Hundreds ‘converge’ to end stigma

Messages of hard work ahead, the need to end stigma and hope for the future rang clear at “Convergence: Forging the Path,” which delved deep into the advances and challenges facing the HIV/AIDS community.

The Creating Change program was sponsored by Gilead and included a performance by Todrick Hall, remarks by Black AIDS Institute Executive Director Phill Wilson, Dr. Richard A. Elion of Whitman-Walker Health and a moving piece by storyteller and HIV activist Ken Williams.

Wilson recognized the advances that have developed in the fight to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, noting that diagnostic tools today “allow us to see the epidemic in ways we never have before,” but pointed a finger at the challenges that lie ahead. 

“Let’s not get it twisted: We have not ended the AIDS epidemic yet,” Wilson said, citing things like stigma, racism, homophobia and transphobia that have fueled the epidemic, but which have shifted over time. “We’ve come to a different place in time where we can talk about when the age of AIDS will be no more. Pills will never cure HIV. Science is not going to be the answer. The answer in some ways will be the collective will of people in this room.”

“Convergence” concluded with a State of the Movement from the National LGBTQ Task Force. 

“I am so honored to stand here today with my colleagues,” Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey said. “Like perhaps many of you, I woke up the day after the election with a lot of emotion and not actually for partisan reasons but for reasons much greater.” 

Carey expressed the need for the LGBT community to resist the new administration and to not allow communities to be divided. 

“We will be tested in our hope and in our resolve to stand together. There will be enormous pressure on all of us to be divided from each other, to turn against each other in the hopes that our energies won’t be directed towards the threats of this administration.” 

“We have been here before,” she added. “Whether fighting slavery, fascism, the genocide of indigenous people and culture, McCarthyism or the government’s complicity in hundreds and thousands of deaths by AIDS, we know how to organize and sustain each other. We are a resilient people. If there is ever a time to fight for something bigger than yourself, now is that time.” 

Task Force Faith Work Director Naomi Christine Leapheart closed out the event by addressing the need for attention on intersectionality within the LGBT community. 

“We aimed for marriage, convinced that maybe poverty and homelessness among LGBTQ youth and trans communities were just too far outside our actual grasp. We got excited when a few folks got starring roles on mainstream TV, we forgot that so many black and brown and native queer bodies remain invisible.”