31 HIV Activists Explain Why World AIDS Day Matters
By Savas Abadsidis
Kenny Neal Shults
“I've always had a fraught relationship with World AIDS Day. For starters I hate the word AIDS, and cringe whenever I hear it because it reminds me of uneducated people who refer to HIV as AIDS. Also, the way the term is structured, World AIDS Day, makes the brain want to say "Happy World AIDS Day!". As a comedian my first instinct is to find humor in everything no matter how awful, so over the years I've said "Happy WAD" to friends and family I trust will understand the irony I've imbued. It's sort of a way of checking in with someone about the day without getting overwhelmed by sadness. Memorial Day isn't really a holiday meant for celebrating, but somehow it's become a national day of BBQs. 9/11 should also be a day of remembrance, and while we don't have cookouts on 9/11, we also don't do much of anything. It's not a National Day of Observation, it's actually just kind of business as usual. And then there's World AIDS Day. In a way I like the idea of one day saying "Happy WAD" and meaning it because it's become a day of remembering that a lot of good people died from a disease we managed to finally eradicate. And on that special day in the future people don't BBQ, they hang a mirror ball in their home under which gay men are allowed to kiss and dance and fuck without condoms.”
“World AIDS Day is about union and action. Uniting as a community around remembrance, sorrow and hope. And taking bold action to dismantle the pervasive HIV stigma that devastates people with and vulnerable to HIV on every level.”
“When I was young, I had no idea my uncle was sick with HIV. I remember my family asking him, “How're you feeling today?” and he'd tell them honestly. Sometimes, he was feeling good, other days, he was just trying to get through. As I got older and learned about what he was sick with, it gave me a different perspective. I didn't see a man sick with HIV, I saw a strong man living each day the best he knew how. World AIDS Day is a day that reminds us all to keep fighting. It's a day that rekindles the hope and brings awareness to the powerful effect of this illness, all the while educating and tearing down negative connotations. HIV is an illness capable of affecting anyone and this is the day to talk about that.”
Cole Hayes is a gay transman, born in Seattle, Washington. He is a writer and a musician, currently working on his debut novel.
Damon L. Jacobs
"World AIDS Day means recognizing how far we've come in the fight against AIDS, and how far we still have left to go. It is a chance to evaluate what it means for each of us to be proactive, responsible, and empowered about how we pursuit pleasure and protection."
Damon is a New York based Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and HIV prevention specialist who focuses his work on health, social justice, and pleasure. He is the author of Rational Relating and Absolutely Should-less. He is best known for championing the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
“In the 1980s my mother's best friend was living with AIDS and she set a bold example for me by never changing the way she treated him. He's gone now, but thirty years later people are still facing a stigma for being HIV positive. World AIDS Day is so important because through education and outreach more people are being seen as themselves and not a disease.”
Dekker Dreyer is a producer and director. Former head of the streaming television initiative at Participant Media, creator of the original VR series The Depths for Mandt VR, and current chief creative officer at studio Clever Fox.
Perry N. Halkitis
“Word AIDS Day means honoring the resilience, strength, and determination of that those living the virus, those we have lost to the disease, and all those who have fought along side in our battle against this medically insidious and socially stigmatizing disease. The commemoration also reminds us to be hopeful even when all seems hopeless.”
Perry N Halkitis, Ph.D., M.S., MPH is Professor of Global Public Health, Applied Psychology, and Medicine and Director of the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior & Prevention Studies (CHIBPS), at New York University.
"World AIDS Day, for me, is a chance to reflect on the fact that AIDS is not over, and in particular - during this time with a heavy focus on prevention & remembering the history of the crisis - to focus on the needs, knowledge, and lives of people who are HIV-positive today."
Hugh Ryan is a queer arts writer / curator in NYC, and the 2016-2017 Martin Duberman Visiting Fellow at the New York Public Library. hughryan.org / @Hugh_Ryan on Twitter.
“There should be no such thing as World AIDS Day. It should be every single day of the year. And those of us still alive who have lived through it during the 80s and 90s would agree.”
Abady spent 44 years as an advertising writer/creative director. He also writes an occasional column in the East Hampton Star, compilations of which are in two books: Back In The Star Again and Back In The Star Again, Again. His blog The Hy Life is available at hyabady.com.
“World AIDS Day is an opportunity to remind everyone that HIV is still here, and AIDS is still a complex social and medical issue. When I tell people what I do, they often say, “AIDS—is that still a thing?” And my answer is: yes, it’s still a thing. We’re not at zero new infections yet. World AIDS Day is also an opportunity to focus on accomplishments and hope for a future without AIDS."
"World AIDS Day is like a holiday only instead of gifts, we exchange awareness for a disease that is still an epidemic. At the same time it's equally a (you're a warrior) day for fellow humans who continue to stand and thrive despite having an incurable condition (as of yet). I'm inspired by such inner-strength and pray not only a cure is finally found but the rest of us can be so strong like those affected and remain to walk tall with pride and dignity. I find these humans... extremely capable beyond measure. And brave. Life has a way of only testing the strongest. So the rest of us can absorb and learn."
JB Ghuman, Jr. is a writer / director / visual artist who’s best known for the feature film SPORK. His latest art film, Singularity Of The Soul can be seen here
“World AIDS Day is a time to remember those we have lost, and a day to recommit to the fight for education and a cure.”
Joseph Macchia is an award-winning nightlife producer in NYC and the founder of Help Is On The Way Today, a 501c3 non-profit organization that supports children and youth living with HIV and AIDS.
Justin Luke Zirilli
“World AIDS Day serves as a progress marker today, as well as a cautionary reminder. We have come a long way in the battle against the AIDS epidemic, and that deserves celebration. But the HIV epidemic remains as strong as ever, possibly even becoming more serious in certain communities. That deserves to be mentioned. Let us celebrate how far we've come, and always be vigilant that we never end up back there again.”
"AIDS has played a huge role in shaping our history as LGBT people and as Americans. It's important to acknowledge the toll it's taken on our communities and the lessons we've learned, especially since the generation coming of age now didn't live through the havoc AIDS wreaked in past decades. And the fight still isn't over."
Kareem McJagger is NYC's premiere live-singing, bearded female delusionist despite the fact that she lives in New Jersey.
"Let’s take to today as an opportunity to come together to highlight all the brave people who are battling AIDS and find a cure. It’s so important to not cast shame and instead to recognize this disease as not something deserved but something tragic that we all face together.”
Kyle Schuneman is an Interior Designer & Art Director with product lines at Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Apt2B.
Mary Ann Chiasson
"On the first World AIDS Day in 1988, I prayed for my dying friends and colleagues and feared what the future would bring . Now in 2016, I see the very real possibility of the end of AIDS! Every December 1, I especially remember my first gay friend who died from the disease, Ulysses Dove."
Mary Ann Chiasson, is the Vice President for Research and Evaluation at Public Health Solutions and Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. From 1986 to 1999, she was the Epidemiologist and Assistant Commissioner New York City Department of Health.
“I still remember my first HIV test – not long after December 1, 1991, only the fourth World AIDS Day. It took more than a week for test results in those days – one of the most terrifying weeks of my life. Today I get tested for HIV every three months, as part of the PrEP regimen – and the fear is ancient history. The greatest gift is that I am no longer afraid to know and love people with HIV. I often remark that, thanks to PrEP, the divide between HIV+ and HIV- is collapsing like the Berlin Wall (and, damn, there are a lot of hot East Germans over there!) Let’s keep working so that with each World AIDS Day that wall crumbles even more.”
Rick Perera began his career as a journalist, working as a writer and producer for CNN and as a Berlin-based reporter for IDG, a publisher of technology industry publications. Currently he is a development writer for the international humanitarian agency CARE. His previous assignments have included media relations for CARE’s work combating HIV/AIDS in the developing world, and assignments covering emergency response in Central America, Pakistan, Haiti and the Horn of Africa.
“I think I have said every possible word I could say about HIV and AIDS, which is exactly why I decided to shut up for a while and focus on creating real solutions for people in my state. For the LGBT community, everyday is World AIDS Day, and helping these folks find access to treatment and prevention has been the biggest gift I have ever received. On World AIDS Day, we honor those who we lost in the fight while looking forward to a brighter, healthier, and stigma free future, regardless of HIV status.”
Tyler Curry is the editor-at-large for Plus Magazine, contributor to The Advocate Magazine, and author of the award-winning LGBT children's book, A Peacock Among Pigeons.
"I used to live with a roommate that had HIV and my not knowing and in my ignorance I ended up moving out! Now he's one of my best friends in the world! That being said World AIDS Day to me is a day to embrace people by helping to educate and make sure people get tested and know their status!"
“I'm producing an evening of readings and song tonight in New York City at Judson Church of a diverse group of HIV long term survivors. So to me WAD means the chance to celebrate survival, to celebrate and remember those we've lost, and honestly, now more than ever, to remember the crucial role of activism and pushing back on power when your life and well-being is threatened! Hopefully some day we'll have a national holiday to celebrate the fact that we survived Trump!”
“I suppose this day reminds me of the numerous talents we've lost. A singer like Freddie Mercury whose voice remains unmatched. Too many artists gone too soon.” Jeff Davis, Executive Producer and Creator of MTV’s Teen Wolf and CBS' Criminal Minds.
“World AIDS Day is always bittersweet. It's little to do with me as someone living with HIV, and more about honoring those I love and lost, and celebrating those who are survivors. And it's always about never, ever forgetting the battle is far from over.”
Newman may now be better known as Positively Jeffrey, but he’s also a respected communications consultant and an award-winning journalist. He played a crucial role in developing the online presence of Out Magazine, where he served as president and CEO of Out.com [Editor’s note: Out is owned by our parent company Here Media.]
Khafre Kujichagulia Abif
“For me, World AIDS Day used to be about commemorating the many lives who have transitioned from AIDS-related complications. Now, living with HIV for nearly 28 years, World AIDS Day is about sounding the alarm to wake up the American public, the collective community of people kissed by nature's Sun to the fact that HIV, HIV-related Stigma, poverty, mass incarceration, structural violence, institutional racism and other social determinants are the driver's of the rates of HIV in communities of color, especially Black Americans and in The South disproportionately.”
“World AIDS Day is a reminder that AIDS should live in our collective memory and, more importantly, in our imagination. It's the only way that we can find a cure to the damage it caused to our culture and harness the power it gave our community to join against political forces that threatened our lives, now more than ever.”
Leo Herrera has been a gay activist for 15 years. He grew up an illegal Mexican immigrant in Arizona and his passion for gay culture led him to San Francisco and New York. Herrera is best known for queer viral films with a million views that tackle issues of sex and politics: PrEP, HIV stigma and the history of gay sex and nightlife. View his current project here.
"World AIDS Day is not only a day of remembrance, but a day to recommit to the dream of an AIDS-free generation. The fight against HIV/AIDS is not only one of medicine and science, but also a fight for education and information, and a fight against stigma toward those living with HIV."
“World Aids Day is at once a somber reminder and a joyous celebration. We should never forget how many people have lost their lives to this insidious disease. That is of course part of grieving that comes with this day. However, there are so many people out there leading full, rich lives thanks to the advances of medical science. This is the celebration of WAD. It's always a mix of emotions for me when this day comes around but it keeps me grounded and aware of a very real and unfortunately still very prevalent part of human health on a global scale.”
Mike Hamel just released his third solo independent EP, Lies. A modern commentary on society and our complicated relationships with ourselves and each other. It’s available at mikehamelmusic.com, CD Baby, iTunes, Spotify, and many more.
“What World AIDS Day means to me is togetherness. Coming together for a common cause to bring awareness and hope for a brighter future with no AIDS”
“World AIDS day brings about an awareness which in a sense is Liberating if only for one day. It's an opportunity for the World the not only acknowledge the disease but honor those we've lost while cherishing those who are still living.”
"World AIDS Day to me shows that we're all brothers and sisters trying to combat this epidemic. It's an opportunity for the strongest of us to reach out and lift up the weakest amongst us.”
Sam Pannek is a high school senior and future Nobel Prize Winner.
"World AIDS Day is about owning up to and healing the wounds of stigma and being dedicated to coming together to eradicate fear, find a cure and make sure that no one else has to suffer again. It shouldn't be an annual commitment, but one that we focus on every single day, until there is more education and a full cure for those living with HIV/AIDS.”
"World AIDS Day always brings up a weird, bitter-sweet, mixture of feelings for me. On one hand it is a reminder of all that we've lost, the whole generation of artists, activists, thinkers and leaders who were taken from us way too early—leaving my generation without the mentors and heroes we so desperately needed. But at the same time, it can be a day of wonderful solidarity and optimism; a time to come together and redouble our efforts in the fight against this stupid terrible plague. Especially in the last few years, with all the wonderful advances like PrEP that we've made, World AIDS Day has become a time hope."