Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

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For our Community/Spring 2020 issue of Vanguard magazine and in celebration of the opening of our Center South location earlier this year, we are highlighting some of the Black and Latinx pioneers and activists in the fight against HIV and AIDS. We encourage you to search their names to learn more – enjoy!

(Programs and services at Center South focus on HIV and AIDS resources for young and bisexual Black and Latino men and transgender women.  You can read more about Center South here.)

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1. Pedro Zamora: One of the first openly gay men with HIV to appear in popular television as part of MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco. He educated a generation of viewers about living with HIV and AIDS and provided an unprecedented view into his life for millions. He was a passionate advocate for federal HIV prevention and care programs and encouraged young people to become actively involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

2. Andy Vélez: After joining ACT UP in its first year, 1987, he was active in the group’s media and actions committees as well as its Latino Caucus, for which he and fellow advocates traveled to Puerto Rico to help launch an ACT UP chapter there. He served as a consultant to the Latino Commission on AIDS and worked with the International Conference on AIDS to ensure people with HIV were included in the events.

3. Craig Harris: Founder and first board chair of the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC), Harris stormed the stage at the first American Public Health Association’s first session on AIDS in 1986. No person of color was invited to be part of the session. Black, gay, and living with AIDS, Harris shouted,“I will be heard!”

4. Richard L. Zaldivar: He is the founder of The Wall Las Memorias Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting wellness and preventing illness among Latino populations affected by HIV/AIDS by using the inspiration of The AIDS Monument as a catalyst for social change. “We really need to involve the entire community for true change.”

5. Eliana & Rosa Martínez: In 1989, Eliana, a Puerto Rican girl who was born prematurely and exposed to HIV while undergoing transfusions, and her stepmother, Rosa Martínez, won a three-year fight against the School Board of Hillsborough County in Florida, allowing her to attend public school and paving the way for other HIV-positive children to do the same. “All she understands is she will be going in to play with some little people. She doesn’t know what school is; she hasn’t been to it,” Martínez said following the ruling. Eliana attended public school for seven months in 1989 before passing away at 8 years old

6. Magic Johnson: Disclosing his HIV status in 1991, he became a spokesperson for education about the virus. “I want people, young people, to realize they can practice safe sex. And, you know, sometimes you’re a little naive about it, and you think it could never happen to you. You only thought it could happen to, you know, other people and so on and on. And it has happened.”

7. Ray Navarro: Artist, filmmaker, and activist, he joined ACT UP and was a member of DIVA TV (Damned Interfering Video Activists), a video-documenting affinity group of ACT UP. DIVA TV documented public testimony, the media, and community activism to motivate the fight against AIDS. In 1989, Ray Navarro, dressed as Jesus Christ reporting the news outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral during ACT UP’s “Stop The Church” protests against Cardinal O’Connor’s position on AIDS and contraception.

8. Marsha P. Johnson & Sylvia Rivera: Part of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, Johnson and Rivera founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) and were longtime advocates for sex workers, prisoners and people with HIV/AIDS.

9. Ronnie Burk: A poet, artist, and activist, Burk worked as part of ACT UP in San Francisco. “A society where the police shoot black and latino teenagers daily…A society fueled by racism, homophobia, misogyny and class privilege. A society where killing faggots is viewed as a male past time. Unless, of course, you are a member of the super rich. In such a society we can only salute your audacity and rage.”

10. Phill Wilson: Founder of the Black AIDS Institute, Wilson has been a leading HIV and AIDS activist since the 1980s. “I’ve lived with HIV for most of my life. I never expected to make it to 30, much less 60. I am of a generation that lost scores of friends and loved ones through this disease, and I was given a death sentence on more than one occasion. Eventually I came to understand that the only way to save my life and the lives of those I love was to fight—to fight the disease, to fight all the “isms”, to fight the stigma, to fight an uncaring government, to fight an ignorant public, to fight an inadequate health care system, and to fight my own fears of inadequacy.”

11. Pernessa Seele: An immunologist in the 1980s, Seele founded The Balm in Gilead to develop HIV and AIDS training and educational programs for Black churches and started the Harlem Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, which has evolved into today’s National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS. Living in Harlem in the 1980s, she said: “At the time there were over 350 churches in Harlem, and there was not one pastor—no one was coming to the bedsides of these people, and they were hungry for support; they were hungry for prayers.”

12. Jewel Thais-Williams: After founding Jewel’s Catch One, the longest Black-owned disco in America that provided a safe haven for Black LGBT people, Jewel and her wife Rue Thais-Williams helped start several AIDS organizations and the first shelter for women living with HIV and AIDS and their children in South Los Angeles.

13. Salt-N-Pepa: In 1993, the award-winning group rereleased their 1991 hit single Let’s Talk About Sex as Let’s Talk About AIDS to raise money to fight the disease. The song encourages regular testing and debunks myths about acquiring HIV.

14. Ken Williams: On Ken Like Barbie, his award-winning vlog, he discusses living with HIV and has participated in projects with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Black AIDS Institute, Greater Than AIDS and HIV.gov. “I think gay Black men are becoming HIV positive at alarming rates because gay Black men are still Black men, who have historically and systematically been disenfranchised in this country. Because health care in America is a system of privilege, and more often than not—especially in the South—access to that system is a thing of privilege.”

15. Dr. Wilbert Jordan: Founder of Oasis Clinic in 2000, Dr. Jordan received the Surgeon General’s Award for his work with HIV. He’s dedicated his career to working with HIV and AIDS awareness in the Black community and was one of the first health practitioners to work and treat patients with the virus. In 1983, he reported the first heterosexual case of HIV in Los Angeles County. The next year, he started the AIDS Clinic at King-Drew Medical Center, now known as the OASIS Clinic.

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16. Dennis deLeon: An activist, he was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1986 and subsequently made public a revelation of his HIV status in 1993 when he was New York’s human rights commissioner. In 1994 he became president of the Latino Commission on AIDS.

17. Reggie Williams: In San Francisco, founded one of the first black AIDS organizations, Black and White Men Together, in 1985 as a task force to confront AIDS in their community. He went on to become founding director of the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention. “My personal struggle with AIDS has forced me to demand respect and dignity from my people. Black, gay men need to be able to come home.”

18. Moises Agosto: A treatment advocate and educator for people living with HIV and AIDS, he served as Director of Research and Treatment Education and Advocacy for the National Minority AIDS Council; was editor of SIDA Ahora, the Spanish publication of the People with AIDS Coalition of New York; and was an active member of ACT UP.

19. Oscar De La O: Founding member and President & CEO of Bienestar Human Services, the largest HIV Latino organization in the country and served on the board of the National Minority AIDS Council.

20. William Brandon Lacy Campos: A poet, writer, and activist, he was co-executive director of the New York City’s nonprofit Queers for Economic Justice. “I am standing in front of you a black, white, Ojibwe, Afro-Boricua, HIV positive, queer man. And I am just as black as any of you. You are my community, you are my salvation. I am in community with my queer and trans black family and being queer or trans doesn’t make you less black than anyone else. It’s time for us to realize that HIV stopped being a white gay disease a long time ago, it’s now a black and Latin[o]disease and it’s time to hold up our positive brothers and sisters as our own. No more high yellow and midnight blue conversations when talking about skin unless its to talk about how that high yellow or midnight blue person rocked your socks last night.”

21. Angie Xtravaganza: A Puerto Rican born trans performer and mother of the House of Xtravaganza, the first primarily Latinx house within New York City’s ball scene. She appeared in the documentary Paris is Burning. She died from AIDS-related complications three years later at 28.

22. Hydeia Broadbent: Part of the first generation of children born HIV positive and now in her 30s, she has been open speaking openly about her status since she was 6. In 1996 at age 11, Broadbent appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to speak about her journey. “If you stay in your bed, and feel sorry for yourself, and don’t get up with birds—and just sit there and say, ‘Well I’m gonna to die,’ why not get up and try to make a difference? But if you say, ‘Well, today’s another day: I can get up, I can do something,’ you [can]make something positive.”

23. Gil Cuadros: An openly gay Latino writer, his “hard-edged stories and poems capture the triple alienation of being Hispanic, gay and HIV-positive in contemporary Los Angeles.” His book City of God is “an unsparing account of devastation and empowerment in the age of AIDS.”

24. Los Angeles LGBT Center – Center South: Read more about the new facility here.

25. Helene D. Gayle: In 1994 was named director of the new CDC Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, where she served for 20 years. She also became the director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s HIV/AIDS programs. “As a community, what does it mean if we look back and are ashamed we let whole civilizations be destroyed? Sometimes we have to do things just because they are the right things to do.”

26. Twiggy Pucci Garçon: A fixture in New York’s ballroom community and the Senior Program Director at True Colors Fund, Garçon is also featured in the award-winning documentary Kiki and is a consultant for Pose. “There can’t be a storyline about queer and trans people of color from any time period without mentioning the epidemic, and intersecting the issues that impact our communities.”

27. Marlon Riggs: An award-winning documentary filmmaker and activist, his Tongue United about Black gay men ignited a culture war in 1992 after airing on PBS. Other well-known films include the Emmy-winning Ethnic Notions about black stereotypes and Color Adjustment, which won a Peabody. He died in 1994 at 37 from AIDS-related complications.

28. Archbishop Carl Bean: A former Motown recording artist (sang vocals on the 1977 Motown classic I Was Born This Way) Bean founded the Minority AIDS Project (MAP) in 1985. It was the first community-based HIV and AIDS organization focused on the increasing number of Blacks contracting the then relatively new virus. He is also the founder of Unity Fellowship Church Movement, a movement of churches nationwide for Black gay and transgender Christians.

29. Madrid St. Angelo: An actor and member of ACT UP. “I discovered that there was a way to frame social issues in a theatrical manner and take them to the street.”

30. Ilka Tanya Payán: The Dominican-born actress and attorney who was serving a New York City’s human rights commissioner got the media’s attention in 1993 when she announced to a roomful of television cameras that she had AIDS. Called Latin America’s Susan Lucci as the star of a popular telenovela, she became an activist and worked in the legal department of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

31. Jazzmun Nichcala Crayton: An actress and activist, she is also a health educator for the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team (APAIT), working on HIV programs and services for the transgender community.

32. Katrina Haslip: Diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s while in prison, Haslip fought for the inclusion of the symptoms of HIV-positive women to be included by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the definition of the virus. Before her release, she also co-founded AIDS Counseling and Education (ACE) to help other HIV-positive women in prison. Haslip died from AIDS-related complications at 33.

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