When I signed into Facebook Saturday morning, I was prepared to post something witty about my need for coffee to get my weekend going. I was expecting to see in my News Feed the usual praise for God, posts about wild Friday-night experiences and a few Instagram photos of folks posing in the mirror. What I wasn't expecting to see was a post about a friend who, it seemed, had passed. My heart raced, and I immediately went to his page, and there it was, a long list of people commenting on the passing of a great warrior. His Facebook page gives his full name as William Brandon Lacy Campos, but his friends knew him simply as Brandon.
Brandon, who was anything but simple, passed late Friday. He was truly a unique man. He has been described rightly as a warrior, an author, an advocate and a blogger, and most importantly he has been described as a good friend to all. He battled drug abuse and homophobia and wrote candidly about his HIV-positive status. As a gay man of color living with HIV, he literally bared his soul for all to see, and in that nakedness he exposed the many injustices that the disenfranchised have to endure. He spoke out not just for gays and those living with HIV but for those who may have felt that they had no voice. He didn't use his male privilege with abandon but instead recognized that as a male with certain privileges, it was his duty to make sure women had the same rights. In his own words Brandon described himself as "a poet, playwright, journalist, amateur chef and life commentator doing his bit to put his foot in the asses of the regressive masses, while putting filling and nutritious food on plates of folks that ain't got much and deserve better." And -- oh, yeah! -- he was a tough-as-nails feminist!
I admire him most for his writings on HIV. In this day and age, when having HIV still carries such a stigma, he refused to let anyone place him in a box. He was a great intellect who could effectively communicate the experience of living with HIV and not only point out the injustices that those living with HIV must endure but stand on the front lines, daring anyone to try to silence him. He was an accidental activist who may not have been the quietest person, but that's what we needed, someone to get up in people's faces and let them know, "We're going to talk about this shit, and the train ain't leaving until we're all strapped in." A college-educated man, he had letters after his name, but he didn't let those letters define who he was. He also didn't just hang with intellectuals but made himself available to anyone, no matter what road he or she walked. So whether you had a Ph.D. or a degree in street smarts, he was there for you. He knew we all had a story to tell.
Don't get me wrong: Brandon would do some crazy shit. Sometimes the posts on his Facebook page would qualify as too much information, but in all honesty he did what a lot of us are so afraid to do: He lived. He made his life have meaning and a purpose, and he didn't forget to have fun. He loved to love, and he loved to be in love. And that's what I feel made people gravitate to him. Simply look at his Facebook page and you'll see people from all walks of life. You'll see a rainbow of genders, sexual orientations, nationalities and perspectives. And just from reading the last few days' posts, you'll see that he was someone who took the time to actually connect with people face-to-face, person-to-person, and who cooked from his soul as he fed not only stomachs but hearts. That's rare in this age of social media and texting.
It's a wonder that he was able to make so much time for people, as he was very active in the queer community. Starting in his teens he was there giving a voice. In his 20s he co-chaired the National Queer Student Coalition. He sat on the board for the Audre Lorde Project and was co-executive director of Queers for Economic Justice. He was a constant blogger who brought up timely issues on his widely read blog, My Feet Only Walk Forward, and as a fierce spoken-word artist in his book It Ain't Truth If It Doesn't Hurt, which was published last year. I can hear Brandon saying, "Guess what, bitches! You can get it on Amazon.com, plus it's in e-book form. Boo-yah!" And with his "Naked Poetry" series on YouTube, he let it all hang out and left you with something to think about.
I knew Brandon personally when I lived in Minnesota, which he was also from. With the state being over 80-percent white, we LGBT people of color had to find each other. I always joked that he followed me to NYC. That may not be the case, but I do know that I followed him in his activism as he inspired me to start blogging and telling my own story of living with HIV. I was amazed that he was able to put it out there and in his words. It gave me the strength to do the same. What Brandon did was throw a big rock in the deep water, creating ripples of people who were also inspired by him. I let him know this when I saw him at a performance that we both attended.
Brandon didn't belong to me, to you or to anybody at the top of his Facebook friends list. Brandon belonged to everyone who met him, because his spirit is in all of us. His blog was aptly titled "My Feet Only Walk Forward," because with such a huge load to carry, he knew forward was the only way to go. I hope I and others make Brandon proud as we pick up that load and become the voice of justice. When we do it, we do it in honor of Brandon. And if we encounter people with closed ears and minds, we'll do what Brandon used to say: "We're just going to beat them silly with a piece of ham hock until their damn neck snaps back into reality."
I hope I got that right, Brandon, and thank you for inspiring me to be naked.