Monday, February 25, 2013

How HIV/AIDS Has Ravaged Our Families

From my column:
A few weeks ago, I went to a showing of the emotionally charged film documentary, How to Survive a Plague, by David France. This film tries to capture the first days of the HIV/AIDS plague in the 1980s, reminding us that this was once called the “gay disease” or the “gay cancer,” infecting only a handful of men, before it spread, killing off 43 million. HIV/AIDS became (and remains) a plague, an epidemic that has ravaged the lives of individuals, significant relationships, and entire family systems. The film also follows the chaotic early days of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), which mobilized the entire LGBTQ community and health-service industry against the disease. Activists demanded action from the Federal Drug Agency and the Center for Disease Control to speed up the process of approving medication for combating this disease, as lives were being lost in the hundreds on a daily basis. In cities like New York City, San Francisco, Boston, D.C., and Chicago, the LGBTQ community worked assiduously to inform each other about what this disease was about and what they could do to halt or slow its deathly grip upon not only those of us who are LGBTQ, but also straight women, men, and children.
To hold the film together, France chose to follow a group of men and women who were leaders in the noble cause of stopping HIV/AIDS in its tracks. One of those men who stood out to me was Robert Rafsky. This Harvard-educated man got married and had a daughter, Sara, before he came out of the closet in 1985, divorcing his wife and moving out of the family home. In 1987, he was diagnosed as being HIV-positive. Soon, he joined up with ACT UP and used his knowledge of the media as a tool to draw people’s attention to the plague that was spreading across the world. He wanted people, leaders, not to wait for consensus, but to take charge and act boldly to find the cure to this disease. In 1993, Rafsky died of HIV/AIDS-related causes.

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