THE GRAN VARONES (Posts tagged aids history)

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Sounds perfect Wahhhh, I don’t wanna

growing up in the 1990’s, there were ballads and then there were slow jams. that distinction mattered in the early 90’s. today, with the advent of streaming, it is a norm to consume multiple genres in just one playlist. but in 1990, that required more work. if you wanted to listen to pop, you turned to mtv or turned your radio dial to a top 40 station. if you wanted to listen to r&b music, you watched BET music videos shows or switched your dial to an r&b station. and this was only possible for those of us who lived in bigger metropolitan cities because many cities didn’t even have a black radio station. my point is that radio was hella segregated. so “ballads” were code for non-black and pop slow songs. “slow jam” was an indication of an r&b slow tempo grove that made you feel all the things. that is thanks to the late radio, tv personality and quite storm originator, melvin lindsey.

raised in washington, d.c., melvin attended howard university and interned at WHUR, a local adult contemporary radio station. melvin’s break happened in may 1976 after he was asked to dj as a last minute substitute. he compiled a stack of his favorite records (the 1970’s way of creating a spotify playlist) that included smokey robinson, the delfonics, isley brothers and others. although young and inexperienced, melvin’s silky and calm voice coupled with his choice of smooth r&b songs were an instant hit with listeners. by 1977, he was a radio staple with his own nightly show, “the quiet storm.”


named after a 1974 smokey robinson song, by his friend and mentor, cathy hughes, the quiet storm quickly became more than a radio show – it became a radio format that was duplicated by black radio stations though out the country. every night from 8pm-12am, quiet storm radio shows played mid and slow tempo r&b songs with very few interruptions. the show creating an easy listening and intimate mood for listens. it is usually the quiet storm that folks are referring to when they says “baby making music.”

melvin’s impact cannot be overstated. the quiet storm helped to make luther vandross, freddy jackson, anita baker, sade, babyface and keith sweat, just to name a few, r&b mega-stars.

in the late 1980s and early 1990’s, melvin became a fixture on BET as a co-host of “screen scene,” a daily show that in the same vein as entertainment tonight and access hollywood. he also filled in for video soul host donnie simpson on many occasions.


throughout the 1990’s, the quiet storm became cemented in black radio history. artists were recording and releasing songs specifically targeting the format – which by then had become a genre of its own. many artists often released “quiet story remixes.” but melvin, the format’s creator would not live to witness its growth.

on march 26, 1992, melvin lindsey died from complications of AIDS. he was just 36 years. a few nights before his death, after going public with his diagnosis and prognosis, melvin addressed listeners of WHUR, the radio station where his career began, to thank them for their support.

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About two week ago, I did the very rare thing of going live on Instagram. I asked my comrade and my good, good gurlfriend Abdul-Aliy Muhammad to join me as we discussed “How to Survive A Plague…Again.” For about an hour and a half, Abdul and I talked about what it was like to live through the AIDS epidemic as it was in the 1990s. We shared stories about bearing witness as our mothers navigate and provide support to those living and dying during a time when Black and Brown communities were left to their own devices. As a few dozen viewers watched and engaged with our Instagram chat, we shared how we were coping with the current COVID-19 pandemic and how we can honor and look to the work of poz activists of the past who created an organizing, mobilizing and survival guide for people surviving a plague. We landed on the Denver Principles.

So to continue that conversation and to honor the requests of several viewers who joined us during that chat,  here is Abdul-Aliy giving a brief history of the Denver Principles and how, 30 years later, the principles are still relevant.

The Denver Principles is a radical document, its contents fit on one page, but the words are sublime and pointed. The drafters of the principles stormed the National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference, which took place in June 1983. This conference, held in Denver, Colorado, would host the Second National AIDS Forum. At the closing presentation of the forum, Richard Berkowitz led the unrolling of a banner that read “Fighting For Our Lives” and read their declaration: We condemn attempts to label us victims” that “implies defeat” and suggests that we are helpless. “We are People With AIDS” demanding support and not a “scapegoat” to “blame” for “the epidemic or generalize about our lifestyles.” The crux of this declaration was to make clear that autonomy is still resident in our bodies, that we have the right “as full and satisfying  sexual and emotional lives as anyone else.” These words at a time when oppressive messaging told HIV positive people that they could no longer be fully seen as human because they seroconverted.

“Any revolution of the body owes its indebtedness to many enslaved people who found themselves at the behest of white supremacist structures of control, experimentation and intentional infection, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.”

These principles changed the relationship between medical provider and patient, expertise and care were held by both the AIDS patient and doctor. It was a bold repudiation of paternalism and showed the variance between those impacted by the disease and the ever present judgment of caregivers.  Berkowitz and Michael Cullen went on to pen “How To Have Sex In An Epidemic” stating that “sex doesn’t make you sick, diseases do” and offering examples of how to contain STIs from a “closed circle of fuck buddies” to “jerk off clubs” in what became truly iconic writing. Any revolution of the body owes its indebtedness to many enslaved people who found themselves at the behest of white supremacist structures of control, experimentation and intentional infection, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

Today we face an unprecedented strain on the already inadequate and anti-black U.S. healthcare infrastructure. This problem, coupled with a president that seems to be wearing no clothes, makes for a deadly combination. The rationing of care to those who have severe symptoms, which is discriminatory, is already happening. In Alabama, POZ reports that the state’s “pandemic guidelines recommend winnowing out people with certain medical conditions” including AIDS. Black women are being told that they aren’t a priority for COVID-19 testing and then later dying of the disease. Recent data reveals that COVID-19 is killing Black people  in large numbers. 70 percent of COVID-19-related deaths in Chicago are of Black people. This is being reflected in New Orleans and Milwaukie.

This means that organizing around something that models the Denver Principles would be just as needed now as it was then. A nation in crisis will seek to allocate resources to those deemed desirable by the system. This means that communities who are already stigmatized, marginalized, and given shoddy medical care will be the most vulnerable. Elderly, immunocompromised, and houseless people will be ravaged by COVI-19 without movements organized to ensure they will receive the care they deserve. Incarcerated people are also at a higher risk for sickness due to the lack of sufficient sanitation behind bars. I think we should be demanding the following:

  1. Free and adequate healthcare that allows everyone the ability to fight for their lives.
  2. Care that isn’t rationed, withheld, or denied.
  3. The right to resuscitation and that DNRs (Do Not Resuscitate orders) aren’t universally applied.

Abdul-Aliy A. Muhammad is a poz organizer and writer from Philadelphia.

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“Any disease that is treated as a mystery and acutely enough feared will be felt to be morally, if not literally, contagious.”

Susan Sontag, Illness As Metaphor

In December of 2019, a virus emerged in Wuhan, the capital city of the Hubei Province, located in China. This novel coronavirus was now beginning to infect, sicken and kill people. This stirred global pandamonium, rooted in anti-asian racism, prejudice and xenophobia. As the world began to construct narratives of how this emerged, coronavirus was steadily building up its network, and infecting many globally. Scientists point to a species jump, from animals to humans. This is the trajectory of many viruses we know of, such as HIV. It was named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization on February 11, 2020, meaning coronavirus disease and tagged with nineteen to establish that it surfaced in 2019. Interestingly enough, a simulation of a pandemic caused by a “novel zoonotic coronavirus” was held by the Center For Health Security, in October 2019. The scenario suggested that this virus would be “transmitted from bats to pigs to people that eventually becomes efficiently transmissible from person to person, leading to a severe pandemic.” In this simulation, the origin of the virus were pig farms in Brazil, but the accuracy of this exercise provides eerie foreboding.

Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, sounds familiar because it is in the family of viruses that caused the 2003 Sars Outbreak. This current outbreak was not quelled in the same way and now is identified as a pandemic, which means it is spreading rapidly, globally.

HIV history reminds us of another time of panic and uncertainty. HIV is transmitted by blood, seminal and vaginal fluid; anal fluid and breast milk, that enters the bloodstream through mucousal tissue and/or other ways. Sars-CoV-2 appears to spread by oral or nose droplets, aerosol and surfaces touched by hands, or indirectly sprayed by the droplets of those infected. This makes COVID-19 more contagious than HIV. It has been proven by the exponential infection rates growth around the world. Yet many people are committed to believing the racist notion that it is an “Asian” virus.


HIV first infected a young Black boy in St. Louis named Robert Rayford, who may have been the first person documented in the U.S. to die of AIDS. A reporter first talked about Robert in a Chicago Tribune article in 1987. HIV clocked the world’s collective consciousness on June 5, 1981 when the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) reported 5 cases of pneumocystis pneumonia among previously healthy “homosexuals” in Los Angeles. This lit a storm of hatefulness on the marginalized gay community and AIDS, which was once called the “Gay Related Immune Deficiency” became the juggernaut that leveled whole queer communities. Many beautiful people perished and there are still many dying silently of AIDS, even today.


Ronald Reagan, a republican, was president of the United States when HIV attacked and Donald Trump is currently a republican president during the coronavirus pandemic. Both are adherants to white supremacist frameworks of government, with Reagan concerned with trickle down economics and the war on drugs, a failure that lead to the mass incarceration of Black and brown folks, another enemy to HIV positive people. Historically, Reagan slowly dragged his feet during this public health crisis as many buried their loved ones. Trump, concerned with faux nationalism, currently uses his law and order rhetoric to galvanize white working class people against organized foes: One week it’s Black people in Chicago, the next Muslims, and lately it is China. By moving his target, it allows for a never ending list of the made up culprits of his imagined war that has devastating material impacts on communities he named as public enemies.

Reagan ignored the crisis, a top official laughed at AIDS and ACT UP fought back, organizing radical direct actions, throwing ashes on the white house lawn during the first Bush’s Presidency, holding public funerals, making trauma actionable and blowing lids off of hypocrisy, inaction and the violence of indifference. Reagan’s nonresponse was like Trump’s passive and deflecting response, both men, white and Presidents ravaged communities by either shifting blame, turning their backs or escalating fears by creating an enemy to point to. In Reagan’s day it was the gays and Trump’s enemy is China. Proving that white supremacy is the true parallel.

Like ACT UP, formations of other gay men came together as People With AIDS. Communities of the dying: the faggots, the transwomen and the sex workers took to the streets, collected medicines at home and shared knowledge to get us through an epidemic. We were held by a loving community of lesbians, radical doctors and unapologetic drag queens. We brazed through losing many while saving our souls and preserving our histories with undying collective work. We are always the answer we are searching for. Powerful, even when we are down, shining a light on the wrongs of humanity.

Abdul-Aliy A. Muhammad is a poz organizer and writer from Philadelphia.

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people living AIDS formed coalitions for each other years before then US present ronald reagan publicly acknowledged AIDS. people living with AIDS mobilized to feed, house, nurse, care and fight for themselves and each other. they became their own researchers, lobbyists and drug smugglers. and this was done before the advent of the internet and social media. people with living AIDS created the template of how to survive a plague as governments willfully fail us.

one of the people who was in the thick of AIDS advocacy from the mid-1980’s until his death in 1990, was queer activist, author and queer historian, vito russo.

vito’s activism was threaded throughout his entire existence. always an out and proud gay man, vito’s activism began immediately after the stonewall riots when he joined the then emerging gay activists alliance. he would later independently organize camp-film festivals examining the representation of gay and lesbians in film. his 1981 book “the celluloid closet” was a culmination of this work.

as one of the first out-gay men to create and host a cable access show in 1983, vito’s commitment to challenging the lgbtq representation in medio led his to co-found GLAAD.

after being diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, vito became an active member of ACT-UP, one of the most influential and effective organizing groups in history. during a 1988 an ACT-UP demonstration in front of the new york state capitol in albany, vito delivered a passionate speech entitled “why we fight” (full speech) that till this day still resonates. especially now as we all are now surviving a plague.

“why we fight” is a reminder of who we are and all the power we posses as people. it is also a call to action to continue to organize and survive with each other – every step of the way. it is also a promise of hope that this plague will end and we will win.

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last week social media was abuzz with the “reports” that corona, the beer that i drink when i have too many long islands, was experiencing a financial hit because of the onset of the covid-19 (coronavirus). i wouldn’t be surprised if there was a small segment of the US population who were afraid of drinking corona because the fear around d covid-19, however, sales for the beer brand are actually up 5%. but if sale were down, it would not the be the first time a brand suffered because their name was the same of a pandemic.

ayds, pronounced exactly like AIDS, was a popular appetite suppressant in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. unfortunately, the products name, purpose and marketing strategy proved to be their undoing as the AIDS pandemic grew.

not only was ayds and AIDS phonetically identical, they were both associated with weight loss. however, while the diet supplement was used voluntary weight loss, the massive weight loss experienced by people with living with or dying from complications of AIDS, was associated with sickness, death and quite frankly, punishment. and with hiv stigma and hysteria at its peak, marketing the diet supplement was impossible.

by 1988, 20,786 people had died of AIDS complications. With the country at large beginning to come to grips with the sobering reality of the epidemic, sales for ayds declined. the product would be entirely removed from the market by 1988.

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on june 5, 1981, the center for disease control (cdc) published an article in its morbidity and mortality weekly report (mmwr): pneumocystis pneumonia—los angeles. the article described cases of pneumocystis carinii pneumonia(pcp), a rare lung infection, in five young, white, previously healthy gay men in los angeles. the report stated that all of the men had other unusual infections in to pcp, indicating that their immune systems were not working. by the time the report was published, two of the five men had died and the other died soon after. this was the very first official reporting of what later became the aids epidemic.

in 1981, there were 234 known deaths due to aids, which before 1982 was actually called gay related immune deficiency (grid) by both health officials and mainstream media. this framing and the fear mongering messaging that immediately followed, along with the us government’s willful inaction, helped to create an epidemic that continues to impact our communities globally. 

someone once said that the shortest distance between life and death was aids. by 1993, just five years after then president reagan publically acknowledged the epidemic, aids was the leading cause of death for american ages 25-44.


38 years since the cdc report, we have witnessed profound breakthroughs in hiv treatment, prevention and even how it covered in some media outlets. however, black and latinx gay men, trans men and trans women continue to be disproportionately impacted and criminalized even as the hiv non-profit industry has gone by leaps and bounds.

hiv is still a social justice issue.

hiv is still a racial justice issue.

hiv is still a health issue.

no one is truly living without hiv in a world where it continues to impact those on the margins.

so on this day, we remember those who marched in past pride parades with zero t-cells. we remember those who yelled, “act up! fight back, fight aids!” we carry their legacies as we celebrate stonewall 50. we still rage and mourn because many of them would still be here had it not been for aids.

photo circa 1989 • philadelphia puerto rican day parade • courtesy of David acosta

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on this #MemorialDay, i am reminded of the 1988 “why we fight” speech given by queer rights and AIDS activist vito russo (july 11, 1946 – november 7, 1990) at ACT UP rallies.

may these selections serve as a reminder to those of us who were drafted into this war - we are not and we were never alone in our rage.

“Living with AIDS is like living through a war which is happening only for those people who happen to be in the trenches. Every time a shell explodes, you look around and you discover that you’ve lost more of your friends, but nobody else notices. It isn’t happening to them. They’re walking the streets as though we weren’t living through some sort of nightmare. And only you can hear the screams of the people who are dying and their cries for help. No one else seems to be noticing.

And it’s worse than a war, because during a war people are united in a shared experience. This war has not united us, it’s divided us. It’s separated those of us with AIDS and those of us who fight for people with AIDS from the rest of the population.

Someday, the AIDS crisis will be over. Remember that. And when that day comes — when that day has come and gone, there’ll be people alive on this earth — gay people and straight people, men and women, black and white, who will hear the story that once there was a terrible disease in this country and all over the world, and that a brave group of people stood up and fought and, in some cases, gave their lives, so that other people might live and be free.

And then after we kick the shit out of this disease, we are all gonna be alive to kick the shit out of this system so that this never happens again.”

Rest in power, Vito. You and millions of others would still be here had it not been for this government’s willful neglect and failure.

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on may 6, 1989, puerto rican freestyle/pop singer, safire, peaked at #12 on the hot 100 and #4 on the AC chart with the ballad, “thinking of you.”

born wilma cosmé in san juan puerto rico and raised in east harlem, safire was one of the first freestyle solo artist to land a deal with a major record label after her first two independently released singles, “don’t break my heart” (1986) and “let me be the one” (1987). both singles helped to break freestyle music, then called “latin hip-hop” at pop radio in new york, chicago, los angeles and miami. 

in the summer of 1988, safire released her self-titled debut album on polygram records. the lead single, “boy, i’ve been told,” penned by marc anthony, peaked at #48 on the hot 100 (an accomplishment for a dance song at the time) helped safire land the cover of the spin magazine, becoming the first latina artist to do so.

the follow-up single, “thinking of you”, would become her biggest hit to date across multiple formats. written by safire in memory of her uncle mario santiago who died of AIDS complications in 1984, “thinking” was a heartfelt remembrance of those lost during the onset of the epidemic.

the spanish translation of the song, “el recuerdo de ti”, translated by actor-singer ruben blades, was featured in a AIDS awareness public service announcement that aired on spanish language markets in both the US and across latin america.

in 1989, the number of U.S. reported AIDS cases reached 100,000. safire’s breakthrough hit also served as a breakthrough in HIV prevention messaging targeting latinxs during a period when targeted prevention messages were non-existent.

safire later received an ASCAP song writing award for “thinking.” she continued to record and perform but was not able to duplicate the success of “thinking.” 30 years later, we are still filled with gratitude that she used her platform to raise awareness about HIV. and because of her, her uncle mario santiago will never be forgotten.

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born on september 7, 1957, in columbia, ohio, jermaine, who was already a budding entertainer, got his first taste of fame when became a soul dancer after his family moved to chicago in 1972. jermaine became a local celebrity and when the show relocated to los angeles, jermaine, along with friend, jody watley followed.

by 1979, jody was scoring hits as part of the r&b group, shalamar. jermaine joined the group on tour as a background dancer and singer.


a chance meeting with boy george of culture club in 1983, not only resulted in jermaine providing backing vocals on the group’s top 10 hit, “miss me blind”, but the group financed jermaine’s demo that eventually landed him a deal with arista records

his debut single, the cheeky, “the word is out”, was released in 1984 and became a hit on the club circuit. it wasn’t until two years later with the release of his sophomore album, “frantic romantic”, that jermaine scored his biggest hit.

released in 1986, “we don’t have to take our clothes off” was touted by some as an “abstinence only” theme during a time when the country’s panic around hiv dominated prevention messaging. the song became a worldwide hit reaching top 5 in the united states, uk, germany and canada.

the follow-up single “jody” was inspired by his friend jody watley. while not a major cross-over hit, it did land at #9 on the dance chart in late 1986.

jermaine was able to bounce back in 1988, when “say it again", (still one of my fave pop songs of all time), peaked at #27 on the hot 100 and top 10 around the world. it was his last major hit before fading from the music scene in 1991.

on march 17, 1997, jermaine died of complications caused by HIV. he was just 39 years old. his burial site was left without a tombstone (it didn’t even have a grave marker) for over 17 years. jermaine finally received tombstone in 2014 after it was anonymously paid for by a fan.

jermaine, we remember you.

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joseph beam

december 30, 1954 - december 27, 1988

joseph beam was a fierce activist, poet and artist, who in his short time on this planet, provided and continues to provide, as charles stevens describes it, a compass for us to locate ourselves and to discover each other.

born and raised in philadelphia, pa, joseph began to gain national attention in the early 1980’s with his articles and stories. by 1984, the gay and lesbian press awarded him with a certificate for outstanding achievement for a minority journalist.

throughout the first half of the 80’s, joseph collected material for anthology of writings by and about black gay men.


in 1986, joseph’s book, “in the life” was released. the first anthology of writings by black gay men, included 29 authors and explored what it was like to be both black and gay, in america, at the height of the AIDS epidemic.


“in the life” was initially ignored by mainstream queer press and academia. over 30 years later, it is now widely regarded as a milestones in queer literature.


joseph was working on a follow-up to “in the life” when he died of AIDS-related complications on december 27, 1988 - three days shy of his 34th birthday.


joseph’s mother, dorothy beam and his friend, the late great essex hemphill, completed the work of joseph’s follow-up to “in the life.” it was published under the title of “brother to brother” in 1991.


joseph beam would have been 64 years today. his prolific words continue to inform us of a history that must always be remembered and his legacy continues to be a compass, a reminder that we may never forget to locate each other.

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in the fall of 1989, i was a 12 year-old fem as fuck youth who hungered for any queer representation on tv when i discovered the groundbreaking sitcom, “brothers.” the show, which was the first weekly sitcom on cable, had just ended it’s five-year run showtime and was now finding life in syndication.

on the surface, the show’s premise about three brothers who couldn’t be any more from different from each other, was typical. what separated “brothers” from other sitcoms at the time, was that one of the brothers, cliff, was gay and had an extremely flamboyant gay best friend named donald. while the show wasn’t the first sitcom to feature a gay character, that distinction goes to the short-lived 1972 sitcom “the corner bar”, “brothers” was the first to have both lead and secondary gay characters. something that we now take for granted. but in 1984, this was pretty revolutionary, especially during a time when anything gay was equated to AIDS, death and perversion.

“brothers” premiered as cable’s first weekly sitcom on showtime on july 13, 1984. the first season centered around the youngest brother, cliff’s coming out and his older brothers joe, a former professional football player and lou, the macho construction worker, struggle to support cliff.

of course, because my family didn’t have cable, i didn’t know this show existed until its syndication run on philly 57 in philadelphia. the station would later become the UPN channel and then the CW. 

anywho, it took just one episode for me to be hooked. it was unlike anything my younger-self had even seen. i watched the show religiously. i idolized donald so much and his unapologetic approach to existing. he smart, funny as hell, had style and fem as fuck. looking back, i now understand that part of my connecting with donald and for the entire show for that matter, was that the queer characters were fully developed. they were not just limited to the side-kick or just the comic relief. although, donald was the breakout star of the show. 

one of my favorite episodes of “brothers” is a season two episode entitled, “the stranger.” in the episode, joe learns that his former football teammate, bubba (played by late jamesavery of “the fresh prince of bel-air” fame), has AIDS. joe struggles with the news while cliff shuts down. this leaves donald to cut through the fear, trauma and pain by providing support and factual information.

In this first clip, bubba returns to philadelphia to visit joe. after learning of bubba’s retirement, joe is baffled and wants to know what is going on with his best friend. you will notice at the start of the clip that bubba is afraid to hug joe.

“the stranger” premiered on oct. 23, 1985. by this time, hiv infections tripled from the year before and claimed over 8,000 people just that year. this episode was written to help educate the masses. in this clip, bubba discloses and joe is left stunned. cliff is visually shaken that AIDS has made it’s way closer to his world. 

what makes this episode so powerful is that communicates the fear of loving each other that gay men, even in this day and age, still have about loving other gay men. cliff so painfully states, “how do you deal with the fact that terror is a real thing and that death comes from loving. And the only kind of loving that you want.” donald quickly reminds cliff that AIDS does not come from loving. Even in 1985, while gay men were fighting to live, we were being socialized to believe that our kind of love is dangerous and risky.

cliff: aids has been this boogieman in my closet for the past year and it’s calling me back in. in this clip, donald, whom i absolutely loved, provided me my first lesson on hiv stigma and the government’s intentional disgraceful response.

the final scene, even 33 years later, still makes me crumble. there was no HIV treatment in 1985. hell, the virus was identified just a year before the airing of this episode. the hatred of people living with AIDS, fueled by homophobia and by the government’s disgraceful inaction, was just beginning to peak. 

sadly, this episode is never given the same celebration that is given to the “designing women” AIDS 1987 episode, “killing all the right ones.” remarkably, “brothers” is seldom ever mentioned whenever people talk or write about the history of AIDS and/or queer representation on TV. this show is not even mentioned on wikipedia’s list of HIV positive TV characters.

“brothers” was ahead their time. in many ways, it was the pre-curser to “will & grace” and in it’s short time, “brothers” still managed to address the stigma of AIDS and the loneliness and fear it creates in our communities.

i am still hoping that showtime releases the entire series on dvd. until then, i will keep speaking of a show that marked me for life. 

- louie a. ortiz-fonseca

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i am just five days shy of the second anniversary of my 40th birthday. you can celebrate with me by buying me a long island iced tea (with pineapple juice 🍹) - but instead of actually buying me one, you can donate that $15 to THE GRAN VARONES

for the past 4 years, gran varones has been committed to amplifying queer and aids history and the stories of latinx and afro-latinx gay, queer, trans, bi men and bois.

the project is completely volunteer-based and thrives because of community support. so please consider celebrating my birthday with me by donating.

[venmo & cash app option available. just message me for info)

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there are so many who walked this earth and cracked open the universe just enough for their energy to linger. one of these people was marcelino sánchez. marcelino was a gay puertorican actor who starred in the 1979 cult classic, “the warriors.” today...

there are so many who walked this earth and cracked open the universe just enough for their energy to linger. one of these people was marcelino sánchez. marcelino was a gay puertorican actor who starred in the 1979 cult classic, “the warriors.” today we speak his name. 


marcelino was born in cayey, puerto rico in 1957. after studying painting art, he was drawn to the drama of the acting world. he would go on to star in the spain production of “hair.”

marcelino’s most notable role was in the 1979 motion picture, “the warriors.” based on the sol yurick’s novel which centers on a new york gang that must fight to survive in order to make it back from the bronx to their home turf in coney island.


in 1980, marcelino starred in “the bloodhound gang”, a series segment in the pbs program “3-2-1.” he would star in guest roles on “chips” and “hill street blues.”

marcelino got very sick in 1986. living in LA, his sister & brother were there to take care of him until his death from AIDS complications on nov. 21, 1986 at just 28 years old. 


marcelino doesn’t have a star on the hollywood walk of fame. there isn’t even much information about him that can be easily found. so we speak his name so that history never forgets those we lost in the first waves of the AIDS epidemic. 

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Today is the 32nd anniversary of my lover Jeff Leibowitz’s death. He died sometime either during the night or during the early morning of February 11, 1986. He was first diagnosed with Kaposi Sarcoma, now recognized as an AIDS-related opportunistic...

Today is the 32nd anniversary of my lover Jeff Leibowitz’s death. He died sometime either during the night or during the early morning of February 11, 1986. He was first diagnosed with Kaposi Sarcoma, now recognized as an AIDS-related opportunistic infection, on his 30th birthday on September 9, 1980. We had only been together for six months. I swore to him that I would never leave him. I never did. I was with him until the end.

Out of the many things that I have done in my life, I am proudest of this. I stayed with him in those scary days when no one knew what was happening. I went dancing with him, I shaved his head, I gave him his first pork chop. I took care of him and fought for him in those terrible early days. Jeff changed my life. What he had to go through in the early days of the HIV epidemic was nightmarish. He is the reason why I became an AIDS activist. After he died, I swore that no one should go through what he did.

I will always be grateful to my family for immediately accepting him as a member of the family, immediately, especially when his own family couldn’t or refused to deal with his illness. My family would kiss and hug him in the days when no one knew how the disease was spread. 

Our relationship started when we met at a Christmas party for what was then called the Gay Switchboard of New York. We were both in the kitchen standing by the garbage can when someone said, “Where’s the trash?” and we looked at each other. We laughed and started talking. It ended six years months when I was shoveling dirt onto his coffin in a traditional Jewish funeral.

I really have no idea where I would be now if it weren’t for Jeff. I will always be grateful for having Jeff in my life and I will always miss him. Always.

Robert Vazquez-Pacheco, New York

Robert is Nuyorican writer and visual artist.

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