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Dominion’s Opinions: Giving Thanks on World AIDS Day

December 1 was World AIDS Day, and it puts me in mind of all the people who sacrificed, some willingly, others less so, so that we could be here. Coming on the heels of the Thanksgiving holiday, I think we should take a moment to give thanks.

Thank you to Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Stormé DeLarverie, and so many other nameless gay men, lesbians, drag kings & queens, and trans people who fought back that night at the Stonewall Inn. Far too many of us romanticize that night from the comfort of our bear and leather events and gay bars.

For us, Pride is a chance to strip down, get blackout drunk and whore around for a month. Is this a revolutionary act? In an increasingly conservative world, perhaps, but it’s not the LITERAL life and death situation it was in 1969. The patrons of Stonewall were caught between the crime families who owned the gay bars in NYC and the NYC police, who took every opportunity to harass, beat, and otherwise exploit the same patrons.

The whole reason Marsha, Sylvia, and Storme were even at Stonewall that night was because it was the only place they were even welcomed. The other white male gay bars didn’t let in “undesirables”. Stonewall was one of the few, if not the ONLY place that welcomed drag queens, lesbians, or any LGBTQ person of color (unless they wanted to fuck you because when has that NOT been a thing).

It’s therefore ironic that the descendants of those same outcasts are still not fully welcome in the spaces and places their forebears built and died for. And if your response is, “But Dominion, our gay bars are welcoming to EVERYONE,” you need to talk to your local fem/trans/Black/Brown or trans person.

Thank you to those who were (and still are) at the forefront of the AIDS crisis. To date, more than 79 million people have been infected with HIV since the start of the epidemic, and more than 36 million have died from AIDS-related illnesses. While HIV and AIDS are not exclusive concerns of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s not difficult to draw a direct line between gay rights activism and the activism around AIDS because, at least in the beginning, the same groups were affected. It is because of those who disrupted the status quo like ACT UP, the Black AIDS Institute, and the Latino Commission on AIDS that those of us in the Western world we can sit in the comfort of antiretroviral-driven lives, relatively free from those horrors.

Those of you who lost someone or who got sick notwithstanding, the COVID 19 pandemic is hopefully the closest any of us will come to those horrors. The difference COVID and AIDS is that the government and society didn’t give a shit about the AIDS crisis. There was no Payment Protection Plan for the men who started dying of mysterious cancers and other rare diseases. As far as many in society were concerned, AIDS was killing all the right people.

It wasn’t until 1985 when Rock Hudson, a family friend of the Reagans, announced his AIDS diagnosis, that we began to see attitudes even budge on a societal level. It was in that same year that President Reagan first publicly addressed the epidemic that had already taken the lives of far too many people.

We must also thank those of us who looked after our forebears as they became sick and made their transitions. Several organizations that exist to this day got their start in the 80s and 90s as care organizations, often run by lesbians and straight women, who took care of our LGBTQ+ siblings. They often were the preservers of our history, gathering the last effects of the famous and not so famous, sewing the AIDS quilt, and ensuring the memories of those who died were not forgotten.

The theme of World AIDS Day 2021 is End Inequalities, End AIDS, End Pandemics. UNAIDS talks about the structural inequality that fuels the AIDS epidemic and the global COVID-19 pandemic. Giving thanks to those who came before won’t, by itself, help solve these challenges, but it is certainly a step toward recognizing those inequalities and taking action to correct them.

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Dominion Onyx

Dominion is a kinky Dom Leatherbear with LOTS to say. You can catch his column, Dominion’s Opinions, bimonthly in Bearworld Magazine. His video podcast, The BGKH Show with Dominion & Epic, airs every Wednesday from 8-930 pm Eastern on YouTube, (