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Hank Trout is a writer and editor, a 40-year resident of San Francisco, and a 31-year long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS. In the 1980s, he edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines. Currently, he is Senior Editor, columnist, and feature writer at A&U: America’s AIDS Magazine, the country’s oldest AIDS magazine. A five-time nominee for the prestigious Pushcart Prize for writing, he lives with his husband Rick Greathouse. This is the fourth year that Hank has contributed to the Art & Pride Exhibit.
Celebrating Community – and Hope
by Hank Trout
We’ve been here before.
This is not the first time our community has lived through a pandemic, fearful for our own health, worried that our friends and lovers and family would fall victim to an insidious virus. Nearly forty years ago, another virus invaded our community, invaded our bodies, and decimated a generation. We are all too familiar with the lurching incompetence of an indifferent government; we know too well the long wait for an effective treatment or a vaccine; we’ve seen before the ignorant, racist push to blame someone; we’ve heard the ignorant proclamations of “men of God”; we remember watching the body count steadily rise and rise and then rise some more so that we became inured to mourning, numb to the pain. We remember learning to live with grief.
During the AIDS pandemic, we lost so much. So many young lives brutally snuffed out, so many friends withered and gone, so many lovers cremated or buried. The loss to the arts alone is unfathomable — so many plays that will never be performed, songs that will never be sung, artwork that will never be painted, photographs that will never be printed, leaders that will never rise. But worse, we lost our innocence. The first brush with freedom and liberation that we cherished in the 1970s came crashing down around us in the 1980s and ‘90s, much as the economy is crashing around us now.
But through it all – through the pain and the tears, through the grief and the chaos, through the hospice visits and the memorial services, through the bigotry and hatred that the pandemic intensified — no matter what we lost, there are two things we never gave up.
Our Pride. And our Hope.
We have earned our Pride. From the Mattachine Society, established in 1948 by Harry Hay and the Daughters of Bilitis, established in 1955, through the 1959 riots at Cooper Do-Nuts in Los Angeles and the 1966 riots at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco, LGBTQ people have fought, sometimes physically fought, for the simplest of rights — to assemble without harassment, to live free of the threat of violence, for adequate healthcare, to love whomever we choose. The Stonewall Riots in 1969 galvanized our community like never before. Along the way from Stonewall to the present day, we have fought for and won non-discrimination laws at the local and state level, ensuring our access to housing and employment; we have fought for and won the right to serve openly in our country’s military; we have fought for and won the right to marry whom we love. Faced with the horrors of the AIDS pandemic, we rose to our highest heights of compassion — even when mourning our dead seemed like a full-time endeavor, we made time to care for our sick. The artists and performers among us lent their time and energy and talents to raising hundreds of millions of dollars for research and proper care. We opened our hearts and our homes to those who needed us most. With ACT UP and other organizations, we marched and fought for access to medication — and won. And for the first time in our history, lesbians and gay men came to recognize that we are one community, one Tribe, as our lesbian sisters marched to the front lines of the fight for their fallen gay brothers. We became the gold standard for compassion and fortitude.
For fifteen years, 1981 through 1996, we fought for our lives – and spent the next twenty-five years fighting for our right to live.
And through it all, we emerged with our heads held high, our spirits renewed, our community intact, and our hope justified. Our rainbow colors never faded, our solidarity never waned, and our love for one another never faltered.
We have every right to celebrate our Pride!
When Harvey Milk told us, “You gotta give ‘em hope!” we understood immediately what he meant. Hope for a gentler, kinder world where we could live safely and love freely; hope that LGBTQ youth could live free of the threat of violence and hatred; hope that all of our tribe, here at home and around the globe, will someday be spared the condemnation of the religious, spared the indifference and hostility of governments, spared the prejudice and ignorance that we Elders in the Tribe have fought against for many, many decades.
That Hope still lives. In these days of social distancing and sheltering in place, we are sustained by our Hope — we know that someday we will be together again. This too, as they say, shall pass. We know that we will emerge from this pandemic together. We know that soon we will be able to gather and celebrate and parade again, with our heads held high and our rainbow flags waving even higher.
Community, Pride, and Hope are in our DNA. We will never let anything tear our Community asunder; we will never let anyone diminish our Pride; and we will never, ever give up Hope.