From ACT UP to Dallas Buyers Club, PEPFAR to PrEP, and the "Charlie Sheen effect" to Undetectable = Untransmittable, Plus magazine has been bringing the latest and most accurate news and information around HIV for the last 20 years.
As we take a look back on an eventful two decades, we celebrate the many courageous souls (some who are no longer with us, like our very first cover star Chloe Dzubilo, picture above left alongside our current cover star, Pose writer and producer Our Lady J) who opened up about their experiences living with HIV in our pages in order to help eradicate stigma, as well as the many advances in research, treatment, and government policy around HIV and AIDS.
While many people living with HIV today are leading healthy and productive lives, many are still struggling with discrimination and access to care and treatment. That is why we're not stopping anytime soon.
Until the fight against HIV is won, Plus will be alongside you in the trenches. Here's to another 20 years!
1998: The Premiere Issue
In September 1998, we launched our very first issue with trans HIV-positive artist and AIDS activist Chloe Dzubilo as our cover girl. Dzubilo was so well identified with New York’s East Village that she counted among her friends Rosario Dawson and Tatum O’Neal, and she served as a muse for several others, including photographer Nan Goldin and designer Marc Jacobs.
Dzubilo died 13 years later, in 2011. During her colorful life, she was tireless in her efforts to end HIV — protesting with Transexual Menace, directing one of the first federally funded programs for trans sex workers, and later became the first trans person recognized by Kaiser Foundation’s Daily Health Policy Report for her work.
Plus magazine’s founding editor in chief, Anne-Christine D’Adesky, is still fighting the good fight. Her latest book, The Pox Lover (published last year), covers the AIDS epidemic and her time in ACT UP New York and ACT UP Paris in the 1990s. Current Plus editors are in awe of D'Adesky, since the 64-page premiere issue also features this credit line: “All articles written by Anne-Christine D’Adesky (except pg. 13).”
This first issue of what was then called HIV Plus magazine covered a lot, including ongoing side effect issues like liver toxicity and "buffalo humps," the desire for treatment regimes that called for fewer drugs, recent medical marijuana wins, and president Clinton’s backtrack on needle exchange programs.
1999: Search For A Vaccine
The second year of HIV Plus magazine focused on the search for a vaccine — something nearly 20 years later activists are still optimistic for. Editors also tackled the dangerous side effects of early HIV drugs, including lipodystrophy. Those first few issues of Plus also heavily reported on how HIV was impacting kids, teens, and their parents (some poz, some not).
At the time, vertical transmission was still being called “mother to child” transmission. Many of the teens involved in HIV activism, like then-13-year-old Brian Marquezthe (a pseudonym), who graced the cover of our Teen Spirit issue (#3, pictured), had lost his parents to AIDS complications.
2000: A New Outlook
The new millennium also brought a new vigor to the fight against HIV. In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that African-American and Latino men who have sex with men have higher HIV diagnoses rates than white men in the same transmission category. Then in May 2000, President Clinton issued an executive order to help developing nations manufacture or import generic versions of patented antiretrovirals. That move ignited a new kind of dialogue around treatment as prevention, which still permeates today.
Those living with HIV were starting to see the profound impact of modern HIV treatment, which had only been put on the market a few years prior. Poz folks were beginning to realize they, too, will live a long and healthy life. One of them was Chuck Panozzo, cofounder of the rock band Styx. He spoke with Plus in 2000 about what it was like hiding from his bandmates not only that he was gay, but that he was also HIV-positive. These days, Panozzo has continued to fight against HIV stigma, having recently advocated for the World AIDS Museum and Educational Center in South Florida.
2001: Women Give Hope
In June 2001, three months before the world changed forever from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the U.N. General Assembly held its first special session on AIDS. It was also a year of tremendous advancements in HIV research, where three women held the hope of a potential vaccine.
Success with killing HIV cells without destroying their outer shell made way for one of the first clinical HIV vaccine trials. The dream team consisted of Kathie Grovit-Ferbas, Judy Currier, and Betty Wolf. Grovit-Ferbas’s team discovered an intriguing analogy for HIV and its outer shell, which she compared to “ramen noodles” in her interview with Plus. While Currier assisted in leading the vaccine during clinical testing, Wolf, a scientist-turned-fundraiser, assisted in the fundraising for a vaccine candidate and later helped to form the AIDS Eradication Project at UCLA.
These days, much of the team is still working in the HIV sphere. Currier is the principal investigator for the UCLA AIDS Prevention and Treatment Clinical Trials Unit and Vice Chair of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG). Grovit-Ferbas is currently an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.
2002: The New Faces of Activism
In 2002, data showed that not only had AIDS become the leading cause of death across the globe among people ages 15 to 59, but women now accounted for half of all HIV-positive adults worldwide. This year also saw an uprising of voices in marginalized communities taking their place at the table.
Ten years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was put into place, 2002 saw a series of decisions being handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court that increasingly narrowed the definition of what being “disabled” was by lawmakers. Disability activists, many who were poz, took a stand and continue to be a voice today.
2003: Money Cuts, Money Burns, Money Talks
This year saw a huge leap of discoveries and policies. President George W. Bush announced the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to fight HIV overseas, which gives over a billion dollars every year to countries in need of medicines (a policy that is threatened under President Trump). We also learned that South Africa had the highest number of HIV-positive people in the world, thus announcing their plans to create an antiretroviral treatment program.
Plus investigated the growing research around HIV reservoirs in the body, as well as the visible impact long-term survivors were experiencing — specifically in New York City and San Francisco, two cities largely impacted during the AIDS crisis. Poz folks who never thought they’d live to see the age of 50 suddenly saw a new chapter in their lives. Unfortunately, years of waiting for death saw financial burdens they hadn’t expected — a crisis that still exists today, but is largely eased by incredible services offered by organizations like GMHC.
2004: The New Poz Generation
While long-term survivors faced problems they’d never imagined they would live to face, 2004 saw another newer generation of people living healthy, happy lives with HIV. And they finally saw their reality reflected in film, TV, music, and even politics.
This was the year that Democratic presidential candidates finally seemed to have a growing understanding of how the HIV epidemic continued to impact the United States and the world. More and more seemed to understand the need to develop strategic plans to address the epidemic, evident with President George Bush’s launch of PEPFAR in 2003.
While Bush could be lauded for creating PEPFAR, he also alarmed HIV activists by announcing a desire to evaluate whether organizations receiving Ryan White funds were using them effectively. Activists countered that control over how Ryan White funds are allocated should remain with local communities not the federal government.
2004: The New Poz Generation
In pop culture, Erasure’s Andy Bell had already had dozens of number one hits (including the pop anthem “Who Needs Love (Like That),” sold millions of records, and become an established music legend when he and his partner of 20 years, Paul Hickey, came out as HIV-positive. (Hickey passed in 2012 and Bell is now married to Stephen Moss.)
Bell’s story reflected some HIV prevention activists’ growing fears about gay men: the musician admitted to abusing drugs, having risky sex with multiple partners, and even feeling like HIV was inevitable so he almost wanted to become positive to get it out of the way. This was a period of declining condom-use in the gay community, but long before we’d begun to see the positive impact of people reaching undetectable levels and no longer being able to transmit HIV. The concern that an uptick in the epidemic might occur is woven through the articles of 2004.
That year TV offered a mixed bag: Showtime's Queer as Folk provided story lines involving three HIV-positive men, but some activists discounted the portrayals for being too “made-for-TV” (aka, characters dying of AIDS complications while remaining entirely healthy and hunky looking). Still, Plus writer Benjamin Ryan commended the show for portraying “not only drugged-out sex parties but also romantic safer sex.”
And media giant Viacom spent $400 million on their Know HIV/AIDS campaign, included public awareness advertising and HIV-related story lines on shows like Becker, Star Trek: Enterprise, The District, Half and Half, One on One, Girlfriends, The Parkers, JAG, and Presidio Med on Viacom's numerous networks, including Showtime, MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1, BET, UPN, and CBS. More than 85 million people viewed one of these shows.
As awareness of people living longer with HIV (due to improved medications) increased, Plus also brought attention to another “new generation,” those getting HIV diagnoses after turning fifty. HIV-prevention messaging and strategies weren’t reaching the over-50 crowd, who were newly invigorated with the widespread use of Viagra but hadn’t embraced wide-scale condom use. When doctors prescribed erectile dysfunction drugs, advocates argued, they should also discuss safer sex and the need for condoms.
2005: No Day But Today
While shows like Queer As Folk and Will & Grace were breaking ground in LGBTQ representation (the former unapologetically depicted HIV storylines through several seasons), the market for HIV medications was evolving.
In 2005, AZT’s patent expired, thus leading the way for four generic versions getting approved for the U.S. market. However, the antiretroviral drugs Hivid and Fortovase were decommissioned due to low demand. The same year, Plus contributing editor and award-winning journalist, LeRoy Whitfield, who made a strong stand about not initiating anti-HIV therapy, died of AIDS complications at 36.
HIV disclosure became a topic in Hollywood, thanks to the Broadway sensation Rent hitting theaters with a film version. Plus spoke to Anthony Rapp about the impact the show had on the fight against HIV (and ultimately the fight for medications that worked). Rapp would later blaze several more trails, being one of the first out gay man in “space” on TV in Star Trek: Discovery as well as being a visible face in the #MeToo movement following his sexual misconduct allegations against Kevin Spacey.
HIV-positive actor and musician, Paul Lekakis, also spoke to Plus about coming to terms with his diagnoses as well as his advocacy towards practicing safer sex — which culminated in to his 2005 short film, Don’t Tell, Don’t Ask
2006: We’re Not Our Status
This year marked 25 years since the first AIDS cases were reported in June 1981. It also happened to be a year of positive change for those on treatment, when the FDA approved the use of Atripla — the first single-pill, once-daily, triple-drug combination therapy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also updated its recommendations on HIV testing — noting that adults aged 13 to 64 should be routinely screened for HIV (now it’s recommended for those at high risk to be tested at least every three to six months.)
Darren G. Davis, creator of the HIV-positive comic hero Zak Raven (from the series Lost Raven), spoke with Plus about creating a poz role model that is uplifting rather than somber or sad. The storyline Raven goes through mirrored Davis’s own experiences of being HIV-positive: “When I first found out I was positive, there was no HIV 101,” he said at the time. “So I want people to know that they do have options and choices — because at first you're just trying to comprehend it all. I really wish I would have had a mentor, which is kind of what this comic book is.”
Tommy Morrison, the boxer who defeated George Foreman in 1993 (and starred in Rocky V in 1990), also spoke to Plus about being HIV-positive and what it was like fighting against stigma: “Nobody wanted to talk to me, return my phone calls, or even wave to me on the street,” Morrison recalled at the time. “That messed with me emotionally. I never thought in a million years that that would happen to me. For six or eight months, I blocked it out and tried to go about my business, but people just would not accept me living my life and acting like nothing happened. I was the talk of the town.”
Turns out, Morrison’s original HIV results were a false positive. In 2007, he tested negative for HIV four times and he began fighting again. Unfortunately, he died on September 2013 of multi-organ failure due to septic shock.
2007: Not On My Watch
By 2007, the CDC reported that over 560,000 people had died of AIDS in the United States since 1981. A demand for more action in preventing new HIV diagnoses was permeating the lives of activists, organizers, and health professionals alike. One of those voices was Gil Robertson, who edited the book of essays called Not in my Family: AIDS in the African-American Community.
Not in my Family was nominated for an Image Award for best nonfiction by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Robertson, who is now the current president of the African-American Film Critics Association, spoke of his leadership as an activist and mover-shaker in his own community, and how we as citizens have the responsibility to combat the growing rates in the African-American community. It was the beginning of a long career in advocacy.
“I’m really committed,” he said at the time, “to continuing this discussion within the community and really just not letting go of it until we as a country, we as a people, we as a nation, start to address this disease the same way we would any other.”
2008: Visibility Mattered
In 2008, national visibility around HIV ramped up. President Bush signed legislation reauthorizing PEPFAR for an additional five years for up to $48 billion. September 2008 also marked the first observance of National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day as well as the National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (on September 18 and September 27, respectively.)
For National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Plus interviewed advocates Marvelyn Brown and Jonathan Perry, who spoke beautifully on the growing number of African-Americans being impacted by HIV — as well as how we can combat it. Those numbers have slowly decreased, thanks to a growing number of initiatives targeting that community, though Blacks and Latinos still account for the highest number of new diagnoses each year. We also spoke to Project Runway’s Jack Mackenroth who fearlessly came out HIV-positive to TV viewers. That lead to a broader conversation on what it meant to be living healthy with HIV, a conversation we strive to continue.
2009: The Shifting Tides
The election of President Barack Obama lead to the development of the first National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States by launching the Global Health Initiative (GHI), a six-year, $63 billion effort to develop a comprehensive approach to addressing global health in low- and middle-income countries.
Later in the year, UNAIDS reported that new HIV diagnoses saw a significant decline in the prior decade — 17 percent to be exact. East Asia, however, had seen a dramatic 25 percent increase over the same period.
HIV visibility on screen was being getting broader through many intersections, including drag. When Ryan Palao, or “Ongina,” came out as poz on RuPaul’s Drag Race back when very few people had done so in the public eye, he left audiences stunned — many of them had not known a world without antiretrovirals, so the message about HIV education couldn’t have been more timely.
“When I disclosed, it was because I was truly, truly happy,” Palao explained at the time. He opened to the world about his status on the drag competition series after winning a challenge related to HIV awareness. “It was amazing to know I had won something that I can represent, that has helped me and other people stay alive. Any funding for HIV has helped you or me, one way or another, and this was particularly meaningful to me because I have HIV.”
2010: HIV Goes Digital
At the start of 2010, the U.S. government officially lifted the HIV travel and immigration ban. President Obama later signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which expanded access to care and prevention for all Americans while offering special protections for those living with chronic conditions like HIV. A new kind of resistance was strengthening, and as the social media age grew, poz folks were coming out of the shadows and onto our newsfeeds.
Plus interviewed Justin B. Terry-Smith and Robert Breining, two digital influencers (at the time, the word “influencer” was non-existent) who made it their mission to connect HIV-positive folks online. Breining’s website POZIAM is now the popular podcast POZ I AM, and Terry-Smith addresses a variety of social and political issues in addition to his life with HIV on his blog Justin’s HIV Journal.
2011: It’s Not Over
The HIV community mourned the loss of actress and longtime AIDS activist Elizabeth Taylor when she died on March 23, 2011. Taylor, who was the founding national chairman of amfAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research) and founder of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, reminded us how important it is to have celebrity allies in the fight against HIV.
Artists and activists like Annie Lennox and Dionne Warwick, both staunch advocates for HIV education and to eradicate stigma, spoke to Plus about their own connection to the AIDS crisis and their devotion to end HIV in their lifetime.
2011: It's Still Not Over...
The year also marked the one year anniversary of the White House National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
President Obama released a video called “President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy,” and later, then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton shared the U.S. Government’s new vision of creating an AIDS-free generation, speaking on the progress that had been made in the 30 years of fighting the virus.
2012: PrEP Changes the Game
In February 2012, Project Runway alum and Plus cover star Mondo Guerra opened up about life after coming out poz on national television, and admitted he was initially surprised by the outpouring of support from strangers and family alike.
“Within my own little family — well, I'm Mexican, so it's not that little — to see them educate themselves and talk openly about HIV and ask me questions makes me really proud to know that within my community, I've made a difference,” said the talented designer.
It was also a great year for scientific breakthroughs around HIV. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration approved two major advancements that directly empowered both poz and negative people when it came to HIV. Truvada was first approved in 2012 for use as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), though initially it was limited to individuals who were considered at “high risk” of infection. That same year, the FDA also approved at-home HIV testing kits with instant results.
Speaking of science, the beautiful and beloved star of CBS’s original NCIS series, Pauley Perrette, also graced our cover that year. Perrette has become a household name playing goth-punk forensic genius Abby Sciuto on the series, but many didn’t realize she was also an outspoken HIV activist hellbent on funding research, educating youth, and eradicating stigma. “I think a lot about all of the wonderful things that are happening with HIV research. I have so many friends now who are HIV-positive and they’re living completely normal, healthy lives,” Perrette told Plus, adding, “But also for young people, the medications are working well enough to let people live their lives so well that people think HIV is over. And it’s so not over.”
Yes, the fight was far from over in 2012, especially in terms of stigma and education. This became painfully evident when the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post released a joint survey of the American public’s attitudes, awareness, and experiences related to HIV and AIDS. The survey found that roughly a quarter of Americans did not know that HIV cannot be transmitted by sharing a drinking glass — almost exactly the same percentage as in 1987.
2013: Obama Goes to Bat for Poz People
In 2013, then-president Barack Obama signed two important pieces of legislation directly affecting those living with HIV. That July, he issued an Executive Order directing Federal agencies to prioritize supporting the HIV care continuum as a means of implementing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. The HIV Care Continuum Initiative aimed to accelerate efforts to improve the percentage of people living with HIV who move from testing to treatment and ultimately, viral suppression.
Then in November, Obama signed the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act, which allowed people living with HIV to receive organ transplants from other poz donors.
Also that year, former teen heartthrob and Nightmare on Elm Street franchise star Mark Patton came out as poz on our cover, and opened up about the hypocritical and relentless homophobia that ultimately drove him from Hollywood.
“They began to ask me if I would be comfortable playing a gay character and telling people I was straight if they began to question my sexuality... I remember looking around that table and I knew every one of those men were gay,” Patton recalls of his last “hardcore audition” in 1987. “All I could think about was how everyone I knew was dying from AIDS and we were having this bullshit conversation. My heart just broke… I knew I would never be able to do what they were asking, so I walked away from Hollywood and decided to move on to a place where it was totally acceptable to be gay.”
2014: Hollywood Heavyweights Tackle HIV
Young Hollywood heartthrob and Plus cover star, Jared Leto, took on a risky part paying a transgender HIV-positive woman in Dallas Buyers Club. Director Jean-Marc Vallée told Plus that the ambitious method actor was so committed to bringing truth to the role, that he “never met Jared Leto. I met Rayon.… During our first meeting he was Rayon, and he tried to seduce me. He was so into the character and had dressed as Rayon.” Though there was mixed feelings in the community about a cis man taking a major trans female role, the part won Leto mad respect as an actor — and an Oscar.
This year saw the wide release use of Truvada (PrEP) for HIV prevention by the Food and Drug Administration, which it formerly only allowed to be prescribed to the most “at-risk” individuals. Wide availability of PrEP was a huge, empowering leap forward in terms of improving both the mental and physical health of poz and negative people in this country by offering a 99-percent-effective method of HIV prevention.
2014: Hollywood Heavyweights Tackle HIV
Though we now know actor and heartthrob Matt Bomer as a solid fixture in queer Hollywood, he had just barely come out in 2014 when he took on the meaty role of playing a man dying of AIDS in The Normal Heart, the HBO film based on Larry Kramer’s award-winning play of the same name.
As our cover star, Bomer discussed the emotional portrayal (which he dropped much weight for) that illustrated the heart-wrenching decline of a vibrant gay man wasting away from AIDS-related illnesses, back when it was still called “the gay cancer.” Bomer, who won critical acclaim and several awards for the role, told Plus, “It’s so rare that you get to portray a well-written character that’s fully developed and is also part of a story that you hope has some type of social significance, and also that changes you.”
2015: The Television Effect
In 2015, an enduring Hollywood A-lister from a famous family, and a straight man known for his partying and relationships with sex workers, came out as living with HIV. Charlie Sheen didn’t always get the messaging right (he was public about going off his meds to try a risky and unfounded nonpharmaceutical ‘cure,’ which ultimately failed and put his health at risk); and the media was even worse, with many outlets using stigmatizing terminology and sharing unfounded rumors about Sheen “infecting” past girlfriends.
But despite all of that, health professionals noticed a significant “Charlie Sheen effect” on HIV testing. A huge number of people responded to the news of Sheen’s status by going out, getting tested, and finding out their own statuses. Priceless. Sheen’s coming out changed the way many, many straight men looked at HIV risk.
2015: The Television Effect
You can’t underestimate the impact to nine million fans when Conrad Ricamora’s character Conner became the first major HIV-positive character on broadcast TV in How To Get Away With Murder since Saul Holden tested positive on ABC’s Brothers & Sisters.
2015: The Television Effect
One of our readers’ favorite covers of all time (January/February 2015) featured supermodel Tyson Beckford, who opened up about losing a family member to AIDS complications, HIV in the black community, and his commitment to finding a cure.
But Beckford was hardly the only celebrity to increase awareness of HIV and visibility for those living with the virus in 2015. Portrayals of HIV-positive characters by Conrad Ricamora on How to Get Away With Murder and Daniel Franzese on Looking were certainly groundbreaking and positive, but they were also the only two regular characters on television living with HIV
2016: People of Color in the Spotlight
If one cover could sum up the message of 2016, it was July/August’s featuring GMHC’s Kelsey Louie, Black AIDS Institute’s Phill Wilson, and NMAC’s Paul Kawata.
These three men of color are leading some of the largest HIV organizations in the country, and the need for their leadership became crystal clear in 2016, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the stunning prediction that half of all gay and bi African-American men and 25 percent of all Hispanic-Latino men who have sex with men would become HIV-positive in their lifetimes if transmission rates continued unchecked.
People of color, particularly black men, have always been a part of the HIV story, even when reporting around the AIDS epidemic has focused on white gays. In fact, as Plus would later report, in 1969, a young black teen named Robert Rayford became one of the first Americans now known to have died from AIDS-related complications.
As we reported in 2016, black also men see worse health outcomes once HIV-positive in part due to high incarceration rates and the way depression teams up with HIV to increase mortality rates.
Of course, there have also always been people of color on the ground fighting the epidemic, but they haven’t always been represented in leadership positions, particularly at the head of HIV organizations. That’s why Louie, Wilson, and Kawata’s positions are so important (as are others, like Positive Women’s Network-USA’s executive director Naina Khanna and Jesse Milan, Jr., a black long-term survivor who took over leadership of AIDS United in 2016).
Wilson has always been one of the exceptions to the rule. The black man, who first learned he was HIV-positive in 1981, would go on to have a 30-plus-year career leading or founding critical organizations, including Stop AIDS Los Angeles, the National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum, and Black AIDS Institute (which he founded in 1999, and would end up retiring from in 2018).
Kawata is another long-term survivor who has put his body on the line for those living with HIV since 1987, the year the Asian-American was arrested in D.C. and founded the National Minority AIDS Council (now known as NMAC). The organization is best known for running the annual U.S. Conference on AIDS and running a leadership development program that helps poz people of color learn the skills they need to lead the HIV-positive community into the next decade.
After seven years with Harlem United Community AIDS Center, Louie took over leadership at CMHC, where in just two years the Asian-American activist reduced costs and increased GMHC’s transparency, engagement, and role in determining both New York state and the nation’s strategic plans for addressing HIV through 2020.
These three weren’t the only people of color making a difference in 2016. For example, we started the year featuring Lil Eazy-E, the HIV activist and the son of the legendary NWA rapper who died of AIDS complications. When Eazy-E, whose story was featured in Straight Outta Compton, came out about being HIV-positive, it was a watershed moment for many African-Americans, bringing visibility to the epidemic’s impact on the black community. Lil Eazy-E continues to honor his father’s legacy through his HIV activism.
2017: Undetectable = Untransmittable
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially confirmed that “undetectable equals untransmittable,” generations of poz folks were finally able to exhale. Prevention Access Campaign’s Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) consensus, created by activist Bruce Richman, grew to new heights across the globe in 2017. Not only can folks living with HIV finally release themselves from the fear of transmitting the virus to others, but now given that the CDC has endorsed U=U, activists had potential to use it in efforts to change (and hopefully eradicate) draconian HIV criminalization laws that have been in place since the 1980s — when getting diagnosed was a death sentence — that have imprisoned hundreds of innocent people simply because they were HIV-positive. In a nutshell, 2017 was the year of U=U.
Undetectable means is a level of viral suppression HIV-positive reach when, thanks to staying on top of their meds, the virus becomes so suppressed that it is no longer possible to transmit the virus to others.
2017: Undetectable = Untransmittable
2017 was also a year for people to proudly proclaim they were undetectable — and finally share to the world what it means. One of those people was Eric Leonardos, our end-of-year cover star in 2017, and former contestant on Logo’s Finding Prince Charming.
The Los Angeles-based celebrity hairstylist and makeup artist opened up about discovering his status (on a lunch break from work) and eventually finding community in L.A.’s HIV-positive groups and organizations, to finally being able to heal when he heard the word “undetectable.”
2017: Undetectable = Untransmittable
Olympic diver and longtime HIV and LGBTQ activist, Greg Louganis, graced the cover in early 2017 and spoke about the HBO documentary on his life, Back on Board. After a fervent outcry from fans, the man often called “the greatest diver in history” received a long overdue honor when General Mills put him on the Wheaties box — a sponsorship that deprived of him at the height of his career, he says, because of homophobia.
“I know many people’s reaction was ‘it was about time,” Louganis said last year about being on the Wheaties box. “But in my view, I felt it meant more now than it would have then. I feel I am being embraced and celebrated as a whole person and not just an athlete.”
2017: Undetectable = Untransmittable
The CDC also released a shocking statistic in 2017: if HIV rates continue to climb as they were, half of all gay or bisexual black men would become HIV-positive in their lifetime. Karamo Brown, who graced our cover not long before he shot to fame in the reboot of Queer Eye, sat with us to discuss the future of HIV activism in the black community.
The former star of MTV’s Real World, Brown was the first out gay black man on reality TV. He spoke with Plus about his organization 6in10, which means to battle the stigma and miseducation around black gay and bi men and HIV transmission.
2018: Trans Women Continue to Lead
It’s fitting that in 2018 Plus celebrated three remarkable transgender women on the cover. After all, when we launched the magazine 20 years ago, we did so with a cover featuring Chloe Dzubilo, a trans artist and AIDS activist who was living with HIV.
Our commitment to covering trans people living with HIV has never waned, nor has our dedication to helping fight the health disparities (and higher HIV risks) they continue to face. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every four trans women are living with HIV and that number rises to 50 percent for black trans women.
This year we continued that commitment, with our January/February issue cover starring Alexandra Billings and Trace Lysette, two trans women appearing on Amazon’s hit show Transparent. Billings was already a trailblazer, having been one of the first out trans actresses to play a trans role on television, in the 2005 TV movie prequel Romy and Michele: In The Beginning. On Transparent, the mixed-race, HIV-positive trans woman became the first out trans actress to have a full-frontal nude scene on TV (possibly the first HIV-positive actress to do so as well).
Lysette, who is HIV-negative, but played a poz trans woman on Transparent has also made history, becoming one of the first trans actresses to portray having intimate relations with a cisgender man on screen. She later became a forceful voice for #MeToo, publicly accusing her Transparent costar, Jeffrey Tambor, of sexual harassment. Tambor was fired from the show which then aired a final season.
2018: Trans Women Continue to Lead
Our November/December issue of Plus featured Our Lady J, who has racked up a long list of firsts: the first out trans woman to perform at Carnegie Hall, the first out trans woman to be hired as a writer on a major TV show, and first to be nominated for a Writers Guild Award, both for Transparent. Now she’s one of the most powerful TV writers in the business, penning scripts for Pose, Ryan Murphy’s ode to the AIDS crisis which focuses on trans women of color. In 2018, Lady J disclosed to coworkers she’s living with HIV, and her experience has helped inform Pose’s portrayals.
As we step into our third decade, Plus will continue to feature the important, groundbreaking work of trans women, who continue to play an outsized role when it comes to HIV — both as those impacted by the disease, and those leading the fight against it and the stigma that so often follows the virus.