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I Was Disposable Because I’m A Faggot

I Was Disposable Because I’m A Faggot – Three weeks ago, a spring breaker in Miami became a symbol of Gen Z denialism when he spoke to CBS News and said that coronavirus wasn’t going to get in the way of his partying.

Outrage was swift, but one person who felt a touch of recognition was Peter Staley, one of the country’s most respected AIDS activists.

Mr. Staley, 59, remembers what it was to be young and dumb.

In the summer of 1983, shortly after graduating from college, Mr. Staley moved to New York City and began inching his way out of the closet. In the East Village, hanging out at places like Boy Bar, he heard in “this abstract rumor-mill way” of a plague that was killing gay men.

“My first instinct was like that kid on the beach,” Mr. Staley said. “There was this whole thing of, ‘I’m hearing it’s only happening to the older gays and the ones who slept with hundreds of guys.’ It was so easy to shrug off.”

That summer, Mr. Staley got infected. Over the next two decades, lovers and close friends died.

When I spoke to Mr. Staley in late March, he cautioned against drawing a false equivalence between H.I.V. and the new coronavirus, which in his estimation are more dissimilar than they are alike.

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H.I.V., he pointed out, was harder to transmit than the coronavirus, slower to wreak havoc on those infected with AIDS, and (until anti-retrovirals went to market in 1996, some 15 years after the disease began seeping into public consciousness) far more likely to be deadly than Covid-19.

Moreover, the disastrous inaction of the federal government to AIDS for more than half a decade was largely the result of bigotry toward those most commonly infected: namely, gay men and IV drug users.

Still, Mr. Staley said, “there is no denying that for me and for other long-term survivors of the AIDS crisis I know, Covid-19 is stirring up a lot. To the extent that all of us from those years have some version of PTSD, all of that is flooding back.”

The biggest similarity, in his view, has been “politicians not immediately deferring to expert scientific opinion. That, on very different deadlines, has been just as deadly, helping to drive this pandemic as effectively as during the early years of the AIDS crisis.”

And although matinee idols, right-wing politicians and pink-haired divas are publicly disclosing their Covid-19 diagnoses, it has been clear to a number of AIDS activists that despite what Madonna or Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo might say, Covid-19 is no equalizer.

“Pandemics never hit fairly,” said David France, 60, the director of the 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary “How to Survive a Plague.”

“While we now have what appears on its face to be a more democratic plague that isn’t confined mostly to a despised population, it has still been most heavily concentrated in the major urban areas, which is blue America, in neighborhoods that are filled with people who are not rich and are often black or brown.”

Covid-19’s disproportionate ability to kill the poor, the uninsured and the elderly has also played into disheartening arguments against reacting aggressively.

That has enraged a number of H.I.V. survivors who have reached senior citizenship.

“During AIDS, I was disposable because I’m a faggot. Now I’m disposable because I’m a fogie,” said Cleve Jones, 65, who got into activism during the 1970s as a protegé of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California.

And there are other reasons for a feeling of déjà vu.

In 1984, a 44-year-old Dr. Anthony Fauci oversaw the government’s response to the AIDS crisis as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Today, a 79-year-old Dr. Fauci is the director of NIAID overseeing the coronavirus response.

And throughout, his calm demeanor and attempt to float above politics has been a source of heated debate among AIDS activists.

Mr. Staley said that Dr. Fauci’s ability to translate science into layman’s terms make him perfectly suited to this moment.


“He’s been one of the only comforting things about all these White House briefings,” he said. “His ability to not get thrown out of the room is something we should all be thankful for.”

Mr. Jones lamented the “surreal” way that Dr. Fauci has nodded his head in news conferences while President Trump “blathers on.”

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