You hear gay men of my generation talk about AIDS differently than this current one. It’s as though it doesn’t really exist, it’s a long forgotten ghost story and they don’t really want to think about it. With new drugs, AIDS is thought of as manageable, but I’m here to tell you, people still die from complications. I awoke this morning to the sad news that Timothy Dunleavy, a remarkable creative man I knew mostly through many mutual friends had just passed away. Looking on his Facebook wall for clues as to “what had happened” I came across an article from New York Magazine about the late fashion writer John Duka, who died in ’87 when it was still a very stigmatizing disease. There had been some recently unearthed controversy about whether Larry Kramer’s character Felix from The Normal Heart, was based on Duka. (Kramer says no.) Duka was married to the the stylist Kezia Keeble, who with her ex-husband, Paul Cavaco, was responsible for getting me to NYC from Texas. Kezia and John married, and he died very shortly thereafter, and then sadly, Kezia died of breast cancer not long after.
It’s hard to explain all of the connections in any one’s life, but it’s sad to say that AIDS runs through all of ours like thousands of threads that are woven into the fabric of creative communities around the globe. It has hit many others, as well, but it was particularly hard on men of my generation. At one point in the early 90s, I wrote down the names of friends and aquiantances that had died from the disease and the list topped 200. I have many friends who are living with it today, and AIDS mostly goes unmentioned, as you assume they are well. But then you hear otherwise, and the memories and scores of memorials all flood back. I’m sorry it’s the case, but AIDS is our WWII, our Vietnam… it is like a war that has never ended. It rages on. Ebola is a terrible disease, but is a tiny blip compared to AIDS.
As of last year, AIDS has killed nearly 40 million people worldwide (let that number sink in) and an estimated 35 million people are living with HIV, making it one of THE most important global public health issues in recorded human history. Period. And despite recent improved access to life-saving antiretroviral drugs in many parts of the world, it still claims around 2 million lives each year, of which about a quarter of a million are children, btw. I miss my friends still, and whether we remember once a year or not, AIDS is still with us today. In memory of Timothy Dunleavy, my dear pals Juan Botas & Michael “Rags” Raglin, the millions of lives lost in the last 30 years, and those living with it today, here’s to living up to the the theme of this years WORLD AIDS DAY –Getting to Zero. I could post links here to tons of organizations, but if you’re interested, you know how to find them. Sadly, there are way too many.