March 20 was National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. On this important day, NMAC stands in solidarity with Native communities as they work to end the HIV and Hepatitis epidemics. As part of NMAC’s 35th Anniversary, I wanted to share the story of Ron Rowell. Ron was not only the founder of the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center, he was also an original NMAC board member. Ron told his story as part of the 2020 International AIDS Conference. Back in the ’90s, we were part of a cabal of people of color working to fight and collaborate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as they built the CDC’s community planning process. Other leaders included Reggie Williams from the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention and Charlene Dora Ortiz from San Antonio. We were a powerful and hell raising coalition of people of color who understood the value of collaboration.
NMAC is fortunate to work with so many leaders in the American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.
Christopher J. Paisano (above left) is NMAC’s program coordinator for Indian Country. His email is CPaisano@nmac.org or 202-997-0396. Christopher is a member of the Navajo Nation and lives in Fort Defiance, Arizona – the Navajo Nation. He is Kinlichiiní (Red House People Clan) and born for Tohtsoni (Big Water People Clan). His maternal grandfather’s clan is Taachiiní and his paternal grandfather’s clan are Haatbani Hanuu from Laguna Pueblo. Brenda Hunt (above right) is a long term NMAC board member from the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.
American Indian and Alaska Native CAP Members
Here is the American Indian and Alaska Native Community Advisory Panels (CAP). Its members include (from left to right by row): Kerry Hawk Lessard (upper left), of the Shawnee tribe and the Executive Director of Native American Lifelines; Savannah Gene (upper middle), a proud member of Diné Nation. She is Totsóhnii (Big Water Clan), born for Hashk’áánhadzohí (Yucca Fruit Strung Out in a Line Clan). Her maternal grandfathers are Ta’neeszahnii (Tangle People Clan) and her paternal grandfathers are Tł’izíłání (Many Goats Clan). Next is Sheldon Raymore, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
In the second row is Kurt Begaye, Diné Nation who is Hashk’ááhadzohí (Yucca Strung Out on a Line Clan), born for Tó’aheedliinii (Water Flow Together Clan). His maternal grandfather is Naashgalí Dine’é (Mescalero Apache People), and his paternal grandfather is Tł’ááshchí’í (Red Bottom People). Finally, we have Greg Gurrola, of the San Carlos Apache Tribe is from Phoenix, AZ, and currently lives in San Diego, CA.
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander CAP Members
Our Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders CAP includes (from left to right by row): Vince Aguon from Guam; Keiva Lei Candena, a Native Hawaiian born in Hawaii and currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area; Kuane Dreier from Hawaii; Cathy Kapua from the leeward side of O’ahu, Hawaii; Carolyn Kualii who is Hawaiian/Apaches; Bianka Tasaka, Mahu Wahine and Mahu Kane; and David Utuone, a gay Sāmoan HIV advocate who has been living with HIV since 2014.
I honor and thank these leaders. Our movement is very diverse. Our work to end the HIV epidemic must be a big tent.
Yours in the Struggle,
2022 is NMAC’s (formerly National Minority AIDS Council) thirty-fifth anniversary as a leader in the fight to end the HIV epidemic in America. Our history is filled with the stories of heroes in the struggle. Over the next 10 months, the agency will talk about our founders, and outline the challenges and opportunities facing our work to end the epidemic.
By all reasonable standards, NMAC should not have survived. We have no big individual donors. Most of our support comes from the government and too few corporations. Like many minority-led agencies, our dependence on government/corporate funding makes us vulnerable. As we have witnessed, many of our peers closed their doors when government priorities shifted. Addressing this inequity is a 2022 priority for NMAC. We are working with the Black AIDS Institute, Latino Commission on AIDS, and the San Francisco Community Health Center to bring a portion of the Minority AIDS Initiative back to its original congressional Intent. We’ve hired Dr. Maya Cummings to lead the charge. COVID has once again exposed health disparities in communities of color. It is time to build a healthcare infrastructure that addresses these inequities. Ending the HIV epidemic in America should leave a legacy of prevention, healthcare, housing, and wrap around services in all the communities hardest hit by HIV. These services could be the foundation for improving the quality of life for all communities. Yes, we are thinking beyond HIV.
If COVID has taught us nothing else, we’ve learned it is important to have a healthcare infrastructure and wrap around services that are nimble and flexible with services that can pivot to any new challenges facing the world. That is the lesson from HIV: how to take something horrible to do something good. We have spent decades building an HIV infrastructure it would be foolish to dismantle. Once again HIV can lead by not only ending the HIV epidemic, but also working on the vanguard to determine best practices to pivot to any new challenge. COVID exposed our vulnerabilities. 2022 is about rethinking that paradigm.
What helped NMAC survive was our conferences. I’ve done a version of USCHA since 1987 when it started as the National Skills Building Conference. Conferences and meetings create an unrestricted funding stream that covers expenses that cannot be charged to the government or corporations. NMAC runs some of the largest meetings in our movement and we do it by prioritizing the communities hardest hit by HIV. Our meetings are more than another boring conference; our gatherings are a family reunion.
People hardest hit by HIV live at the intersection of HIVphobia, racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, and sexphobia. Too many have been rejected by their birth families, so NMAC works to build a family of choice, a family who will embrace and celebrate the diversity of our movement and its authenticity. No judgements, just love and respect. It is so simple in theory but, with the current culture wars, difficult to implement. In a world where “don’t say gay” is real, how do we educate about HIV? It is also a difficult time for too many of the communities we need to reach. The United States Conference on HIV/AIDS and the Biomedical HIV Prevention Summit are safe havens. It is not easy to do, and we often get it wrong, but we never give up. I think that’s part of the reason we’ve still here; we acknowledge our mistakes and work to do better. Quite frankly, the expectations on NMAC are the same expectations for health departments and federal agencies. We expect you to be our safe haven, a place where we are more than tolerated, we are celebrated. How to do it in this political environment will be a challenge, especially given what is happening in certain states.
When state or federal rules prevent you from saying certain things, maybe it’s time to use community. With a new national PrEP initiative, your ability to reach us is key to success. From NMAC’s perspective it is less about cost and more about outreach, particularly community-based outreach. I know I’ve been complaining about the lack of people of color on PrEP, but the latest numbers tell me to be concerned about the overall lack of people on PrEP. How do we reach the targets in the updated National HIV/AIDS Strategy and do it in a syndemic way with STDs and Hepatitis? NMAC looks to the White House for leadership as they prioritize community to figure out solutions.
I want to thank everyone who made these 35 years possible. NMAC gets to survive and` thrive because key leaders stood up and vouched for us at critical times. This work is very personal, sometimes too personal. I continue to fight in memory of all the friends I lost. They are too many to remember and they still haunt my dreams, but it’s getting better. Work at NMAC is how I move beyond the PSTD from the early days. I don’t think I will ever fully heal, but this work teaches me how to live with the loss by working to end the HIV epidemic in America.
Yours in the Struggle,
NMAC has announced Covid safety protocols for the 2022 Biomedical HIV Prevention Summit in Chicago April 20 and 21:
All conference attendees must be fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated for the Summit means that registrants have received both shots and a booster if the second shot was received more than six months prior to the conference. Registrants must upload their vaccine card no later than Friday, April 8 to https://hosted-pages.id.me/health/2022-biomedical-hiv-prevention-summit. If we do not receive vaccine credentials by this date registrants will not be allowed entry to the conference.
Masks are encouraged but not required in the Summit conference space (plenary ballroom, foyers, workshop rooms, exhibit space). For updated information on the City of Chicago’s mask requirements, visit their website – https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/sites/covid-19/home.html.
“We want to make sure that the 2022 Biomedical HIV Prevention Summit is as safe as possible for attendees,” said Paul Kawata, Executive Director of NMAC. “While there is no absolute guarantee, we want to take every reasonable precaution to prevent Covid transmission during the Summit, particularly for our attendees who are living with HIV. These protocols are based on guidelines recommended by the CDC and by requirements posted by the city of Chicago.”
March 10 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. On this important day, NMAC stands in solidarity with women (cis and transgender women) living with HIV and the women working to end the HIV epidemic in America. They make NMAC a force of nature and this is my love letter to all the women in our movement. As a cisgender man, I will never fully understand what it means to be a cisgender Women or a Women of Transgender experience, but that does not mean I can’t stand in solidarity and support all women. Their stories are the fabric of our movement, both as people living with HIV and as the care and service backbone of our work. Portions of this e-newsletter were published last November, but on #NWGHAAD I wanted to update.
Women have always played a critical role at NMAC. Suki Terada Ports is not only my mother in the movement, she is also one of the founders of NMAC. Like many mothers, she drives me crazy, and I am inspired by her courage to stand up and speak her truth to power. Suki always reminded me to stand up for women. She was on the board of WARN (Women’s AIDS Resource Network) and Iris House. She was also the reason I fight so hard against the label of “other.” Suki understood the importance of counting American Indian, Alaska Natives, Asians, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders in HIV epi profiles. Recently Suki received the Emperor of Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun, Gold, and Silver Rays. Suki is so much more than these words, Suki is the mother to many women, American Indian, Alaska Natives, Asians, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders leaders. She gave me the courage and acceptance that was not given by my family.
A Social Worker by profession, Marie Saint Cyr was the founding executive director of WARN (Women’s AIDS Resource Network) and Iris House and a founding NMAC board member. Marie was a fierce advocate for her communities, particularly Haitians and women. She went back to Haiti after the earthquakes to help rebuild her country. At NMAC board meetings, she was always the voice of reason and the person who wanted to make sure that NMAC’s work benefited the communities most in need. I’ve lost touch with Marie. Please forward this e-newsletter to her, tell her I miss her and would love to talk. That’s the thing about this work: there are some amazing people who come in and out of your life. While I want to hold them close, I also understand that she has her path. Even if we are apart, she continues to shape NMAC’s fight to always prioritize community.
Rashidah Abdul-Khabeer (formerly Hassan) has spent most of her life in Philadelphia, where she grew up amidst the social change and political ferment of the 1950s and 1960s. She began to volunteer with Philadelphia AIDS groups, which were primarily oriented toward white gay men, and became frustrated with their apparent unwillingness to develop specific outreach and education efforts for African Americans. In 1985 she founded Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health Issues (BEBASHI), one of the country’s first black AIDS service organizations. She is also a founding NMAC board member.
Sandra Singleton McDonald, affectionately known as “Ms. Mac” is President and Founder of OUTREACH, INC., the first minority community-based organization established in Georgia to provide HIV/AIDS and drug treatment and prevention services to African American communities. Established in 1986 out of the trunk of her car, the agency has served more than 6,500 clients for over 30 years. Sandra has also consulted with the National Football League, National Basketball Association, and the National Basketball Players Association. She is also a founding NMAC board member.
Some amazing women of historical note have been on our board including NMAC’s Honorary Board Chair Patti LaBelle. Ms. Patti was part of NMAC’s HIV treatment education campaign on PCP. She lent her voice, talent, and money to help build NMAC. The legendary jazz singer Nancy Wilson joined our board in 2005. Her concert to celebrate NMAC ‘s 20th Anniversary is still on YouTube.
Mrs. Coretta Scott King attended both USCA and our Community Planning Leadership Summit. It was at the USCA in Atlanta that Mrs. King hosted a reception where the Civil Rights Movement saluted the HIV movement. She brought icons from her struggle to the Opening USCA reception in order to build bridges and understanding about the linkages between our movements. Mrs. King brought a voice of love and compassion for people living with HIV/AIDS at a time when too many other leaders had turned their backs.
Women play a central leadership role at NMAC and within our movement. While there is not enough space to share everyone’s story, here are just a small fraction of the women who make NMAC the agency our movement needs to end the epidemic. Here are the women at NMAC. We are a better agency because of their leadership.
Yours in the Struggle,
When I get fearful or scared, my go-to response is usually anger. Right now, there are many scary things. As a result, I’ve spent a good portion of the last two years very angry. And just as we were about to stop wearing masks, Russia invades Ukraine. Any joy for this next phase of COVID was replaced by concern, helplessness, and astonishment.
The invasion is just the latest in a series of challenges that are outside of our control but directly impact feelings of safety. I worry and wonder about what matters. How do you know the right path when everything seems wrong? While I am strong, after COVID, Black Lives Matter, police killing of Black men, violence against Asians, particularly older Asian women, Jan. 6th, inflation, masks, vaccines, boosters, climate change, wildfires, killing of transgender women, Afghanistan, affirmative action, abortion, Supreme Court nominations, don’t say gay, books being banned, and the constant battle for the soul of our country, I am also fearful, exhausted, and over it.
A news program showed people in Kyiv learning how to make Molotov cocktails while they randomly handed out guns so people can fight back. Could I be that brave? One month ago, the people of Ukraine had no idea of Putin’s plans or how their world would be turned completely upside down. Thanks to cell phones and the internet, the revolution will all be broadcast in real time. These videos will shine a light on the atrocities of war. The whole world is watching.
I’m not a particularly religious man, but I find myself calling out to God. Help me to understand the lesson in all this suffering. What can I do right now to make it a little better? Sometimes it feels like we are just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Then I remember the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic. There was a moment when we were heroes. There was a time when we had to make life or death decisions and learn to live with the consequences, no matter how painful. If you are able, now is time to help people living with HIV in Ukraine.
Naina Khanna posted this important message about how you can help:
“Coalition PLUS is supporting its member in Ukraine, “CO 100% LIFE” (former Ukrainian network of people living with HIV/AIDS). We have been working with this organization for many years and they have been doing amazing work in the region and they have been preparing for this situation so they could act fast when it happens.
100% LIFE is currently trying to:
- ensure continuity of care and ARV supply,
- adapt their medical centers to care for war wounded, in particular in Podol and Oboloni districts of Kyiv,
- mobilize global partners, inform and alert to the risks of health system collapse. They have launched an appeal to the UN Security Council and you can endorse it by signing the following Google Form: Appeal to the UN Security Council.
You will find more information on their Facebook page that is regularly updated.
100% LIFE currently has huge needs for financial support. Coalition PLUS has sent a first donation of $20,000 and we wish to send more money. If you want to support them financially you can find their banking details below and this means of support should be prioritized to ensure quick transfers.
We know some organizations and people struggle to send money to Ukraine due to banking restrictions (which is intolerable) or would be more comfortable if the money is to transit through another organization. We have therefore offered 100% LIFE to help with the fundraising. Small donations by card/PayPal can be made on Coalition PLUS donation webpage (https://don.coalitionplus.org). And bigger donations can be sent to Coalition PLUS bank accounts and I can provide all the information you need to make a transfer. Coalition PLUS can arrange to send the money to 100% LIFE as soon as we have your commitment to give without waiting for the transfer to be made so we can act fast.
All funds will be targeted to this operation. There will be no admin fee taken by Coalition PLUS and we can provide all necessary documentation to reassure you on the traceability of funds and to demonstrate the money has been sent to 100% LIFE.
Finally, there will be many other needs, in particular for refugees at the Ukrainian border and in European countries that will need to be supported and supplied in ARVs. Therefore if you hear of any initiative, please let us know and we will try to see how to participate and support. It is in these moments of crisis that the importance of networks and community solidarity must be most strongly expressed.”
100% LIFE bank account (official name: Charitable Organization Ukrainian network of PLWHA)
BANK OF BENEFICIARY
IBAN UA 49 380805 00000000 26006609414
BIC/ SWFT CODE AVALUAUKXXX
Bank name Raiffeisen Bank Joint Stock Company
Address of bank branch Leskova str.9, Kyiv, 01011, Ukraine
Account Number 890-0260-688
Bank name The Bank of New York Mellon, New York, USA
Short name: CO «100 PERCENT LIFE»
Full name: CHARITABLE ORGANIZATION «ALL-UKRAINIAN NETWORK OF PEOPLE LIVING WITH HIV/AIDS»
Registration number: 21721459
Legal address: 87-А building V, Mezhyhirska St., Kyiv, Ukraine 04080
In details please indicate: Charitable Aid”
I know these are tough times for everyone. Thank you for your consideration. Please know you are not alone.
Yours in the Struggle,
I had a difficult if not contentious relationship with Larry Kramer. His last words to me were “fuck you.” I carry them as a badge of honor. As a leader in the fight to end the HIV epidemic, my job is to speak out against injustice and to fight for the communities hardest hit by HIV. I hope I can make Larry proud as we move to the next critical phase of our work, but I doubt it.
What does leadership look like as we fight to end the HIV epidemic by 2030 while also learning to live with COVID? Obviously, we all play different roles. Federal leaders and health departments face internal restrictions that are not the same for community. Community leaders have a responsibility to tell their truth because not everyone gets invited to the table. I always tell my staff that, when they get invited, they must speak-up, not with their voice, but with the voice of community.
Last week I got an invite from Dr. Laura Cheever, the administrator of HRSA/HAB, to talk about HRSA’s plans to end the HIV epidemic. That is leadership: to reach out to community before they ask for a meeting. To all the health departments and federal leaders, community expects to be at the table and part of the solution. We want our input to be valued and acted upon. Too often community is seen as an afterthought, something to be managed. Believe it or not, we can tell the difference. Thank you, Dr. Cheever.
I also want to thank Rita Harcrow from HOPWA/HUD for taking the time to discuss their EHE efforts. As I mentioned, NMAC was really pleased that HUD was at the table. We believe housing is core to our efforts to end the HIV epidemic. Our ability to safely house and provide quality medical care and mental health services PWHs is key to our EHE efforts. Along those lines, we hope that HOPWA/HUD, SAMHSA, and HRSA/HAB will consider collaborative funding arrangements so these services can be better integrated.
We remind our federal partners that we are looking for syndemic solutions. Our vision is to end the HIV, STD, and Hepatitis epidemics. That requires collaboration across federal departments and agencies at a level that is unprecedented. Some of you are working together, but there are key players missing. Isolation that leads to depression means that mental health services are essential for many people living with HIV. How will plans incorporate this essential service? Agency plans are due to the White House sometime in March. Now is the time to speak up.
It’s more than being invited to the table. We also want to see community in senior leadership positions. Too frequently there is diverse community representation, except for the government employees. While I am very grateful to Dr. Levine, how many transgender leaders hold government jobs? How many people living with HIV? How many people from the communities hardest hit by HIV? From my experience, way too few. It is not a matter of affirmative action; it is the understanding that representation matters.
The main difference between me and Larry is how we approached these inequities. Larry hated injustice. He hated a world that treated him like a second-class citizen. His anger was his motivation to change the world. For me it’s about love. I love my constituents. I love people living with HIV. I love people who take the risks to be their true selves despite what society tells them. They are my motivation to fight. They are the reason I’m still here after all these years. The privilege of getting old is you don’t care anymore what people think of you. I have earned the right to say some difficult things and like NMAC’s founding board chair Craig Harris said in 1986 at the closing APHA plenary on AIDS, “I will be heard.”
Yours in the Struggle,
I’m writing to invite you to the 2022 United States Conference on HIV/AIDS to be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico October 8-11 at the Convention Center. This meeting is NMAC’s love letter to the people of Puerto Rico. Between HIV, bankruptcy, Hurricane Maria, and COVID, it’s been very difficult. You may recall we were originally scheduled to be there in 2020.
NMAC (National Minority AIDS Council) is going to San Juan to:
- Highlight HIV challenges in the Latinx community,
- Bring much needed economic development to Puerto Rico,
- Experience a city where English is the second language, and
- Lean into Puerto Rican culture as a lesson on cultural sensitivity.
The 2022 conference theme is Luchando Por Nuestras Vidas (Fighting For Our Lives). It honors our past and speaks to the future. Unfortunately, luchando por nuestras vida is what too many of us do daily. We are all connected in our fight for a fair and just world.
Registration is now open. To be part of the conference block of rooms, you must register first. Early bird registration fees are $490 for NMAC members and $625 for non-members.
The scholarship section is live. NMAC has committed to double the number of A&B scholarships. The majority of scholarships will be given to people living with HIV; however, there are never enough funds to cover all the need. NMAC will be transparent with our decisions and important demographic information will be shared in our newsletter.
The 2022 Opening Plenary will be in Spanish with simultaneous English translation. To end the HIV epidemic by 2030, NMAC believes our movement needs to not only understand, but also celebrate the cultures of the communities hardest hit by HIV. Latinx Gay men have surpassed White Gay men in the number of new cases of HIV. They are second in numbers only to Black Gay men in a race that nobody wants to win. We are going to San Juan to give attendees an immersive experience of the culture, music, food, and values of Spanish speaking communities.
Local businesses, especially those friendly to community, need our support and shipping to Puerto Rico can get expensive. NMAC is asking sponsors, exhibitors, and attendees to purchase locally when possible. Instead of shipping printed materials, NMAC will use local printers. Look for a list of vendors who are friendly to community to be posted on our website. If you need temporary help while in San Juan, NMAC is working with local CBOs to identify people living with HIV, particularly people with trans experience, to be hired as temporary help. As part of our fight for economic justice, temporary help will be paid at least $15 per hour. USCHA has a huge economic impact. According to the San Juan Convention Bureau, the meeting will provide jobs to over 1,000 people for over one month.
Puerto Rico Convention Center
The 2022 meeting will be at the Puerto Rico Convention Center. To be honest, I am not the biggest fan of convention centers. They can be too large and impersonal. However, it was the only space that could accommodate the meeting. At least this center is warm and inviting. No chicken lunches here. You can look for tostones, empanadillas, or mofongo. Music in the hallways will feature Puerto Rican artists including Bad Bunny, Luis Fonsi, Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, and my personal fave Ricky Martin.
Multiple hotel blocks will be available for attendees. You must register to gain access to the official conference hotels. Rooms will be set aside in advance for scholarship recipients.
Most attendees will stay in one of two hotels. The Sheraton Puerto Rico is the host hotel and is located next to the convention center. Rooms at the Sheraton are $189-$229 per night (plus taxes). We also have a block at the Caribe Hilton. Rooms at the Hilton are $204 per night (plus taxes). The Hilton is located on the water a little further from the convention center. Buses will be provided. Hotel rooms are limited, so please register early.
NMAC is closely monitoring the conditions. All attendees are required to upload proof of vaccination one month in advance of the meeting. This information will be collected online and there are no exceptions because the space does not have the capacity to separate the vaccinated from the unvaccinated. Thirty percent of the attendees are people living with HIV and our movement has a responsibility to their health and wellbeing. NMAC will follow all local ordinances so there may be additional protocols. Unfortunately, NMAC does not have the capacity to do both an in person and virtual USCHA. Like everyone, we are trying to figure out how to live with COVID.
I’ve missed everyone. It’s been too long. Hopefully we can hug, laugh, and cry together again. We are more than a faceless movement; we are a family. A slightly dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless. When the International AIDS Conference went to South Africa, there were plenty of skeptics. I hope this meeting can do for the domestic fight what going to South Africa did for our international efforts.
Gracias. See you in October.
Yours in the Struggle,
It was the Summer of 1978. I was a teenager coming out while spending my break working in San Francisco. This is my journey. Being a gay man/boy in the ’70s felt like being part of a revolution, to be in the vanguard of LGBTQ folks fighting to live our lives completely out of the closet. Back then Gay sex was our “fuck you” to the establishment.
The late ’70s was the height of the lesbian separatist movement. Yes, there was a time with some members of the lesbian community worked to create a world that did not include men, particularly straight, white, cisgender men. Gay men started building our own safe communities that included bars, restaurants, and bathhouses with an explosion of new businesses, jobs, and opportunities. It was the beginning of the community-led infrastructure that would serve as a critical foundation after AIDS. There was little to no awareness of issues impacting people of color. I was often an anomaly in a sea of White people. However, it’s not fair to use a 2022 lens on the ‘70s.
Gay men were divided between those fighting for acceptance by straight society versus those who wanted as much sex as possible. It was the heyday of bathhouses, backrooms, and glory holes. Honestly, it was lots of fun. 1978 was my summer of firsts. Going to my first gay bar, dancing with another man, marching in Pride, and my first real passionate kiss. He was the president of my fraternity, and I was in love.
This photo was taken at San Francisco’s Pride Parade. Published on the cover of the San Francisco Chronicle, it was how I came out to my Asian family and friends. As you can imagine, my mother was horrified. 1978 was also the summer I met David Goodstein (publisher of The Advocate), Jim Hormel (philanthropist), and Rob Eichberg (therapist and creator of National Coming Out Day), three men who changed the course of my life. They helped me see that being gay was about more than sex. My life did not have to be lived in the shadows of a closet. I could be the outrageous gay man I wanted to be. That was a revelation, completely contrary to all my Japanese upbringing. They helped me understand the importance of committing my life to something bigger than just me. Being gay was a gift and not the burden I was feeling.
AIDS completely changed the LGBTQ narrative. After my summers of love in San Francisco, I moved to Seattle for dental school. One fateful day, I read an article in the New York Native by Larry Kramer. It turned my life and the lives of people I loved upside down. Our community had to grow up and we had to do it quickly. Hard core lesbian separatists became caregivers for too many gay men. We came together because the world, particularly people in power, did not care about anyone with AIDS. There was no room for our sick. Many White gay men who thought they were being accepted into the larger society were in for a very rude awakening. For the first time they were treated like second class citizens and it made them mad, something very familiar to people of color.
I’m sharing my memories to remind us of who we were and the challenges we’ve overcome, to remember our courage, power, and strength in the face of adversity. In our many and various iterations as people of color, people living with HIV, LGBTQ, women, drug users, and sex workers, we faced what seemed insurmountable and survived; however, there are still too many causalities. As I look back from where I started, I am amazed what this little scared Japanese boy created. Our journey is not over. We still must end the epidemics of HIV, STDs, and Hepatitis, to commit our lives to something bigger than ourselves. And to look back to a life well lived.
Yours in the Struggle,
On this National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, NMAC remembers and honors the African American leaders who envisioned, built, and fought to create NMAC. Too many are gone and we don’t have photos of everyone. This year is our 35th Anniversary. We are here because, in 1986, Craig Harris, a founding board member for NMAC, stormed the stage and took the microphone at the APHA plenary on AIDS and declared “I will be heard!” As a Black gay man living with HIV, his rallying cry became our raison d’etre.
NMAC is NMAC because of these leaders. Our history includes people living with HIV, ministers, gay men, lesbians, transgender women, transgender men, researchers, and executive directors, all fighting for justice for people of color within the HIV movement. They make NMAC a better agency and we are blessed and honored for their leadership.
Yours in the Struggle,