A few weeks back, among the bills, magazines and catalogs, a letter arrived for my partner and me, announcing the Cincinnati Men's Chorus' Pride Concert, the culmination of the group's 10th anniversary season. As former members of the chorus (in fact, my partner attended the very first rehearsal), we were invited to return to Cincinnati for the 10th annual Pride Concert. Although business travel will sadly keep us from sharing the stage with our buddies in the CMC, the letter started me thinking about where we stand as gay people as we gear up for Gay Pride 2001.
It must be human nature to wax nostalgic on the occasion of an anniversary. I will never forget how nervous I was the first time I called the CMC Hotline and left a message asking for information about auditioning for the chorus. Or how proud I felt the first time I walked onstage at Memorial Hall for my first concert as a singing member of the chorus.
As I kept thinking, a few more anniversaries that will be celebrated this June came to mind. After a few years' hiatus, 2001 marks the second year since a Pride Parade and Rally have returned to the Cincinnati Gay Pride calendar. On June16, Stonewall Cincinnati is bringing Sandra Bernhard to town to perform at the group's 19th annual celebration.
June marks the 32nd anniversary of the Stonewall riots that kicked the formal gay rights movement into high gear.
But in the midst of all this reflection, one anniversary puts all my thoughts in perspective: Twenty years ago this week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its first warning about a relatively rare form of pneumonia among a small group of young gay men in Los Angeles, which was later determined to be AIDS-related.
The front pages of the nation's major newspapers have heralded this milestone on the timeline of the AIDS epidemic, at a time when advances in drug therapy have changed public perception of AIDS from a death sentence to a disease as manageable for some as diabetes.
In a New York Times story, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher commented that not since the Black Death killed one-third of Europe's population in the 14th century has there been an infectious disease outbreak as devastating as HIV. Yet at the same time, Dr. Satcher said, America's sense of urgency about AIDS is waning both in and outside the gay and lesbian community.
Today it is widely accepted that that the face of AIDS is changing. The New York Times reports that African Americans, who make up only 13 percent of the nation's population, now account for more than half of the new HIV infections. While AIDS no longer makes the federal government's list of the 15 leading causes of death in the United States, it is the leading cause among African Americans ages 25 to 44.
HIV infection is rising among heterosexual women, particularly in the rural South. And last week, the CDC reported a sharp increase in infections among young black gay men.
My point in bringing all this up is simply this: After 20 years, we may think we are tired of hearing about and fighting against AIDS, but the fact is that the chance of a finding a cure for AIDS in the foreseeable future is no more certain than the chance of securing legalized gay marriage across all 50 states.
In the same way that it is easy to let widespread media acceptance of gays and lesbians make us feel our fight for equality is nearly over, it is easy to allow decreases in new HIV infections within the gay community and life-extending advances in drug therapies to fool us into thinking the war against AIDS is nearly won.
Sandra Thurman, who directed the Office of National AIDS Policy for President Clinton, put it well when she said, "We are at the end of the beginning of this epidemic, not the beginning of the end."
And so, as we all go out to celebrate Gay Pride this month, we cannot lose sight of the causes we all hold so dear. Celebrating brings us together and is a great way to blow off steam. But we should also use it as a time to refocus and energize ourselves for the long fight that remains ahead of us.
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