Next Thursday, May 9, my colleague and friend, John Voelcker, is coordinating a free community forum for those affected by HIV/AIDS — which is, at this point, everyone on the planet. (Registration is limited though, so all seven billion of us won’t be able to get in.)
“Is This My Beautiful Life?: Perspectives From Survivors Of The AIDS Generation” is presented by the Medius Working Group, which is the current iteration of the Medius Institute for Gay Men’s Health that John co-founded with his late friend, the activist Spencer Cox. Medius is meant to address a problem that many in the 1980s and 1990s never could’ve envisioned: the problem of surviving HIV/AIDS. From John’s moving obituary for Spencer, published in the Huffington Post:
[The Medius Institute for Gay Men’s Health] was dedicated to improving the health, well-being and longevity of gay men in mid-life (generously defined as 35 to 65). The goal was to look in a cross-disciplinary way at all the factors affecting the physical, mental and emotional health of a set of men who had lived through the AIDS epidemic, come out the other side and were too often doing startling, illogical and very dangerous things.
Unfortunately, John and Spencer’s initial vision for Medius didn’t pan out. Funders were too interested in other things — distributing HIV drugs to underserved populations, researching cures, or addressing entirely different viruses and diseases — to care about what is, in essence, post-traumatic stress disorder. They weren’t concerned about those that HIV/AIDS had left behind: the ill, the healthy, the positive, the negative, the patients, the caretakers who lived through the worst years of the epidemic but lost so many, many friends along the way.
Ironically, Thursday’s forum might never have taken place if Spencer hadn’t succumbed to the very issues that Medius aims to address.
Who should attend? The host website has a checklist:
Are you …
• a gay man in midlife, whether HIV-positive or HIV-negative?
• a former or current AIDS activist, caregiver or service provider?
• someone who lost friends, lovers and/or colleagues to the epidemic?
This is an opportunity to weigh in on the issues facing all of us as we continue to grapple with what it means to have fought an epidemic that the rest of the world mostly ignored.
Ask yourself …
• How do I connect to those who don’t recognize what I went through?
• How do we pass along our stories and lessons to a younger generation?
• Who are the people who best understand our experiences?
• What places serve as “our Veterans Administration” to help us manage?
• Is anyone caring for the “wounded AIDS warriors” who never really recovered?
• What would help me cope better than I do now with what we went through?
• Is this the life I thought I would lead?
• How do we envision our futures?
Thursday’s list of speakers is impressive, including Jesus Aguais, Dr. L. Jeannine Bookhardt-Murray, Dr. Mark Brennan-Ing, Jim Eigo, Joe Jervis, and Peter Staley. The event’s host is actor Stephen Spinella, who starred in the original Broadway production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. (P.S. He was amazing.)
If you’re in New York next Thursday, go. Just go. Register here.