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Early AIDS Activist Talks HIV and Right-Wing Populism

pox lover

Lesbian journalist Anne-Christine d’Adesky on HIV, activism, and the threat of right-wing populism.

French-Haitian-American Anne-Christine d’Adesky is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker who reported on the AIDS crisis, protested with ACT UP, co-created the Lesbian Avengers, and was the founding editor of Plus magazine. We talked with her about her new memoir, the lasting impact of the epidemic, and the new resistance. 

You were the first editor of  Plus (then HIV Plus). Did you think the magazine — or the virus — would still be around? 

I did think HIV Plus would — or could — become a magazine that would fill a practical niche for HIV-positive individuals by focusing on trends in treatment. Our early issues were focused on themes for that reason — prison issues, trans issues, etcetera — to provide context for treatment, and to look at hurdles to access. Looking back, I think from the earliest issues, HIV Plus serves as a document of our evolving practical knowledge of treating patients with an ever-refined arsenal. I also assumed — and assume — HIV [always] will be with us, but I look to monkey models and attenuation that may have taken place for centuries in animal species. 

Right. The simian version of HIV is widespread among certain monkeys but they’ve developed immune responses.

For me, these are models for vaccine- and immune-based treatments that we are beginning to see in the search for a cure — combination treatments that can now produce short-term remission.

Why was it important to you to share your diary entries from the 1990s in The Pox Lover?

Looking back, I feel like my experiences do mirror many of my peers. I was pulled into activism, shaped by the AIDS epidemic. I became who I am, in part, as a professional journalist, and as an engaged citizen, due to the personal impact of the epidemic on my close circle — friends in Haiti, in the LGBTQ community, then later, in France, in the Diaspora African communities. As a woman, as a lesbian, I feel my experience is my own, but also a generational story, and one where the lives and evolution of women’s and lesbian’s engagement was passionate, consistent, and shaped the AIDS movement. 

Has the impact of the AIDS epidemic on the lesbian community gone unexamined? 

I think that lesbians have been overlooked in the public narratives of AIDS, yes. That history is only now being told by a newer generation of writers and filmmakers. I feel that the role of straight women in ACT UP has barely been discussed. The contribution of African-American and Latino and the different international ACT UP activists is also waiting to be known. 

How was the treatment of people living with HIV different in France, where you’ve also lived?

There’s a different evolution of the LGBTQ movement and that led to a different AIDS movement. At the same time, France has and had socialized medicine, and a very different social system for providing care and medicine to its citizens. French doctors at the Pasteur Institute were the ones who discovered HIV — Luc Montagnier’s lab — and French activists made an incredible contribution to the science and access to treatment.

Speaking of France, let’s talk Marine Le Pen, and the LGBT community’s response to  populism. 

We can all feel a huge relief that 65 percent of the voting [French] electorate chose a centrist, Emmanuel Macron. But it should alarm us — greatly — that Le Pen got the remainder. The LGBTQ movement [has] by and large failed to invite and embrace progressive and LGBTQ Muslim leaders and citizens to speak out … and to engage in the public conversations that we must now have to help counter the divisive, racist, Islamophobic narratives put forward by leaders like Le Pen, or [Trump]. 

Where do we start?

Look at your own assumptions, and biases. Start local. Engage in your community. We need to show the courage and urgency of action we did in the ’90s and take to the streets, refuse government indifference, fight against this state-sanctioned homophobia, do our all to act in solidarity. Every one of us has a role to play. 

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