December 4, 2020 at 5:45 pm PST | by Troy Masters
276,000 and counting…
AIDS Quilt on the Mall (Blade file photo)

“This is the final surge,” says California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “This is the most challenging moment since the beginning of this pandemic.”

Newsom is talking about the catastrophic spread of Covid-19 and the crushing number of grave cases jamming ICU units throughout the Golden State. 

Left unsaid during his Thursday news conference is a cultural subtext that needs to be screamed out loud.

Despite 276,000 U.S. deaths and counting — someone dies of Covid every 30 seconds — people are tuning out, blaming government and public health departments for bad messaging, losing control of this and causing financial disaster for businesses and the millions who’ve lost their jobs.

Masks work but haphazard restrictions haven’t stopped the spread.  So why believe a vaccine will do the trick? 

Anxious chatter abounds: the vaccine will take many months to roll out. It won’t go smoothly.  It won’t bring the spread of the virus down to a fade-out level until 75 percent of the WORLD’S population is inoculated. As many as 15 percent will have reactions. Some people will certainly die. It will be politicized and there will be a resistance. 

So why bother being vigilant?

A vaccine is but one weapon in the fight against Covid-19. The truest weapons will continue to be social distancing — the need to avoid large gatherings, staying vigilant in public and one on one – and masking up to protect yourself and others from this airborne virus.

But some of us have been here before and have already suffered a catastrophic leadership vacuum and just pure evil during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. We called out Ronald Reagan then and we must call out Donald Trump now.

Trump has relished in a narcissistic feeding frenzy of conspiracy theories to his followers. He insisted Covid was a hoax and when he got it, he pretended it could be easily conquered though few have access to the same treatment and care he received.

Even now, his shockingly soulless and willful spreading of misinformation continues as the death toll mounts. He is the defiant source of Fake News, unconscionably encouraging his followers to defy Covid prevention measures, forgo masks and social distancing. Go back to your lives! Go back to your places of worship! Get back to work! Get schools open again!

Superspreader Trump is causing wave after wave of the deadly virus, making it impossible to get back to any semblance of a robust economic or social life or normal. He has fomented a restlessness and exploited it with destructive consequence. And it gives him psychopathic power.

Too many in our community seem to have fallen for it. 

Upset about bar closures, being denied an outdoor dinner experience at La Boheme, having to spend holidays at home instead of tripping on a red carpet to get to another cocktail party to watch the same five people bid on a trip to Baja – too many LGBTQ people swaggered over to Trump’s death cult of defiance.

Don’t get me wrong. People are suffering deep economic injury. I certainly am. So is my business reliant business. I even had to keep pushing through to save it while both my mom and I were desperately sick with Covid. I have no savings, no life or health insurance. Nothing. But for a very generous friend, I might have given up. I very personally understand economic injury and fear. 

But, I am patient and I trust the new administration will offer real help, though the now of it all is what matters now. Everyone must be compensated for their losses.

I just don’t understand ignoring the reality of what we face. If you are a business owner, you are an inventive person and you will figure out a creative way to survive and advocate for a solution. If you are just restless and ready to get back to The Abbey to resume your social life, think. 

The messaging may be driving you crazy. Perhaps it’s because Newsom and Garcetti are both facing enormous pressures from the business lobby who are pushing for better solutions. And, as situations change, so does what’s needed.

More than a half million people will be dead by the time we celebrate Pride in 2021, probably more than 50,000 in LA alone. 

Will you be among them? 

Do you really care?

In the earliest days of AIDS, our community struggled as pandemic raged and without governmental intervention. At first, we carried on, refusing to believe the severity of the situation. When no one came to the rescue, we tried to rescue ourselves, coming up with simple useful solutions like wearing condoms and reduction in the numbers of anonymous partners. 

But after a while, simple solutions like “wear a condom every time” became boring and people took umbrage at the seemingly anti-sex and homophobic calls to limit the number of sexual partners, the monitoring or closure of gathering spaces and at the constant intrusion into every aspect of their personal lives, liberty and freedoms. People began fighting for the right to return to life as normal — virus be damned.

As AIDS deaths soared, the community, though united on many fronts, splintered into camps, including advocacy groups like ACT UP and a small group of alienated HIV positive men who touted a kind of not my brother’s keeper barebacking culture. And like the criticism aimed at unmasked MAGA supporters crowded together at an indoor Trump rally, some people understood when HIV negative men engaged in unsafe sex: it was a personal choice, despite the risks. 

Yes, it’s all too familiar.

It’s hard for a gay man younger than 45 to imagine it, but an astonishingly sophisticated gay scene flourished across the country in the mid and late 1970s, iconic parties filled with thousands and thousands of revelers who joyously celebrated just being. 

But when AIDS hit, our spaces emptied — and not because our local governments issued stay-at-home orders. The Castro emptied. WeHo changed. The Village emptied. People even retreated to small towns and returned home. 

Our spaces emptied out of fear, confusion and an abundance of caution.  Our business failed as fear of gays spread faster than the virus. We were left with nothing. No information, no therapies, no treatment, no infrastructure to support us.  No government to bail us out.

We were left with nothing but dead and dying friends and fear and a powerful sense of pride that many of us devoted the best years of our lives, our careers, our treasures and our love to saving our community.

And we learned that the rage required, the grief and the loss is not sustainable. Vigilance is exhausting. But we also learned that as knowledge and science advances, what is required of our vigilance changes. 

And so we learned to push through.

AIDS became a chronic, manageable disease that is now entirely preventable. We have more tools to prevent it than ever, thanks to activists who pushed science in the direction of treatment. But one means of prevention is that simple solution discovered in the heat of the crisis: use a condom until there is a vaccine. 

And until the new Covid vaccines are proven effective and accessible, use a mask. 

Don’t become a statistic – 276,001 and counting.

Hope to see you at Pride.

Troy Masters is the publisher of the Los Angeles Blade

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