Written by Alexa Evans, VIP-BOLD Initiative Intern. Feb. 25, 2014
Visiting the “Why We Fight: Remembering AIDS Activism” exhibition at the New York Public Library was a great experience. I was born in the 1990s, so I have no personal interaction with the HIV/AIDS crisis as it erupted in the United States in the 1980s. The exhibition had a wealth of information to bolster the rudimentary knowledge I already had, as well as a variety of important facts, figures, people, and groups from that time period.
I was surprised to see the sheer amount of activism that was performed, as well as the different ways it was manifested. There were protests, kiss-ins, flyers, comics, buttons, condom wrapper designs, and much more. The fact that the movement to raise awareness about and destigmatize HIV/AIDS was so expansive really attests to the lack of knowledge, understanding, and acceptance. I was particularly moved by the political funerals that some activists opted to have. Bodies of people who had died from AIDS were carried in an open casket to various politically-affiliated spaces, such as campaign headquarters and even the White House. Approaching these institutions was meant to symbolize the complicity of the government in the deaths through their unwillingness to enact the proper legislation or provide the appropriate funding to combat the HIV epidemic. Further, an open casket allowed these government leaders to literally and physically see the results of their inaction.
It was disheartening to see myself in some of these activists; that is, over three decades
later, we are still fighting some of the same fights. There is still a great need for comprehensive sex education in
our schools. Youth simply are not receiving the knowledge and information that they need to be able to make safe decisions when it comes to sex. Drug users are often the recipients of stigma and shame rather than assistance and support. That being said, vast improvements have definitely taken place. For example, while there is no cure, HIV is no longer means the impossibility of a long, fulfilling life. Seeing what these activists achieved, and the tireless passion that went into their actions, has really inspired me in regards to the work that we do at Transdiaspora Network. The exhibition highlighted not only the importance of this work, but also the ability to effect real change in our communities.
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