On this December 1st, I wanted to draw attention to an annual observance. Across the globe it was World Aids Day. It is an opportunity for all of us each year to unite and recommit ourselves to ending this global pandemic. It has been thirty years since the first reported cases of this death dealing disease afflicted members of the GLBT community. It was even first called GRID (gay-related immune deficiency), a term as misleading as it was stigmatizing. Although a diagnosis of HIV+ no longer means the death sentence it once did in the 1980s (or, at least, it doesn't in much of the developed world and often only if one can afford the drug cocktail necessary to prolong life), it still remains a highly stigmatizing disease, especially in the developing world. But it knows nothing of boundaries: it affects all races, all socio-economic levels, all countries, all sexual orientations ... all people.
Where HIV/AIDS has divided and killed, it has also enabled the formation of new coalitions (like the justly famous ACT-UP) and fostered new tactics of survival (tactics both physiological and spiritual). It has spurned not only some of my generation's great examples of agit prop but also exceptional works of literature, poetry, theater, and other cultural artifacts both mournful and empowering -- perhaps empowering precisely because mournful. Indeed, much of the very possibility of queer studies scholarship came about as both academics and activists (and the multiple combinations that those titles perform) lent their voices as well as created spaces for listening to the forgotten, ignored, bereft, and dead. The affective register became for this scholarship its very condition of possibility.
A Key theme in the observance is "Getting to Zero" -- getting to zero new diagnoses of HIV-infections. But just as this is a time to recommit ourselves to this important, generations-long fight, it is equally a time to remember all those who have died. It is also a time to make penance for the many ways our societies and religious communities have used their ill-formed rhetorics of fear and hatred. What should have been words of healing balm became rather missives of hurtful speech.
But I wish to close on a more hopeful note, by sharing one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite (and justly celebrated) contemporary plays -- Angels in America. (I'd also recommend listening to an earlier NPR interview with Tony Kushner on the 20th anniversary of the play.) But the scene I share from the 2003 HBO film version occurs as the title character, Prior Walter, stands before the heavenly principalities and pleads his case for "more life." It is also probably the finest statement of Kushner's own philosophy/theology: we live in spite of the tragedies that befall us, "we live past hope."