By Sean McShee
When I first began to get involved in HIV activism, I thought it could keep my friends alive. Neither my friends from before HIV, nor many of the new friends I made through HIV activism, however, lived long enough to benefit from anti-retrovirals.
I want to remember those people who help to build the pre-ACT-UP momentum in San Francisco. Bobbi Campbell, aka Sister Florence Nightmare, had the honor of being the first out person with AIDS in San Francisco. Dan Turner and Bobbi Campbell helped to write the Denver Principles. If you are not familiar with the Denver Principles, please look them up on Wikipedia.
In the middle 80s, LGBT anti-war activists, the more activist types from the Democratic Clubs, and other unaffiliated people began to talk about HIV activism. It may have helped that Hank Wilson and I had adjoining lockers at the Y. We had known each other since Bay Area Gay Liberation (BAGL) and our conversations naturally drifted to politics in between cases of “locker room eyes”. I was in an affinity group resisting Reagan’s Wars, and Hank was, well, Hank.
Ed Wyre, John Ashby, Kate Raphael, and I began to do civil disobedience trainings. Eileen Hansen became involved. Keith Griffith, Terry Beswick, John Belskus, Frank Rich, and others came to the trainings and promptly began civil disobedience. At some point, the people we had trained and others like Steve Russel, and Randy W. began the ARC/AIDS vigil as an act of civil disobedience, expecting the SFPD to arrest them. They kept that vigil going for years. We began to set up the AIDS Action Pledge, modeled on the anti-war Pledge of Resistance. Sometime in 1988, the AIDS Action Pledge changed its name in 1988 to ACT UP San Francisco.
I’m sure I’m forgetting some people, but, unfortunately, once you dry-out, you can no longer blame a faulty memory on an alcoholic black-out., just a bad memory for names, and a LGBT cultural preference for never using last names.
Right after the ACT UP split, I moved into Hank’s building. We began to help each other in that other deathwatch of the 80s and 90s – that of our aging parents. Each of us took care of the other’s apartment when he had to go and do long distance elder care.
When HIV first hit, I had both a family of choice and a family of origin. Now, I have neither. When HIV first hit, we had activism and hope, as well as fear. Now, I am not sure what we have. Maybe the death toll was just too high and the burnout too severe.
One of the reasons I left San Francisco was that I kept seeing ghosts. I can no longer do activism. Now I write for South Florida Gay News, mainly on HIV, and do consulting. Watching the news one night late last summer, I heard that people in Fergusson were doing die-ins. Life goes on, but it always changes. La lucha continua. (The struggle continues).