why world aids day matters
On the 28th World AIDS Day, i-D asked activists, artists, and academics what they think the world needs to know.
Photography and styling Simon Foxton. Styling assistance Wilma Sieblink .Grooming Michael Boadi Models James at Crawfords. Edward, Michael, Luther, Raymond and Paul at THF.
World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day of its kind. Set up in 1988 — and designed as an opportunity for people across the world to unite in the global fight against HIV, to commemorate those lost to AIDS, and to show their solidarity with those around the world living with HIV — World AIDS Day is an incredibly important day.
It's also not enough. One day a year to commemorate 35 million deaths is not enough. One day to show solidarity with the 36.7 million people living with HIV today is not enough. As the saying goes "Every day is World AIDS Day," because every day there's another fight. There's more stigma to fight, there are more lives lost which must be commemorated, there's more legislation put in place to further endanger those living with HIV that needs to be rolled back.
On this, the 28th World AIDS Day, i-D asked activists, artists and academics what they think the world needs to know.
Jessica Whitbread and Alex McClelland, artists
"It's a little hard to look at the HIV response in terms of a single year. There haven't been any giant leaps for humankind on HIV. Stigma and discrimination still widely persist. In some communities there have been small victories, personal shifts, and healing, but in others women living with HIV are sterilized, or positive people are arrested and incarcerated for non-disclosure.
We work on a Day Without Art project called PosterVirus, which is an affinity group of Toronto-based direct-action group AIDS Action Now. This year we will be continuing work on this project that infuses the HIV response with critical dialogue and aims to disrupt dominant public health approaches that view us as a problem to be fixed. More broadly, we are focusing our efforts on challenging the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure. In Canada, where we are from, people with HIV are facing criminal charges for not telling people they have had sex with that they are HIV+. There is currently one case on appeal where a young woman is facing charges of sexual assault because she didn't tell the HIV-negative man who sexually assaulted her, during the assault, that she is HIV+. The practice needs to end and we are supporting initiatives to help. Canada is only one country on a long list with similar practices.
For World AIDS Day this year, we are taking to the streets of Toronto and putting 2500 posters around for PosterVirus. The project this year is about compassion and about claiming our sexual autonomy. Throughout the year there will be launches and community workshops in different cities to talk about these controversial issues to unpack the layers.
But what must be remembered is that no matter what UNAIDS or the global response might say, AIDS is not over — it is not the End of AIDS. In fact it is far from the end. And even if there was a magic pill that would cure everyone that is currently living with HIV, it will take more than that to cure the inequalities that drive HIV epidemics. A pill will never cure stigma or take away the years of trauma that many people living with HIV have experienced."
Hugh Ryan, journalist and curator
"The biggest change is one that is on its way: Mike Pence as Vice President. In Indiana, his time as both governor and congressman saw massive cuts to social services, particularly in public health spending. This led to a massive HIV outbreak in the state, which he made worse by dragging his feet on setting up needle exchanges, which he was morally opposed to.
National policy is going to be critical in the coming years, as we see an attack on the Affordable Care Act, which provided needed health care to so many. I believe that we also have to keep an emphasis on protecting the rights of HIV+ people, particularly in the face of aggressive, oppressive, and wrong-headed HIV criminalization acts around the country
I see my work as continuing to bring HIV and AIDS up in the public discourse, and in particular, to show that AIDS is an ongoing concern (not a piece of history), and that it affects a wide and diverse group of people, here and abroad. Working with Jean Carlomusto and Alexandra Juhasz, I recently helped create a video called Compulsive Practice for Visual AIDS, which will show around the world on World AIDS Day / Day With(out) Art. I hope to continue to share that video in the coming year, as it presents many faces of the crisis that rarely get seen or listened to.
We are in a time of historicizing of the original wave of the AIDS crisis, but we can't let remembering what happened blind us to what is happening."
Dan Glass, activist
"The breakdown of the National Health Service is diabolical, dangerous and death-inducing for people living with HIV+ and so many more. I can't think of anything good that has happened this year; you can't polish a turd.
So this year I will be focusing on wiping the smile off Richard Branson's face. I'm dedicating all my waking hours to confronting anyone making profit off privatizing healthcare, it should be a fundamental right for all life. I'll be taking action by any means possible. Luckily, there are incredibly successful movements like AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power who have, since the start of the HIV epidemic, led the way in a myriad of effective ways to halt the crisis.
But this World AIDS Day I think it's important to remember that HIV started somewhere, and that it can end somewhere. But you must educate yourselves, because if things carry on the way they are going — with the breakdown of the NHS, pharmaceutical greed restricting healthcare — we may not be here to do it for you."
Ian Bradley-Perrin, academic
"This World AIDS Day I'll be having a strategizing dinner with friends, sharing the hell out of AIDS Action Now!'s Poster/VIRUS 2016 series and re-reading People In Trouble by Sarah Schulman. I don't know if this counts as 'taking action' but World AIDS Day is also about reflection and that's what I plan to do.
The most important thing to remember on World AIDS Day is the tireless work of so many people. The infinite energy that they mustered in the darkest times, when they were sick, tired, criminalized, surveilled, repressed, and beaten. And how that energy brought much of change that people with and without HIV now benefit from. We are about to see millions of people lose their healthcare, pharmaceutical prices continue to go unchecked, while HIV criminalization continues to break communities apart and ruin lives — we are entering dark times again and we need to remember how those who came before us fought to their dying breath for change.
If you don't know so much, you should watch United in Anger (it's on Amazon Prime), and read Steven Thrasher's How College Wrestling Star "Tiger Mandingo" Became An HIV Scapegoat. Look for local activists working on HIV criminalization, needle exchanges, SIS, health insurance, or housing and get involved. This is an epidemic that goes beyond infection, and to the core of inequality in society, so involve yourself in the multi-issue reality of it."
Jeremy Goldstein, theatre director
Despite the odd glimmer of hope for a cure, I wish I could think of some good things to say, but I feel the future for PLHIV is pretty bleak. As governments lurch to the right, we find ourselves living within increasingly territorial and isolationist societies. When you combine this with austerity policies closing support services for PLHIV, I fear the perfect storm. Perhaps the cry of 'fight back, fight AIDS' is now more resonant than ever.
Over the last few years, the emergence of PrEP and the way in which the Tory Government through the NHS has resisted prescribing it is discriminatory in the extreme. However, PrEP is not an excuse to fuck without a condom, so I find it equally worrying that some campaigners refuse to advocate for its use with condoms. Let's remember the HIV+ community has led the way in global safe-sex education for 30 years, so I would hate to see this lost to a new generation who think PrEP is the answer to their prayers. If you think that, you're either naive or have been misled. This ain't no wonder pill. You still need to take responsibility for your body.
The most important thing to remember this World AIDS Day is to love, be compassionate, and if you're feeling vulnerable, be with friends and family in the widest sense. Right now, I'm lucky to be with my New York family working with Penny Arcade in Longing Lasts Longer at St Ann's Warehouse. Now more than ever, Penny's message of love, unity, and inclusion is vital to us facing the challenges of 2017.
We need to combat the stigma, too. More often than not, it comes down to putting the 'uneducated' — and I don't mean this in a derogatory sense — in very real human situations where they can see first-hand how their own prejudices are unfounded and that they have nothing to fear. Be kind to others, and be kind to yourself. Love others and learn to love yourself, the latter being a great place to start."
Hugh Wyld, volunteer
"It's not a case of 'us and them' when connecting with the HIV community. HIV doesn't discriminate and neither should we when it comes to talking about it. We all have a voice when it comes to speaking about HIV today. We all have more to learn.
Do some reading into HIV. Google it: the history, the current global situation. Remain educated and keep talking. Also know that your voice is valid, no matter how much you think you know about HIV.
We must reach out to members of the public who know very little about HIV — very often it's not their fault, a lack of knowledge is the fault of poor sex and sexual health education. Beyond this, HIV charities are always looking for new volunteers (see Positive East, THT, Metro). Whether or not you are living with or affected by HIV it's very easy to get involved, or donate.
Also think of a creative means of confronting stigma. I run a new writing theatre project called HIV Voices, which aims to get people talking about HIV and AIDS today through the power of the individual story. This year we will continue to partner with London's largest HIV charity, Positive East, while putting in new events, seeking and platforming new writers and performers."
Text Tom Rasmussen
Images taken from The Positive Issue, no. 100, January 1992