Like many people I’m sure, I like to think I have a special relationship with POZ magazine, twenty years old last month. Here’s mine.
I was diagnosed with HIV in September 1993, I was working at the time in a lofty position with one of the major Canadian banks, senior enough to have an office on the 53rd floor with a commanding view of the Toronto waterfront. I had a secretary just outside my door. So It was inconceivable that I would tell anyone that a) I was gay, b) I had contracted a dread disease through sex with other men and c) I would likely be dying soon. So I didn’t tell my boss, colleagues or anyone else at wok any of these things - no one, in, fact, except my partner (who tested negative by the way. He’s still with me today.)
I’ve told this story more than a few times so bear with me if you’ve heard it. But fast forward six months to the spring of 1994 and I see the movie Philadelphia and Tom Hanks changes my whole attitude to disclosure - and in the process turns me life on top of itself. Cut a long story short, I disclose to the bank, go on long term disability as a prelude to dying and, to pass the time, enter the world of AIDS volunteering as an alternative to watching Judge Judy reruns all day.
What does this have to do with POZ magazine, you might ask? Well the AIDS Service Organization which I chose to trade suit and tie for black t-shirt and Doc Martens was the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT), still alive and kicking today at Church and Carlton, on the edge of Toronto’s downtown gay core. They put me on the front desk, doing reception which I took to like a pig takes to shit. I was good at it too, Loved engaging everyone who came in to the door, probably far too inquisitive about what they were there for, but friendly is important, right? Anyway, there were brief periods of inactivity and even lunch hours during which I read through ACT’s extensive collection of HIV related magazines on display by the door.
One of the first which caught my eye was issue number one of POZ, released April 1994, the month I started at ACT. I read it cover to cover, then later subscribed and read every subsequent issue for years. I couldn’t believe that there was a glossy mag devoted entirely to people like me who were dying. True, early issues were full of ads entreating readers to sell their life insurance at an absurd discount, but the editorial content was, and remains, miraculously good. Some issues, like the famous 1999 issue with Tony Valenzuela, a barebacking activist, made a lasting impression that continues to this day.
Sean Strub, (below left )active in the community still as executive director of the Sero Project, was the founder. He used to publish his own lab results in each issue as an educational tool and it was worrying to see him go downhill with KS and other symptoms until saved by ART.
I thought it would be interesting to read his first editorial, which he published under the acronym S.O.S. How much have things changed, you ask? Here it is. It strikes me as both of those times and, alarmingly, of ours too.
by Sean Strub
Despair to hope. Fear to knowledge.
1. There is no cure. There won’t be one. AIDS has become "cancerized." AIDS activists are dead, burnt-out or bored. Families and friends have convinced themselves of their own helplessness, feeding the hopelessness felt by people with AIDS. AIDS groups are marked by dissent and despair. Too much of the fight against AIDS is driven by greed, ego and power.
2. People with AIDS are living longer and healthier lives. More treatments are available today. A vaccine is around the corner. New treatments are coming on-line soon. AIDS researches work selflessly for long hours. AIDS activism has helped drive the campaign for reform of the healthcare system. Astounding individual stories of courage, compassion and commitment abound.
3. A lot of both.
Hope and despair. Excitement and depression. Greed and generosity. Anger and gratitude. Fear and courage. That about sums up AIDS, doesn’t it? But it is not that black and white. The fight against AIDS has been made of thousands of small steps forward and thousands of small steps backward. POZ intends to be one of the steps forward, to provide a better understanding of the disease and its impact on our society.
POZ will cover AIDS from the eyes of everyone affected by the disease, including families, friends, neighbors, co-workers and caregivers of persons who are HIV positive. Anyone impacted by AIDS will benefit from POZ.
Through POZ, we hope to shed light on the policies, people and practical issues involved with AIDS and, in the process, help people with AIDS lead longer and healthier lives. In my view, for a newly-diagnosed person with AIDS, information is a more important first step than any pill, potion or prayer.
Thank you for joining us with this inaugural issue. We look forward to your comments, ideas and involvement as we continue to shape POZ editorially.
Congratulation and thanks, POZ, from all of your readers here at PositiveLite.com.who have made the journey with you . . . .