HIV/AIDS advocacy is rich in passionate history and tremendous progress over the last three decades, with the LGBTQ movement being a centering force in the narrative. LGBTQ communities offer strength and solidarity for those affected, and launched efforts to put HIV/AIDS at the forefront of the social and political conversation. Still, queer advocacy has changed since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. During the early days of the epidemic, queer communities made their voices heard with a ferocity that was unmatched. That voice has quietened, causing HIV/AIDS to become less prominent in the LGBTQ advocacy narrative.
How do we “Relight the Fire?” AIDS United sparked the conversation at the Creating Change Conference with a workshop presented by Charles Stephens of the Counter Narrative Project and Yolo Akili Robinson. Their message was clear, HIV/AIDS is still a queer issue. While the conversation might have changed, the severity of the epidemic hasn’t, as can be seen in the disproportionate impact HIV/AIDS has on queer communities of color.
“[In the 80’s,] we were fighting to stay alive, now we are fight for a quality-of-life.” Perfectly summarized by a fellow advocate who’s been in this fight from the beginning. This observation exemplifies the difference in the lived experience between generations. As I continue to explore my place in this work as a member of the new generation of advocates, I look to those who came before me for mentorship and perspective. I truly believe, resurrecting the old cliché, “I stand on the shoulders of giants.” I am truly inspired by how the first generation of HIV/AIDS activist came together in a time of crisis, put away the petty differences, and worked together for a common good.
How do we get back to the “all hands on deck” movement that was so powerful in those early years? How do we empower the new generation? We need a catalyst, but what? I honestly don’t know the answer, but we must make answering that question the starting point for reigniting the movement. We desperately need to activate youth, especially youth of color, in this discussion. For that to happen, we must meet them where they are. We must be willing to present the facts in a comprehensive, yet accessible way. Embracing the channels and formats that excite them, and incorporating their narratives into the message. Progress won’t be made without their investment.
Unite to ignite.