This year, is an AIDS year.

 St Augustine said that “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

I like that. I like thinking of hope as a productive thing.

Too often we treat hope like it’s foolish, or lazy. Too often, consciously or unconsciously, we link hope and ignorance.

We look at the world around us and hope begins to feel naive, a childish wish. A bedtime story told to us by the politicians who have helped to create the nightmare we’re living in.

If we’re paying attention, hope can feel like a con.

Leaders in our country, our churches, they tell us they have hope as look out at a world that is on fire. They tell us that change is coming. But they do not bring us any water.

Instead they sit still, perhaps fan themselves quietly amongst the discomfort, and as they do, they fan the flames.

So we begin to recognize hope, as a lie. We begin to recognize hope, as a threat.

So what is the truth? Is it purely a game of opposites? If hope is a lie, than is despair our reality?

I recently learned that in 2015, 1.1 million people died from AIDS. 1.1 million. In one year. Can you imagine?

Since the beginning of the pandemic in the early 1980s, we have lost 35 million people to AIDS.

Here in the U.S., particularly in white gay communities, we talk about HIV/AIDS like it is something we’ve already survived. But everyday 5,753 people contract HIV. That’s about 240 people every hour.

The AIDS years aren’t over. This year, is an AIDS year.

We cannot afford to treat HIV/AIDS like something of the past. It is not a disease of the 80s and early 90s. From 1981-1990,  237,428 people died of AIDS. It was horrific.

As a young, white, queer woman, born in 1984, those harrowing years are beyond me. I do not know what it is like to live among grief like that. I do not know what it is like to have my country, my world, condone my death. I can’t imagine the fear that crept into communities, partnerships, bodies. Fear, a plague that followed a plague there was no name for. I do not know what it is like to live like that.

But I listen. I listen to stories about ACT UP. I go to museums that display billboards that read, Kissing Doesn’t Kill. Greed and Indifference Do. 

kissing

I tear up when I see a photo of a leather jacket that reads, “If I die of AIDS – forget burial – just drop my body on the steps of the F.D.A.”.

David-Wojnarowicz-Sang-Bleu-11

I listen to stories about a lost generation. And I am humbled. I listen when I’m told that the government did nothing. The FDA did nothing. Straight people did nothing. The church did nothing. And I am heartbroken. I listen to stories about how queer people rose up to care for each other, bury each other, fight for each other, and I am proud.

But in a decade,  237,428 people died of AIDS. And in 2015 alone, we lost 1.1. Million.

The AIDS years aren’t over. This year, is an AIDS year.

In 2014, 44% new HIV diagnoses in the United States were among African Americans, when African Americans comprise only 12% of the US population. 91% of the world’s HIV-positive children live in Africa.

AIDS is not over. It’s just not often a death sentence for us anymore.

Hope, Augustine said, has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage.

Early last year, a group of Queer and Trans people of color went into Toadd Hall, a bar in the Castro. They were there as part of a Black Lives Matter demonstration. As a group they called to the folks in the bar. They said,

“We are here because the gay community has been silent. We need you in the streets with us. We honor the lives of murdered black trans women and queers.”

And they were chased out of the bar. People hurled insults at them as they went, one white gay man hurled a trashcan.

We’ve not yet dealt with racism in the white gay community.

In fact, many in the white gay community have brushed off the Black Lives Matter movement as too angry. Or too disruptive. They block the freeways, they chain themselves to BART, they interrupt political candidates.

But we used to lay dead bodies on the steps of the FDA. We used to lay down in the streets of San Francisco to block traffic and scream for our lives. We used to chain ourselves to buildings too. We used to yell, Act Up, Fight Back, Fight AIDS.

Until AIDS became Black. Until AIDS started targeting Black Gay Men, instead of us. Black women instead of us. Children in Africa, instead of us.

Are our memories so short?

The gay community still carries the trauma of neglect. We know what it was like for our lives to be so disposable. Collectively we remember a time when the government did nothing. The church did nothing. Straight people did nothing.

But what are we doing now?

The AIDS years aren’t over. This year, is an AIDS year.

I am in awe of the Movement for Black Lives in this country. And yes I see the anger. I also see the courage. And my saints tell me that anger and courage are daughters of Hope.

Hope is not a con. It is a call to action.

Act Up, Fight Back, Fight AIDS.

Did we mean it? Or did we just mean it for us?

Because the AIDS years aren’t over. This year, is an AIDS year. And until Black Lives Matter, AIDS will continue on.

So what will we do? Will we hear the call? Or will we sit idly by and fan the flames?

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Written for a class, HIV and Theology

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