E-book imagines the end of AIDS
by David-Elijah Nahmod
A special anthology, looking at how AIDS ends, is now available in electronic form and draws from people living with the disease, political leaders, and advocates as they chart the final chapter of a disease that has ravaged the world for more than 30 years.
How AIDS Ends: Fifteen Visionaries Write the Final Chapter on AIDS offers a sad look back upon the LGBT community's most tragic period. The book also shows the light at the end of the tunnel. The e-book was edited by Reilly O'Neal, who serves as the editor for BETA, the HIV prevention and treatment magazine for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Prior to her work on BETA, O'Neill edited academic books on anthropology, neurology, and political science.
"Taking over as the editor of BETA was an exciting change," O'Neal told the Bay Area Reporter. "It let me put my skills and interests to work providing tools for people to understand HIV science and really use it to improve their own health."
How AIDS Ends is exactly what its title implies. Contributors include Jeanne White Ginder, the mother of Ryan White, the young hemophiliac who contracted HIV through a contaminated blood treatment. Before his death in 1990 at age 18, White became the public face of youth with AIDS. At a time when children with AIDS could be denied entry into public schools, White educated people, opening hearts and minds.
Other contributors recall the massive losses suffered by the LGBT community. San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener writes eloquently about his coming out process as a young gay college student in New Jersey 20 years ago. The supervisor remembers those years as a time in which there were no gay male role models for him to look up to. The previous generation's leadership had largely died out, many before they had reached middle age.
Longtime activist Cleve Jones has lived with the HIV virus for many years. A former intern for the late San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and founder of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, Jones writes of his current work in offering support to LGBT youth who live with the virus. Jones writes that many of these kids don't know where to turn for support.
Hank Plante, the openly gay former political editor at KPIX TV, remembers being in the trenches, reporting on the disease when the crisis was escalating to its peak levels.
Also included is a piece from Robert Gallo, who co-discovered the HIV virus. He writes of his work in advancing AIDS treatments to the point where the disease has become manageable. Even more hopeful is the essay from Timothy Ray Brown, now considered to be the first person to be functionally cured of AIDS.
O'Neal talked about a very personal AIDS recollection that helped inspire her to create How AIDS Ends.
"My mother lost her friend Steve to AIDS in the late 1980s. I remember her being shocked that when she visited Steve's parents at their home where he had died, they would only speak to her through the screen door. They never once mentioned how their son had died, but she could smell the bleach. They had been disinfecting the house," O'Neal said. "Not long after that, we visited the AIDS Memorial Quilt on a trip to San Francisco. We walked into that storefront workshop and I saw my mom put her hand to her mouth: hanging right in front of her was a quilt for her old community theater director. She hadn't even known he was sick, let alone that he had died. Those were my first personal introductions to the stigma around this disease, and how different communities responded to it."
(Photo: Rick Gerharter)
She explained the process by which she chose the e-book's contributors.
"All of the authors were contributed to this anthology because they have something important to say about how we get to the end of AIDS. That meant reaching out to people whose stake in this epidemic is very personal or goes back to the earliest days. It also meant inviting people who eat controversial issues for breakfast, political leaders like Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), President Bill Clinton, media pioneers like columnist LZ Granderson and journalist Hank Plante. I think the diversity of voices and visions is one of the best things about this book."
According to O'Neal, the end of the AIDS epidemic is within reach.
"This is a time of true hope, with huge breakthroughs in prevention and treatment, and even living proof that HIV can be cured," she said. "But it's also a time for hard work and innovation. Those breakthroughs aren't enough by themselves. We need the funding, the political leadership, and the collective commitment to put those tools to use for everybody, including people whose health is jeopardized by stigma, homophobia, racism, sexism, poverty, homelessness, discriminatory laws, and marginalization.
"By asking these 15 visionaries to write the final chapter on AIDS, to share their perspectives on the past and how their visions for how AIDS ends, we wanted to help keep up the momentum and make that future without AIDS a reality for everyone."
In addition to its current availability at Amazon.com and KoboBooks.com, How AIDS Ends is coming soon to iTunes and BarnesandNoble.com. It is priced at 99 cents.
"All profits go to funding free HIV testing, prevention, and care services for the foundation," O'Neal said.