Category Archives: Advocacy

Pedro Zamora – an example for us all

So being almost 30, I remember watching the original episodes of the Real World on MTV.  Now they are on something like Real World XXV.  Only a young adolescent I remember being amazed and inspired by Pedro Zamora, the housemate on Real World II: San Francisco who was living with HIV.  I was just starting to begin to discover my own sexuality at that point, and seeing an openly gay man on TV gave me hope and encouragement.  My heart would cringe every time Puck would ridicule or mock the man who was trying to bring such an important message to the world: HIV is preventable and we can do something about it.  I grew up as a teenager during Pedro’s brief time on TV, and his message still resonates with me today man years later.

While pursuing the web, I came across the Equality Forum’s wonderful web site for GLBT HIstory Month (I must admit that being in medical school has completely encased me in a bubble and I did not even know that October was GLBT HIstory month) which features a “GLBT” icon for each day of the month.  Today’s was Pedro Zamora.  He was the first TV personality to be open about his HIV status.  Although he was gay, and contracted HIV through having sex with a man, his story is a universal one of hope and he has inspired a generation of individuals.  He has been recognized by President Clinton for his outstanding contributions to society.

I only hope that in my advocacy I can continue to fight for what Pedro thought it was important and to ensure that we all have the proper education and tools we need to combat HIV in all communities.

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Silence = Death = Huh??

So today, I decided to put on my ACT UP t-shirt I obtained from the ACT UP Paris booth at the International AIDS Conference two years ago.  The link provided here, is for the New York chapter, initially formed by a group of gay and lesbian activists in New York in the late 1980’s – the New York website appears to not have been updated in quite some time.  As Wikipdeia tells me, membership has recently dwindled. However, as the group has become international,  my shirt is from ACT UP Paris which seems active and has reported news from  Vienna.  ACT UP Paris was responsible for placing a giant pink condom around the Paris obelisk in 1993 to draw attention to their cause (see photo)

I was surprised to see people were not familiar with the mantra on my shirt. Upon walking into Starbucks the barrista said “Oh I thought your shirt had something to do with Smurfs.” I really didn’t get that one.  To be fair, it was in Spanish and said “Silencio = Muerte.”  While ACT UP’s main era of signature protests was in full bloom while I was still a young kid, I would have imagined that certain individuals would be familiar with the mantra, Silence=Death.  Some how or other I heard about the group and their signature protests growing up gay on the heels of the era of AIDS, when many still feared for their lives. ACT UP was responsible for staging protests designed to bring attention to various aspects of the AIDS crisis from housing to funding levels to treatment.  Yes, there were some individuals who talked to me about my shirt and their involvement back in the day with ACT UP, but the shirt overall just received resounding stares. There is currently no ACT UP chapter in DC.

However, as a public health practitioner, clinician in training and activist, I must certainly agree that almost 25 years later  SILENCE  still = DEATH.  I have discussed in past posts how Vienna has paid little attention to MSM and the rising HIV epidemic in this population.  If we do not speak up people will continue to die.  And although we are not  engaging in large-scale protests as in the days of ol (although apparently ACT UP Philadelphia just participated in a housing protest), silence will equal death.  If we do not fight for governments stop criminalizing homosexuality,  homosexuality will continue to remain taboo and stigmatized in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, MSM will have nowhere to seek GLBT affirming health services and HIV protection and treatment, and the epidemic will thrive.  If we do not carry the message of our ACT UP brothers, and remain silent, then yes, needless deaths of men who have sex with men will continue to occur in the US and the rest of the world.    In the words of the RENT cast (one of my favorite show’s) cast: “Actual Reality – ACT UP Fight AIDS”.  Educate.  Wear a condom.  Read my blog.  Distribute condoms at the club.  Do whatever you can to ensure that silence does NOT equal death among men who have sex with men. Anyone have any ideas on other things we can do in the spirit of our ACT up brothers? Comment! Here is a clip I found with coverage from the late 80’s (1989) about ACT Up’s housing protest in NY which was the top story (As a former New Yorker I also love how Jack Cafferty is the anchor – he’s a NY staple). If you look 0:58 in, you’ll see the SILENCE =DEATH sign.