It’s nearly 37 years since the first case of AIDS was recorded in the West. In the years that followed we experienced fear, loss, grief, and homophobia in truckloads.
Just when it seemed our communities were gradually beginning to achieve some social and political headway, this dreadful disease came along and kicked our legs from under us.
We lost our friends, our lovers, our community leaders and many others. Meanwhile, our governments dragged their feet and our political opponents and the tabloid media revelled in every moment of it.
Clearly, we have every reason to look back in anger. But I think we also have every reason to look back in pride.
We should look back in pride because of what we achieved in spite of the total mystery that surrounded AIDS in the early days; in spite of the many, many losses and in spite of the hostility – both physical and verbal – we experienced.
From the very earliest days, our communities came together to address this new and terrible threat – often while governments simply looked the other way. It was our communities that worked with clinicians and researchers to glean whatever information we could and broadcast it through our publications, through leaflets and through public meetings.
It was our communities that first offered support to those affected by the disease through support groups, befriending, hands-on support and telephone helplines. And it was our communities that raised the funds and provided the volunteers to run those services. And, throughout it all, it was our communities that were scapegoated and vilified by those concerned only with making moral or political capital from this health crisis.
Of course it would be disingenuous to discount the input of our non-queer friends who worked with us during those difficult times. Their input and bravery should be recognised too. The volunteers, the nurses, doctors, counsellors and many others. Huge thanks for standing with us.
But the bottom line is that, if our communities had not mobilised when we did, the impact of the disease would have been even greater than it already has been.
So I just wanted to take the opportunity of this year’s World AIDS Day to look back and thank and congratulate ourselves for what we did in those dark and dangerous days.
We’re currently commemorating the First World War and remembering the senseless loss of life and the grief and pain that came with that. The early years of the AIDS epidemic is our equivalent to a major war. Countless young men and women were cut down in the prime of their lives. Countless more were left to grieve. And many of those lives could have been saved had our politicians not dragged their feet.
But we stood up and fought a different kind of battle – for our communities and the wider population. It’s unlikely that that will ever be recognised by governments or media. So, on this World AIDS Day, let’s at least do it ourselves. Let’s stand up and remember with pride what we did.
‘Courage in the face of hate’, ‘humanity in the face of fear’, ‘love in the face of loss’. You know who you are. You know what you did.