The first time I came across the AIDS Memorial Instagram page, it was purely by accident. I was scrolling through and saw a picture of two men, so I paused and read the story that followed. I was standing in line at the Hollywood Trader Joes. I had to walk away, head to the bathroom and lock the door, because I couldn’t stop crying.
Maybe I was being ridiculous, but every time I find myself scrolling through The AIDS Memorial on Instagram, reading the stories of love and friendship and loss — in the form of short profiles of people who lost their lives to HIV, and of those left behind — I always end up crying.
But here’s the other thing that happens to me when I read through the stories: I’m left with an amazing sense of hope — in love, in friendship, in family, in how lucky we are to share in each other’s lives, and in our ability to heal each other.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Stuart, the founder of The AIDS Memorial.
Can you tell me why you started The AIDS Memorial page?
We always hear the statistics, but the people behind the statistics are forgotten. I hope The AIDS Memorial addresses this sad reality by being a constant reminder that they were here, they existed, they mattered and still do.
Why do you think The AIDS Memorial is striking such a chord now, as many of us are living in places that are freer and more tolerant to LGBTQ issues than they were even 10 years ago?
I’m still surprised The AIDS Memorial has struck such a chord. For some, it’s a needed outlet to share their stories after years of silence and shame, and it’s liberating to be able to share these stories with others who have been in a similar situation. With some distance from the past, people are ready to talk now. Their wounds are less raw. I also think there’s now a greater thirst to know about our history and AIDS — our Holocaust, our Vietnam.
I think the danger that comes with freedom and acceptance is complacency. That by forgetting we erase our history, allowing it to possibly repeat itself. The challenge is to live in the moment but to also honor our past. This idea of remembering — of not forgetting — is strong at The AIDS Memorial page.
History is still repeating itself right now. I mean, there are allegedly concentration camps in Chechnya where gays are being brutalized. Yet nothing is being done on an international level to address this. Racism and anti-Semitism are still rife in our society, despite Martin Luther King and despite the end of Nazi Germany. Remembering is certainly a starting point. But it’s clearly not enough.
The one thing I know to be true is that we can change the world, even if it’s by taking little steps. By being open about our queerness, our HIV status. By refusing to allow anyone to shame us or tell us we are somehow not deserving.
This, for me, is the power of The AIDS Memorial. It reminds me that if we all join in together, if we tell our stories, if we refuse to be marginalized and denied, if we demand our visibility — then we are stronger.
Check out The AIDS Memorial on Instagram here.
Featured image: Juan Dubose was a boyfriend of beloved artist Keith Haring and a New York City DJ. He died of AIDS in 1989, one year before Haring. Read his story here.