I've spent 25 years -- about half my life -- reporting and documenting what I call "gay America's heroic legacy in the AIDS plague."
But since doing dozens of interviews to update my book Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life in America, I've been concerned by how quickly our heroic legacy is being forgotten.
A big reason I committed myself to reporting on AIDS goes to the heart of why I chose, 30 years ago, to accept the fact that I am gay.
Back then, when I was a boi of 22 - -of course, we weren't "bois" then, but simply young men -- I concluded, after a lot of reading and anguish, that the feelings for other males I'd had since boyhood were in every way equal to my straight male friends' attractions to females.
This fundamental belief in the legitimacy, validity, and full-fledged humanity of same-sex-loving people is precisely why I have always reported on the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a natural disaster inflicted upon the human race rather than as some kind of punishment of any one group.
That belief and my reporter's zeal for facts are why I haven't accepted for a minute that the epidemic was anything other than a tragic example of what happens when a microbe, formerly contained in a limited area of the world, is given the opportunity to expand its range worldwide.
Stating facts, in my view, is not the same as assigning blame. Blame requires a moral judgment. As a reporter, I try to stick to the facts.
Among the many facts of the AIDS epidemic is the fact that many gay men, together with our lesbian and non-gay friends, families, co-workers, and all who stood by and with us, have been heroes in the truest sense.
Heroes are ordinary people who step forward to do what has to be done -- simply because someone has to do it. Albert Camus, the Nobel-Prize-winning French author, wrote in his novel The Plague that the essence of heroism is caring for others as "a matter of common decency."
We have a great deal to be proud of in our people's valiant efforts to address AIDS over the past three decades:
- We showed how to be effective advocates for our own health care and medical decisions.
- We demanded, and won, a place at the decision-making tables of the nation's biomedical research institutions.
- We challenged the federal government over the right to access experimental medications, and won.
- We created volunteer-run community programs to provide low-cost care and support for very ill people in their own homes.
- We showed in the AIDS Memorial Quilt how to publicly mourn our lost loved ones as individuals who were also part of a massive, shared, terrible tragedy.
A people are defined largely by their sense of having a shared history. Our individual stories are part of the bigger story of gay history, American history, even world history. Whether non-gay Americans, or anyone else, accepts the full equality of our suffering and achievements in the AIDS plague, we must claim and honor our own history.
I plan to continue doing what I can to live out my belief in the full equality of LGBT people by helping to ensure that our history is preserved for future generations. How will you celebrate our heroic legacy in 2012?
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