The LGBTQ community has seen many facets of resistance to marginalization but perhaps the most imperative and poignant was the unapologetic grassroots activism of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). An international, direct-action, and advocacy group, ACT UP works to impact the lives of people with AIDS and was created in response to the AIDS Crisis. I am involved in this work because as a queer person, my history is intertwined with this struggle. The late 80s and early 90s witnessed rampant homophobia and stigma surrounding AIDS that thwarted research and funding. Such antagonisms from an apathetic, stingy government and pharmaceutical companies killed a generation of what could have been the mentors and role models for my queer generation. My initial inspiration for prevention work came from the lessons of this despicable period of US history and recognizing that today, much progress remains in terms of eliminating stigma and providing equal access to care and prevention for those living at the bottoms of stratification. When I entered the harm-reduction world, I was unaware of the many other facets of myself, the struggle for an AIDS free generation, and queer liberation I’d discover.
AID Atlanta, the largest AIDS Service Organization in the Southeast, was the first work environment that welcomed “all of me”. Growing up in the South with multiple oppressions (I am queer, Peruano-Americano that was living in an agricultural, white, and small town) I learned the heaviness of prejudice and hate. So, I was grateful to enter an organization pivoted around harm-reduction as an intern. Eventually, I became a full-time employee, serving as a Program Coordinator. During my time there, AID Atlanta colleagues inspired me to understand and embrace my lived experience (all of them). I had the wonderful opportunity to work with amazing community members that are still constant reminders that there is no such thing as “a single life issue” (thanks Audre Lorde).
The resilience I gained from experiencing interlocking oppressions made me proud to call myself a sero-negative (a person without HIV), fierce ally for those living with HIV and an advocate for prevention and care. HIV stigma operates similarly to other oppressions in the gay community. Every time one writes “clean” or “white only” on dating/hook up sites, entire communities are slandered as ‘other’. HIV rates increase in the communities and areas that experience the most oppression and lack resources. Therefore, because I’m young, Latino, Southern, and a man who has sex with men – health departments tell me I’m in a high–risk category. While this might be true in terms of where new infection rates are multiplying, what such labels lack is the impetus necessary to change the conditions that put me at risk (i.e. poverty, racism, and stigma surrounding HIV).
There is interconnectivity between transcending risk factors, combating new infections, advocating for comprehensive health-care, and fighting for community space that embraces each aspect of identity. All are necessary for an AIDS free generation. ACT-UP served as a rage against hetero-cis-patriarchal hegemony that silenced the very existence of HIV. Today, that same silence is echoed on the faces of those not represented in white media and all who experience internal and external barriers to seek testing or treatment. It is now the responsibility of this generation’s activists, to advocate for HIV prevention, obliterate stigma, and dismantle oppression on all levels.
– Edric Figueroa is a queer, first generation Peruano-Americano with organizing roots planted in the Dirty South (ATL!). He has worked in and volunteered with traditional AIDS Service Organization’s as well as community organizing efforts for over four years. Currently, he works to empower young people at a youth-led, social justice non-profit, Seattle Young People’s Project and is part of the Youth Scholar Steering Committee for 2014 United States Conference on AIDS. Transformative justice, the process of recognizing oppression as the root cause of all forms of injustice and creating personal, community-based and beyond alternatives to such- is at the core of all the work Edric does. –
Want to share your story? Click on this link and share your story or video!