12.1.16 Editor’s Desk

By : Billy Manes
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Billy Manes

We have a lot to live up to. Thirty-five years ago, a snowball of desperation mixed with activism – with more than a dash of medical data and personal tragedy – drove the LGBTQ community down the mythic mountain of seemingly inevitable, plague-like demise; in 1988, the first World AIDS Day was held. This week, we still memorialize the disease which has taken so many of our friends and our family.

After decades of a growing sexual revolution, of which the gay community was at least a tangential part, the “gay cancer,” or “GRID,” or “HIV/AIDS” rose out of the headlines, into our faces, and, eventually permeated our culture and the bodies that populate it. Did we sit down and shut up? No. We marched in streets, arms locked, and shut down businesses, trying to learn what even doctors didn’t yet know: How to Survive a Plague. The book of that name by David France – which follows in the wake of the award-winning documentary and was just released in hardcover – dives even deeper into the unthinkable depths of what would come to define a generation of driven LGBTQ individuals.

“Back then we had something we don’t have now,” longtime Orlando Immunology Clinic director Dr. Edwin DeJesus says. “Back then, we had activists. A group of people who were very pro-HIV treatment pressuring the drug companies to make the treatments. All of the pressuring of the Food and Drug Administration to approve those drugs made theme accessible to patients more quickly. Their impact was tremendous and very, very important. And we don’t have them anymore, because the need for that has significantly declined, but their contribution to the control of the epidemic by making and pushing for drugs to be accessible earlier, it was very important.”

And it’s about to be very, very important again. Recent news that president-elect Donald Trump would pursue an actively anti-gay agenda, potentially employing the services of likes we haven’t seen since Anita Bryant was combing frosting out of her hair.

Nobody knows what happens now. Apathy is back in the air, and backlash against progressive gains like marriage equality and some workplace benefits seems likely.

The headlines are promising, though. In traditional hyperbole, the news media has been running with a story about some new antibodies that could eradicate HIV, or at least inoculate those yet to be exposed to the disease. Patient tests will begin soon in South Africa, desperation is as desperation was.

“It’s a moving target and we are aiming at it,” DeJesus says. “I think that the only thing that is a misconception is that, although there are those things that are being explored for a cure are promising, I think that they aren’t going to be ready for a long time, for many years to come. I mean, there are a lot of studies that need to be conducted. The likelihood is that with all those antibodies that are being discussed, they’d need a combination of them, not just one thing. This is going to take time to get the combination right. I feel optimistic that in a good scenario, we are probably 10 years away.”

Just like in 1986, when we were 10 years away from anti-retroviral treatments that changed the landscape of the HIV/AIDS crisis, the waiting remains the hardest part. It’s what we do while we wait that matters: We petition our representatives; we read science journals; we care for our friends when they are down; we wear condoms; we march and we make certain that our voices – and the voices that came before us – are heard. Trump cards be damned, we’re not going anywhere.

If we sound heavy handed, it’s because we have to be. But elsewhere in this issue of Watermark, you’ll find glimmers of hope. The Contigo Fund is expanding its outreach to help the victims of Pulse who need help the most, victims of seemingly sanctioned bullying are standing up for themselves, the B-52s shimmy onto the stage with some levity, as does Una Voce in Sarasota, which is standing holiday traditionalism on its head if only to make you feel better.

Sure, there’s plenty of political ranting and raving, but many of us have had a very difficult year; many of us foresee difficult years immediately in front of us. But that’s no excuse to throw in the towel. It’s a catalyst to join arms, walk with purpose and keep our momentum alive. We have a lot to live up to.

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