December 1, 2020 at 4:06 pm PST | by Noah Christiansen
Now What? World AIDS Day Panel

This World AIDS Day some of LA’s voices who survived the AIDS crisis spoke about their role and the challenges faced in the age of COVID. The Blade held an online panel with prominent figures in the LGBTQ+ community in honor of World AIDS Day 2020.

 Rob Watson, host of Rated LGBT Radio Hollywood, moderated, guiding the discussion and asking questions about everything ranging from the organization ACT-UP to the history behind the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s. In the context of the coronavirus, there are a litany of comparisons to be made between the AIDS crisis and COVID-19. In addition to Watson, Richard Zaldivar, Mary Lucey, Karen Ocamb, Thomas Davis, and John J. Duran participated.

 The panel kicked off with everyone sharing their names, titles, and how they worked to help make change during the AIDS crisis and how we can combat issues facing the LGBTQ+ community today. 

 Duran, former city council member for the city of West Hollywood, started the discussion off in a serious tone where he described the historical implications of the AIDS crisis.

“In 1975, six years before AIDS started, homosexuality was illegal. When HIV started, we had just started this process of coming out,” Duran said.

 The issue of coming out was highlighted by Duran, but he then noted that “you couldn’t seek the shelter of the closet” because the symptoms of AIDS cannot be hidden. This set a somber tone as the panelists talked about their specific experiences and challenges that they dealt with during the crisis.

 Mary Lucey, diagnosed with HIV in 1989, talked about how she lost friends and family members because of her support for the LGBTQ+ population. People didn’t want to be associated with her because of her proximity to the disease along with her vocal support for ACT-UP and activism for trying to get access to life-saving drugs.

 It wasn’t just losing support from friends and family, but it was literally about losing friends and family due to the disease.

 Karen Ocamb, the Blade’s former news editor, described her experiences and how she would have to watch people who were incredibly sick die days after they entered the hospital.

“I lost 100 plus friends. I stopped counting in 1990 — I have PTSD because of that,” Ocamb told the panel. 

On a community level, there were a lot of coalitions that were created during the HIV/AIDS crisis. There was a large discussion surrounding the lesbians that organized to help the gay men dying from AIDS. Lucey noted, “We [lesbians] were organizers.”

 Duran commented on this saying, “I had a lot of opinions that I had to see were wrong.” Duran noted that this was in the context of how the LGBTQ+ community was able to come together regardless of their differences.

 “Although people relegate HIV/AIDS to the 1980s, we cannot forget that these issues still plague our communities,” Ocamb pointed out.

Thomas Davis, the youngest person on the panel said, “A lot of the challenges, seem to be around the same thin — not being educated, not being able to access treatment.”

 In the context of the coronavirus, there are some stark similarities between AIDS and the global pandemic – specifically with access to treatment. Davis commented on this by talking about what it’s like to be a gay Black man living with HIV and how the rhetoric surrounding the coronavirus is very similar to the rhetoric during the AIDS crisis – on top of this, the fact that both AIDS and the coronavirus affect Black individuals disproportionately proves that these viruses get politicized and proves the need for groups coming together.

 Zaldivar, founder and executive director of The Wall Las Memorias Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting wellness and preventing illness among Latino populations affected by HIV/AIDS, talked about how marginalized groups need to help other marginalized groups.

The event was co-sponsored by the Ariadne Getty Foundation.

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