funding to make that so. Among other things, successful intervention in an epidemic requires educating medical professionals and the public, along with outreach, referrals, and health care for those at-risk or infected. Since 2008, however, budget cuts have resulted in the loss of more than 46,000 public health jobs while other positions have been furloughed.

Now sequestration is having its effects. This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have seen an additional 5%, or $285 million in cuts (actually the overall FY 2012 to FY 2013 reduction to CDC’s program level funding was $580 million dollars!). Ending AIDS will require wide-scale HIV screening along with

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Naina Khanna on Tyler Perry

WARNING: Spoilers for Tyler Perry’s Temptation ahead, although if you’re reading this, you probably already know what they are.

When I heard that in his recent film, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, Tyler Perry gives his female lead HIV as moral punishment for pursuing an affair with a sexy tech mogul while still married to her upstanding, if boring, husband, I resolved to see it as soon as possible, so that I could write about it here. [And a confession of my own: in the interest of camp, I wanted to see Kim Kardashian’s big screen debut.] I’ve been too busy to get to the movies, but Naina Khanna of the Positive Women’s Network–USA has an op-ed at poz.com that probably says everything I could have said, and more. Khanna writes–as an HIV-positive woman of color herself–in damning terms about the violence, both cultural and medical, that Perry’s work does to women of color living with HIV:

For the estimated 300,000 women living with HIV in the United States, Tyler Perry’s Temptation preys on the worst of all that. For this, I charge him with at least 300,000 counts of self-doubt and recrimination, a million moments of fear and hopelessness, hundreds of failures to disclose, countless refused HIV tests, thousands of missed medical appointments, suicides, homicides, and setting us back in our HIV response for over than a decade.

I must confess to never having seen any of Perry’s work, but he is an extremely successful filmmaker as far as the box office is concerned, even as he regularly draws the ire of film and cultural critics alike. At an academic conference at Northwestern, appropriately titled “Madea’s Big Scholarly Roundtable,” black academics picked apart Perry’s work for all of the ways that it reinforces norms of heterosexual patriarchy and conservative Christianity, both of which seem to be on display in Temptation.

No doubt, HIV/AIDS is a serious disease, and one that disproportionately affects African American women. Representations of that reality should do justice to the complexity of HIV-positive women’s lives, struggles, and successes. The disease is not a blunt storytelling instrument of moral condemnation, and using it as such is an insult to the women whose everyday courage proves otherwise.

SEE ALSO:

AV Club’s write-up of “Madea’s Big Scholarly Roundtable”

Positive Women’s Network blog post on Temptation (Waheedah Shabazz-El, a founding member of the group, longtime member of ACT UP Philadelphia, and oral history narrator for this project, is quoted therein)

Peter Staley in OUT; HIV drugs in South Africa

ACT UP Philadelphia protests Obama's AIDS policy. Photo by Kaytee Riek

ACT UP Philadelphia protests Obama’s AIDS policy. Photo by Kaytee Riek.

I was struck recently by a brief interview in OUT (or on their website anyway) with Peter Staley, a former member of ACT UP/NY and the Treatment Action Group (TAG), and one of the main protagonists in David France’s recent documentary, How to Survive a Plague. Staley laments the popular amnesia about the battles that he and many others fought in the 1980s and early 1990s to educate themselves and others about their disease, and to press for a government response to the epidemic. Although the film has raised some awareness among a new generation of gay men about the role of ACT UP and TAG in radically changing the meaning of HIV and AIDS for many in the United States, infection rates are still rising among gay men, and especially gay men of color.

Toward the end of the interview, Staley says, “We walked away in 1996, and it’s not over; it’s getting worse–and this time we’re not paying attention.” That’s true, up to a point. ACT UP did undergo a marked decline in the mid 1990s, but not everyone left the movement. ACT UP Philadelphia perhaps remained the most intact of the remaining chapters, as members worked to bring low-income people of color into the group by working with drug treatment programs, halfway houses, and AIDS service organizations with mostly poor and minority clients. Like many others fighting the HIV epidemic in black communities, they never “walked away,” and one goal of the African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project is to show that AIDS activism didn’t end in 1996 any more than the AIDS epidemic did.

The Staley interview resonated with me especially because I encountered it as I was preparing for a presentation at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians on ACT UP Philadelphia‘s evolving work during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Although the group worked on a number of issues, including prison healthcare, affordable housing, and federal funding for needle exchange, I spoke about their advocacy for low-priced medications for people living with HIV and AIDS in the developing world. With that in mind, I was delighted to see (via Joe.My.God.) an announcement that South Africa will begin offering a version of Atripla, which combines three antiretrovirals in a single pill, for only $10 a month. By way of comparison, the patented version of the treatment costs $2000 a month in the United States.

South Africa has its own tortured relationship to AIDS, including former President Thabo Mbeki support of HIV denialists, and astronomically high infection rates driven by structural inequalities that remain from the apartheid era. Given all that, it’s wonderful to see good news coming out of the country that reflects the hard-won gains made by an international coalition of dedicated treatments activists over the years, including Staley and ACT UP Philadelphia alike.