Michael Kaplan Asks: "Where the Hell is Our Community?"

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By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly
I woke up this morning to a piece Michael Kaplan wrote for the Huffington Post--a loud, firm, loving slap in the face. As I got to know Michael during his time in Portland, I not only admired his passion and work, I paid some serious attention to his words and advice. This man has dedicated his life to eradicating HIV/AIDS and I've come to respect his perspective probably more than anyone else's. He sees things many others miss--and his vision is unique. Below, some excerpts from his incredible commentary--and a link to the whole article, which bears repeating and sharing. This month, Cascade AIDS Project's former executive director, Kaplan--now at the helm of AIDS United, attended a meeting with high-ranking federal legislators and about a dozen leaders from our LGBTQ community. The meeting was set to help establish the LGBTQ's national legislative priorities--and at the meeting, a brutal reality set in. "We've de-sexed 'gay' to win political wars about marriage and, as a result, abandoned confronting a sexually transmitted infection that is devastating our community," he wrote. There Kaplan was frustrated to find conversations about HIV/AIDS not even on the radar: "The conversation went something like this: Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), DOMA, DOMA, ENDA, immigration, DOMA, ENDA. Had I not been there, I truly believe that HIV would have never been mentioned at all." Not that Kaplan believes these shouldn't be legislative priorities--quite the opposite: "Don't get me wrong: I believe that gay marriage, employment nondiscrimination and reforming immigration laws as they pertain to same-sex couples are worthy battles and should be priorities. But I'm heartbroken that HIV/AIDS has fallen off the gay radar. In fact, it hasn't merely fallen off; it's been politely removed." In his piece, Kaplan wonders if we've accepted HIV/AIDS as an acceptable, treatable reality--and questions our zeal in regards to putting an end to it forever: "Our community has decided to live with this, not talk about it, but live with it. Heads held high as we fight for gay marriage, employment nondiscrimination and so much more, but please, just please don't talk about sex, let alone AIDS! The thing is that we don't have to live with HIV. I mean some of us do -- I do -- but as a community, we can end this. We can all know our HIV status tomorrow, we can get into treatment, and we can be the ones who write the last chapter of this epidemic, the ones who finally stop the band from playing on and on." It's one of the most powerful pieces on HIV/AIDS and community that we've seen in some time. Again, read it in its entirety here--it'll provide you with some food for thought--and a side of thorough soul-searching. As I read this (a few times), I was reminded of some of Kaplan's parting words to Portland: "In the end, it won’t be collective action that ends the epidemic. It’ll come down to individual ones: each person committing to knowing their status, to getting linked to care and treatment, and, when warranted, to being open about their status. It’s a commitment to having the hard conversations about the things that put us at risk and not turning our backs on those infected." Sorry, I had a planned a lengthy, sassy, amusing Friday afternoon blog post, but this is simply too important not to share. BlogTail_DanielBorgen