Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Prison Food, Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

Talkin' about a revolution

From Left:  Anthony Ferrara, Michael Callen & Roger Lyon - all of whom were living with AIDS - testify on Capital Hill. 1983.
Photo from Washington Post photo essay.

Forget the Olympics - the International AIDS Conference in Washington DC is the event of the summer. First time this event has been held in the US because the INS rules banned people with HIV from entering the country until 2010.  Yup, you heard that right.  Uncle Sam wasn't exactly testing at the border, but people living with the virus would have to hide their medications and lie on their visa applications to enter the US and this kind of stigma-fueled game wasn't one that AIDS activists were willing to play.

While the conference will not be televised live on NBC, there has been a fair amount of coverage about the events in newspapers and on-line, so I encourage you to read the headlines and catch up on the revolution. Talkin' about sex, drugs and money. Hey, actually there may be more in common with the Olympics than I thought...

I lifted the photo above from a montage about the lives of people with AIDS in the US in the 1980s and early 1990s, before the development of life-saving medications. Courage in the face of tremendous pain and fear.  Yes, I know, Nancy skated after that whole Tanya shovel thing, but really, the Olympics got nothing on these stories.

Roger Lyon is pictured on the right edge of the photo.  His testimony at these congressional hearings included a line that became well-known in the movement and was stitched onto the AIDS quilt panel that was created in his memory when he died in 1984, about a year after this photo was taken.
"I came here today to ask that this nation with all its resources and compassion, 
not let my epitaph read, "He died of red tape."

I didn't recognize the face or name of Michael Callen, the young man in the background.  Surprising seeing as I am now working on a Yale HIV prevention research project which is being conducted at the Callen-Lourde Community Health Center in New York City.  The name is so long and cumbersome, that I often reduce it to C-L when I am writing.  Turns out the Callen is for Michael, AIDS activist extraordinaire, and the Lourde is for Audre, fighter and writer.  Oh, how quickly history can be erased and forgotten.  I think the least I can do from here on out is write out their names.

I wasn't able to find out about Anthony Ferrara on-line except that he wrote several pieces about living with AIDS.  I expect he was a brave and generous guy.  Maybe one of you in the blog-o-sphere knows his story?

What a story it is, and one that continues to unfold.  This year, Yale history professor George Chauncey won the College's Excellence in Teaching award for his class about LGBT history which includes a segment about the history of HIV in the US.  Apparently you can hear a needle drop when he talks about the days when young men and women died quickly but not without putting up a fight.

For those of you who can't make it into Dr. Chauncey's class, here is my own little syllabus. Autobiographies of people living with HIV, each an activist in his or her own way.  Some of whom have passed away, others who carry on.  Pick one out, use your library card, and meet an extraordinary person with a tremendous story of impossible bravery. 

Draper, Nancy. (2004). A Burden of Silence: My Mother's Battle with AIDS.
Fisher, Mary. (1995)  My Name is Mary: A Memoir.
Glaser, Elizabeth. (1991) In the Absence of Angels: A Hollywood Family's Courageous Story.
Hoffmann, Regan. (2009)  I Have Something to Tell You.
Jones, Cleve.  (2001) Stitching a Revolution:  The Making of an Activist.
White, Ryan.  (1992). Ryan White: My Own Story

None of these folks will be standing on podiums with shiny medals in the weeks to come, but their accomplishments deserve all that and more.  Live. Love. Fight. Question. Try your best. Don't give up. 
Who do I have to write to get Elizabeth Glaser on the Wheaties box?