A Time of Dialog and Reflection in NYC


This summer New York City is offering a variety of opportunities to gain perspective on the history of AIDS and learn more about where things stand today. In addition to exhibits at the La Mama Galleria (closing this weekend) and The New York Historical Society (thru September 15), a number of events are highlighting key groups affected by the epidemic, including women and long-term survivors.

InvitationHIVAGINGAn upcoming event at the SAGE Center in Manhattan will feature multimedia materials from The Graying of AIDS to open a conversation on aging and HIV between a number of panelists. Pfizer and SAGE Present: HIV and Aging Panel will take place this Friday (June 28) and will explore some of the issues confronting older adults living with the virus. Panelists will include Katja Heinemann, Project Co-Director, Visual Journalist, Graying of AIDS; Robert Espinoza, Senior Director of Policy & Communications, SAGE; Carmine Novembre, Director, External Medical Affairs, Pfizer Inc.; and Christopher Davis, SAGE constituent and author. The event is free and light refreshments will be served – we hope to see you there (Please RSVP at info@sageusa.org or 212.741.2247).

The SAGE/Pfizer event comes on the heels of two very different, well attended events that took place in May.

IrisHouse_InviteIris House hosted the 8th Annual Women as the Face of AIDS Summit in the beautiful New York Academy of Medicine building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. While we missed Day 1 of this year’s Summit, we were delighted to join the passionate and inquisitive crowd that took part in Day 2 of the proceedings.

Conference participants – a mix of “clients,” advocates, care providers, and researchers – received an update on the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls from Dr. Rodney Wright, Director of the HIV Program at Montefiore Medical Center and Bronx Lebanon. Given the demographics of those most affected by the epidemic, the summit largely focused on the strengths and challenges confronting women of color living with the virus.

While older women at risk for or living with HIV/AIDS were not a stated focus of the meeting or any of the presentations, much of what was discussed was relevant to the concerns of many older women. Three rounds of breakout sessions invited participants to explore whatever issues interested them most, including specific health concerns, new approaches to HIV prevention and services, working with targeted populations of women, and bigger picture issues like the implications of the Affordable Care Act for People Living with HIV/AIDS.

One of the key issues to emerge at the meeting – HIV & criminalization – was initially introduced by Sean Strub of Sero before he turned the mic over to Tiffany Moore, who had traveled from Nashville, TN, to share her personal story of sex work, criminalization, and how she got on a new path publicly for the first time. (Sidenote: One of the people Tiffany credits with helping her turn her life around is Graying Pandemic participant Ron Crowder.) The issue of criminalization was explored in more detail in one of the day’s many breakout sessions (this one led by Rashida Richardson of The Center for HIV Law and Policy).  

Keynote speaker Dazon Dixon Diallo, Founder and CEO of Atlanta-based SisterLove, held everyone’s attention with a passionate presentation on “The Intersection of HIV and Reproductive Justice.” One of Ms. Dixon Diallo’s central themes – “everyone has a story”– is also the name of a series of videos created by SisterLove that speak to the experiences of women, including women over 50, who are living with the virus. [A complete list of the Summit’s events and presenters and much more is available on the Iris House website.]


actup_reunion_06-22 Less than a week later, The Medius Working Group presented Is This My Beautiful Life? Perspectives from Survivors of the AIDS Generation at Baruch College. Inspired by the death of longtime AIDS activist Spencer Cox, the event, which opened with an excerpt from How to Survive a Plague, centered on a panel discussion moderated by Perry Halkitis, PhD, of NYU (and one of our advisory panel members) and the open mic that followed.  The reflective and passionate panelists included Jesus Aguais; Mark Brennan-Ing, PhD (another Graying advisory panel member); L. Jeannine Bookhardt-Murray, MD; Jim Eigo; Joe Jervis; and Peter Staley.  The largely white audience ranged in age and – based on the comments made by open mic participants – included multiple generations of men living with HIV and people who care for them.

As Staley noted in his powerful opening remarks: “Tonight is for some much-needed venting. For purists who always want narrowly defined discussion points with clearly defined goals, tonight is probably not your night…[M]any of us in some way have unprocessed grief, or guilt, or an overwhelming sense of abandonment from a gay community that turned its back on us and increasingly stigmatizes us, all in an attempt to pretend that AIDS isn’t its problem anymore.”

After each panelist offered a brief statement or reflection, the floor was opened up for questions, comments, and laments. Recurring themes of the evening included shared physical/emotional/economic challenges experienced by long-term survivors, the current state of AIDS and LGBTQ activism, and those that have been lost along the way. Other topics discussed included shifting experiences of community; different approaches to treatment and different populations’ experiences trying to access treatment; and generational differences in knowledge about and experiences with the epidemic.

Both a trailer summarizing some of the evening’s highlights and a complete video of the evening (divided into three parts) are available on Youtube. For additional coverage of the event, see Duncan Osborne’s piece for The Gay City News . The first of what organizers hope will be many follow-up (Just Don’t Call it a Reunion) Reunions took place on June 22; to learn about future events, connect with ACT UP/NY Alumni.