Friday, August 7, 2015

From the Archives: Article originally published in Beyond Race Magazine

The ‘H’ Man Brings the Heat
by Alina Oswald

H is for Heat.  H is for Harlem.  H is for Hickson, a native of Harlem with an ear for the heated stories of the inner city and with a few tales of his own.  “Harlem is where the heart is,” 36-year-old Hickson says, willing to talk just about everything but his first name (which, at least for now, remains a mystery).
He graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1998, with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Advertising and Marketing Communications.  While attending college on a full-time basis, Hickson also worked as a freelance stylist, a job that led to a wardrobe coordinator position with Audrey Swaltz and the Ground Crew, a recognized backstage management team.  It was here that he was put in charge of coordinating catwalk queen Naomi Campbell’s outfits.
Five years into his work, on September 10, 2001, Hickson decided to leave the industry, unaware of the tragic events about to happen the following day.
“After 9/11, I was living off my savings,” Hickson recalls.  He also started to put his life experiences into words at that time.  Soon, writing became a creative outlet for Hickson.  He was writing poetry in between job interviews.  At the advice of his friends, Hickson published his poems in Ghettoheat, a collection of verse portraying the experiences, energy, and vibe of urban inner city life.  Hickson says life on the streets of Harlem includes “the good, the bad, and [definitely] the ugly, [but also] the beauty of it, too.  It is not all tragic, it’s love as well,” he says.  “I love my people and my native place, even if, sometimes, it [can] get chaotic.”
    To self-publish his poetry book, Hickson founded his own multimedia company, Ghettoheat.  It all happened in 1996 in the Village during Veteran’s Day weekend.  Hickson was wrongly accused of not using a token for his train trip.  He was handcuffed and locked in the men’s bathroom on the train platform…without being allowed to use the bathroom.  It took the police four hours to release him, because they were waiting for the shift change.  The ten officers involved enforced an illegal strip search of Hickson, violating his rights.  This led to a class action suit, which Hickson won in 2000. 
Three years later, Hicskon received his check.  Two days later, on June 4th, 2003, he started his company, Ghettoheat, “What exists before, during, and after the fire,” as defined on its website, www.ghettoheat.com. 
Ghettoheat’s mission is to educate and empower everyone through entertainment by creating awareness, be it for safer sex, HIV/AIDS, or street-life awareness, in its products.
While starting with only one author (Hickson), Ghettoheat now publishes six authors and is seeking other new and original voices.  Ghettoheat authors come from all paths of life and from everywhere across the country.  Two of them, Jason Poole and Damon “Amin” Meadows, are co-authors of Convict’s Candy, a novel inspired by actual events and the authors’ personal experiences.  It exposes the reality of life behind bars and issues like HIV/AIDS and sexual harassment among convicts through the story of a trans-woman locked together with the male inmates. 
While the two authors are awaiting their soon-to-come release, Hickson is helping out with promoting Convict’s Candy through book events around New York City.  After all, Hickson believes in the powerful message of Convict’s Candy.  That’s why he decided to make it a Ghettoheat production.  
But Ghettoheat is much more than a multimedia company.  Ghettoheat is a movement against illiteracy within inner cities, providing a creative outlet especially for youth to express themselves freely through the art of writing.  Ghettoheat Movement has established a college scholarship fund intended for young adults pursuing careers in journalism and/or creative arts.  Funding for the scholarship comes partly from the sales of Ghettoheat products.
Ghettoheat Movement is also about everyday people across the world united in their efforts to promote the importance of reading.  As defined on Hickson’s website, Ghettoheat Movement’s mission is “to find a solution for the serious, ongoing problem of illiteracy within urban communities.”
While dedicating his work to improve the lives of others through fighting illiteracy and bringing into the open real issues of life on the street, Hickson also has goals of his own.  He hopes that soon it will be possible to make Ghettoheat books into movies and, therefore, add to the ways in which Ghettoheat can help.  After all, Hickson concludes , “[Ghettoheat] is all about making a difference.”   

Friday, July 17, 2015

From the Archives: Damaged Goods a Review
Originally published in A&U Magazine

Damaged Goods
Directed by Nadia Buckmire

Review by Alina Oswald

Dead Tree. Lensbaby Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Dead Tree. Lensbaby Photography by Alina Oswald.

"Damaged Goods" is educative, as much as it's honest, raw and candid.  Its sense of humor allows us to look at HIV and AIDS in a different way.  Filmed over a period of two years and a half in New York City, Los Angeles, and Tucson, "Damaged Goods" premiered on November 8th, 2003, in New York City, at the New York International Independent Film Festival. 
Nadia Buckmire concentrated the 150 hours of initially footage into a 62-minute documentary packed with most current facts and statistics about HIV and AIDS, "people on the street" opinions, and interviews with leading medical authorities, HIV/AIDS activists, like Craig Miller, founder of AIDS Walk, and shelter workers.  The film concentrates on the latest HIV testing method, "Orasure," and shares the anxiety of six volunteers - testing for HIV for the first time - and also their results, one week later. 
"Damaged Goods" tells the story of five heterosexual men and women living with HIV or AIDS.  Characters represent different age, ethnic, and social groups in our society.  They all share their passions and joys and talk about their fears and challenges of living with the virus.  They talk with honesty about subjects like disclosure and stigma, relationships and lessons learnt.  They all live with a terminal disease - HIV or AIDS, but is this reason enough to consider themselves 'damaged goods'?  Those who do better be 'handled with care.'
Acintia and Mario try to raise their children and see them graduate from high school.  They are both HIV positive.  Their positive attitude about life helps them overcome the "curses" of living with HIV. The virus "doesn't go away," so, they "put it in [their] pocket and live."  Jennifer is a young mother and wife.  She has to live not only with HIV but also with the "stigma" of "being Asian."  Nancy, a Philippine mother with grown-up kids, also talks about the "stigma" of being HIV positive inside Asian communities.  Tom is a 53-year-old rock 'n roll musician who always got everything he wanted in life.  He ended up with something he didn't want - full blown AIDS.  Diagnosed in 1997, he calls AIDS "a blessing" and also "a curse."  It's also his life.  Coming from a "very conservative" New England family, Sharon considers her life "boring" and "ordinary."  Diagnosed in 1995, she refuses to get depressed about being HIV positive.
 The film played at GMHC (Gay Men Health Center) in New York City, on December 4th, 2003 and it continues to be distributed in centers and high schools across the country.  "Damaged Goods" is a must-see documentary, especially for those who know little about the reality of living with HIV or AIDS.

Alina Oswald
Writer/Photographer/Author

Friday, July 10, 2015

From the Archives: Article originally published in A&U Magazine

Rights and Obligations
By Alina Oswald

What is my main problem?
What do I need to do?
Why is it important for me to do this?

AIDS On Going Going On Bags. Photo by Alina Oswald.
AIDS On Going Going On Bags. Photo by Alina Oswald.
These three simple questions (otherwise known as "AskMe3") capture the core of a healthy doctor-patient relationship. Patients have the right to ask (and doctors or nurses have the obligation to answer) these questions at every appointment with a healthcare professional-be that for an HIV test, AIDS follow-up, or a cold. 
Doctor Sharon Denise Allison-Ottey supports using AskMe3 especially when it comes to chronic diseases like HIV/AIDS, dealing with multiple medications, when the best of us become a bit confused by what we need to do and when we need to call the doctor versus not. She is an MD and health educator who gives talks in (particular African American) women's health and HIV/AIDS.  She is also the Director of Health and Community Outreach Initiatives with COSHAR Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to health and community education.  And part of the study material is available at www.AskMe3.org, a website offering detailed information on "health literacy" defined as "the ability to read, understand and act on health needs." 
Doctor Allison-Ottey also advocates AskMe3 and health literacy in her debut novel through which she enables patients to better communicate with their healthcare professionals and take better control of their health, while zooming in on the reality of living with HIV/AIDS.  Part of the proceeds goes toward Get It Done - HIV/AIDS Initiative in Women, a national campaign trying to raise awareness and encourage people to get tested.  All I Ever Did Was Love A Man is a new fiction genre called medical romance and the first in a series of future books. 
"[And] if it is about the book, I'm Sharon Allison-Ottey," the author points out as we start our phone interview, because she doesn't know many people that want to read a piece of fiction by a doctor.  For her, fiction has to have purpose and to inform, "to have teeth."    
And in that sense, All I Ever Did Was Love A Man resonates with a wide audience around the country.  The messages posted on the author's website speak for themselves.  "I'm getting emails from people reading it and having testing," the author says, but this is only part of what she intends to accomplish with her debut book.  She also hopes her novel will open the door to doctor-patient conversations in a non-medical way and teach about HIV/AIDS without readers actually feeling that they've read a health education book.  
And she accomplishes this by introducing us to real-to-life characters with which we can easily identify: Sabrena, the protagonist, is presented through her multi-level interactions with those who populate her world.  She is first and foremost a mother, a friend, also a sexual being who also happens to have HIV/AIDS.     
"There is no one Sabrena," Allison-Ottey explains, "[but rather] a collage of a lot of women and a lot of their stories."  Sabrena's special friendship with Vance is particularly important for the book.  By portraying the two characters in different HIV/AIDS phases, races, genders and sexual orientations, the relationship helps kicking the stereotypes down, while setting the stage for open-minded conversations about HIV/AIDS. 
Allison-Ottey thinks of her book as a conversation piece that will allow people to share their experiences with HIV/AIDS, because most people at this point know someone who's either HIV positive or has AIDS. 
"We have to really begin to look at this disease just as we look at hypertension, diabetes, any of those things," she concludes, "[Because AIDS] is part of the individual, but it does not define it."     

NOTE: For more information, visit www.allieverdidwasloveaman.com and www.cosharfoundation.org. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

From the Archives: Article originally published in Out IN Jersey Magazine

Christopher Street: A Universal Symbol of Pride



Some of us may associate Christopher Street with New York City, the Village or Pride Parade, but over the years Christopher Street has become more of a universal symbol of Pride. The Stonewall riots of June 1969 have inspired people beyond New York City and the U.S. and resonated with individuals all around the world.
Balloons of rainbow colors form the Rainbow Flag at NYC Pride. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Balloons of rainbow colors form the Rainbow Flag at NYC Pride. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

The name of the event may vary from country to country-Gay Pride, pride parade and even Worldpride.  Europeans, for example, celebrate their Pride through Europride, an annual parade inaugurated in London, in 1992. In Germany it's known as Christopher Street Day or simply CSD.

Berlin, Germany. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved. In 2010 I visited Berlin, for the first time after the fall of the Wall, for the first time, for me, as one unified city. Beautiful city, I might add.
Bremen and Berlin hosted the first German CSDs in 1979, while the first documented German LGBT parade took place in M¸nster, in 1972. CSD-related events start as early as May and continue until October in cities like Dresden, Frankfurt, Cologne, Berlin, and Hamburg.
And a hint of Germany....Sylt Market Center. Sylt is a German Island, at the border between Germany and Denmark. Photo by Alina Oswald

Each year, CSD organizers strive to schedule the events at the end of June, but that is not always possible. Other happenings-like 2006 World Cup-can sometimes change their plans. Major cities like Cologne (with one of the largest CSD parades in Germany) and Berlin (which also hosts the larger Love Parade) schedule their CSDs in the July-August timeframe, while Hamburg plans its events at the beginning of August. CSD's name comes, indeed, from the actual Christopher Street in New York City.

For those interested in experiencing the German Pride this coming summer: CSD Munich is scheduled for July 27th, Berlin for June 23rd, Frankfurt Pride week is June 16th to June 24th and Hamburg's is planned for August 3rd to August 5th. Most Germans speak fluent English, so communication is no problem. Though knowing even a few words of German is much appreciated.  

The Rainbow Flag. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
The Rainbow Flag at Jersey City Pride Fest. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
A few months after its 2006 CSD, I put my own German language skills to test during my visit to Hamburg. A diverse city and second largest in Germany, Hamburg is located at the North Sea, at the junction of rivers Elbe and Alster, the latter forming two artificial lakes within the city: Binnenalster (Inner Alster) and Aussenalster (Outer Alster). My guide, Sina (pronounced like the Warrior Princess), took me everywhere from the Warehouse District and Reeperbahn (the "Bourbon Street" of Hamburg) to Saint Georg District ("The Village" of Hamburg). 

Last August, Saint Georg marked the starting point of Hamburg's CSD parade. Sina was one of the four thousand participants who walked in the parade, all the way to Binnenalster. But the Inner Alster-with its famous dragon statue-didn't mark the end but rather the starting point to another CSD event in yet another city.  


Alina Oswald
Writer/Photographer

Friday, June 26, 2015

From the Archives: The AIDS Museum
Article originally published in Out IN Jersey Magazine

NJ Hosts the Opening of the First Ever National AIDS Museum

Thailand has one and so does South Africa. Now the United States also has a National AIDS Museum. It opened with Eyes of Mercy art show on November 11th at Seton Hall University in South Orange.

Eyes of Mercy. AIDS Museum Opening Night, 2006. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Eyes of Mercy. AIDS Museum Opening Night, 2006. Photo by Alina Oswald.
"It's important to me [to start here] because that's where I work-I'm an alumnus," Ashley Grosso, AIDS Museum Executive Director, explained at the opening event.
A Seton Hall graduate (with a major in diplomacy and international relations), Grosso is also a founding member of the Red Cross Club at the campus through which she became interested in HIV/AIDS. When members of the Club brought to school a panel of the AIDS memorial quilt, she became interested in using artwork as a tool to raise AIDS awareness and educate people about the pandemic-hence the idea of a National AIDS Museum. 

Eyes of Mercy showcases AIDS-inspired works of artists from across the country:
     Watercolor artist Bob Armstrong of New Jersey was present at the opening. He talked about AIDS prevention and shared his own survival stories. 
The AIDS Museum: Opening Night, 2006. Photo by Alina Oswald.
The AIDS Museum: Opening Night, 2006. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Photographer Kurt Weston of California has lost most of his sight to CMV retinitis. His displayed artwork deals with the physical and emotional impact that visual loss can have on an individual. His Journey Through the Darkness is the exhibit's feature photograph. 
The National AIDS Museum will find a permanent home in Newark. But for now, the exhibit will travel across the country. Next stop-the New School, New York City.

For more about HIV, AIDS and other related works, please contact Alina Oswald and/or visit her online at Art, AIDS, & Others.

Friday, June 19, 2015

From the Archives: The Invisible People, a Book Review originally published in A&U Magazine

The Invisible People-How the U.S. Has Slept Through the Global AIDS Pandemic, the Greatest Humanitarian Catastrophe of Our Time

By Greg Behrman
Reviewed by Alina Oswald

Written in an accessible, And the Band Played On way, the story of The Invisible People reaches out to its audience offering a unique lesson in AIDS-its politics and history.  The book is the result of almost three years of Greg Behrman's detailed research gathered from more than two hundred interviews with approximately one hundred policy makers and thinkers.  Armed with two decades of studying AIDS, especially AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa, the author explains the social, economical and political toll the disease takes on people and uses his book as a tool to raise AIDS awareness. 

The Invisible People explores the key reasons behind U.S. slow response-in comparison to other countries-to the global AIDS pandemic.  For example, President Bill Clinton dedicates most of his time and energy now to his AIDS foundation, yet, while he was president and had the incredible opportunity to take advantage of the global AIDS issue, he didn't.   The book reflects the author's passion to find out the reason behind this "a catastrophe in a catastrophe," as he calls the U.S. failure to try to understand and react to the global pandemic.  The book brings to life events surrounding pioneers like Doctor Joe McCormic, "the old virus hunter," and people with enough power to influence global and national AIDS awareness and to generate the political pressure needed to increase U.S. interest in the global pandemic.

The Disappearing Act. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
The Disappearing Act. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.


The book engages its readers in tracking down global AIDS through real life stories of medical doctors, politicians, activists, artists and journalists like Colin Powell, Bill Clinton and Bono, who make a difference in fighting the pandemic on the global and national front.  In the process, we learn that we can also leave our own imprints in the fight against global AIDS. 

The Invisible People allows its audience to better understand HIV/AIDS-related issues here at home and in the world, and to draw a broader, global and real image of its magnitude.  As readers, we learn that there's a lot we can do.  Possibilities are at our reach, resources are available and affordable.  We can choose to remain silent or we can use the book as a tool to raise AIDS awareness at home, in the States, and around the world.  At a time when humanity faces "no crisis more lethal than the global AIDS pandemic" The Invisible People gives us a choice and an opportunity to meet face to face with AIDS and its invisible people... and make them visible.  

Friday, June 12, 2015

From the Archives: Book review originally published in A&U Magazine
The Secret Epidemic - The Story of AIDS and Black America
By Jacob Levenson



Considered by some reviewers "the sequel of Randy Shilts' 'And the Band Played On,'" Jacob Levenson's "The Secret Epidemic" embarks readers on an expedition to the roots of the AIDS epidemic in "Black America." 

Frozen Hearts. Lensbaby Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Frozen Hearts. Lensbaby Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.


From the rural Alabama to San Francisco, New York City and the White House, the author interweaves personal stories, the role of black church, civil rights and AIDS activism to create a realistic portrait of the AIDS epidemic in the United States.   

Throughout the read, we evolve together with the characters and take active part in their stories.  As readers, we interact with the tragic, bittersweet, also hopeful events in protagonists' lives.  We follow the social worker to a rural Alabama trailer park and struggle together with him to save the lives of two HIV positive teenage girls.  The enthusiasm of some of the first black researchers investigating the connection between cocaine addiction and AIDS epidemic is a true example of the power of perseverance.  We cheer for the young AIDS activist, son of an "elite" black family, who demonstrates in front of the White House.  The young HIV positive woman finding spiritual healing and strength to survive through faith challenges readers' own beliefs.   

Maybe the most inspiring story is that of a young man, Ato.  Sometimes, AIDS brings out the best in people.  Ato's is such an example, a story about his struggle with the disease and his legacy.  Throughout his ordeal, the teenager matures and starts to understand the importance of "fight[ing] AIDS, not the people with AIDS."  Despite his suffering, he touches other people's lives with his new beliefs about AIDS and its impact on life in general.  He finds the strength to open the doors to his closet and talk about his disease.  Determined to live long enough to make sure others "will not have to suffer in the silence that [he]'s suffered in," Ato prepares his own passing as an AIDS awareness event and leaves his mother in charge of his legacy... and Laura makes sure her son's wish comes true.     

"The Secret Epidemic" examines the importance of understanding the AIDS epidemic in relation with civil rights and race, in America.  It unravels not isolated incidents, but stories that make up our everyday existence.  Throughout the entire read, the author never presents AIDS as an isolated issue, but always a topic integrated and linked to many aspects of daily life. 


Note: many years ago I reviewed The Secret Epidemic for A&U Magazine. For more about my covering HIV/AIDS, please visit Art, AIDS & Others

Friday, June 5, 2015

From the Archives: Article originally published in A&U Magazine
Measuring Life



How do we measure a year in our life? In minutes-all five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred of them? In moments, relationships, accomplishments...?

The cast of the original RENT, reunited (bar one) after nine years for the film version of the musical, measures it in love-or "lo-ooove": Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who played the original Angel in the still-running Broadway production, offers a hint of the theme melody when we talk on the phone. "[Love] is a very fine way of measuring time," he affirms. 

Red Lensbaby Hearts. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Lensbaby Hearts. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Inspired by Puccini's classic opera La BohËme, Jonathan Larson's Pulitzer Prize-winning, revolutionizing rock opera RENT tells the story of a group of bohemian friends-including Roger and Angel-living in Alphabet City (a neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan) of the mid-eighties and struggling to express themselves through their art, while enduring drug addiction, poverty, illness, loss, and the AIDS pandemic. 

Roger (Adam Pascal, reprising his role on-screen) is an aspiring songwriter who gets involved with heroin. He and his girlfriend contract HIV through using dirty needles. When his girlfriend commits suicide, Roger withdraws from the world. It's through the character Mimi (Rosario Dawson), an exotic dancer, and his friend, Collins [Jesse L. Martin (A&U, January 2000)], a now-homeless professor of philosophy, that Roger comes out of his shell. In another plot thread, Collins is rescued by Angel after he is mugged; the two discover they are each other's soul mates.

"RENT [the movie] humanizes its characters. It makes them more tactile, more real," Heredia comments. "It's like you know the people that are on the screen. You get to feel what the Village felt like. What it was like to live in Alphabet City." Angel has taught Heredia a lot about one of the themes of the movie-no day but today, for one-and the importance of living in the moment.

But is the movie version powerful enough to connect with today's audience?
"I think even more," Heredia responds, explaining that the medium allows the audience to know the characters at a much deeper level and get more emotionally attached to them. "AIDS is still a prominent disease [and] people need to realize this [AIDS] awareness," Heredia concludes. He believes that RENT has the power to help us do just that.

Music, especially, has the power to send a message like this in both a highly memorable and emotionally affecting way. Heredia's favorite from RENT is "Without You" (sung by Angel and Collins). "It's one of the songs that hits you right in the stomach," he explains when talking about the significance of the song. "Yes, I know that the world keeps spinning, but it doesn't really matter if I'm dying without you."

Adam Pascal's favorite song is "I'll Cover You" (sung by Roger and Mimi at Angel's funeral). "I'm somebody who's very much moved by music and every time I hear this song it moves me to tears," the actor confesses. "It's connecting on an emotional level that most songs in life don't." 

Pascal, coming to the character that he originated "ten years older and hopefully wiser," believes that today's audience-especially its younger members-"need to understand what the characters are going through because, back then, [AIDS] was an immediate death sentence," Pascal explains. "It wasn't that long ago that this was the case."

He hopes that the movie will bring AIDS back into the public consciousness and "show people that [AIDS] kills the white kids just like it kills the Africans. It's the same disease-it doesn't discriminate. In Africa, thousands and thousands of people are dying from AIDS, but it's in somebody else's backyard. We're not gonna deal with it unless it's directly affecting us," Pascal comments. And, by "us," he doesn't mean just Americans. "I'm amazed at how everyone looks at [the U.S. and asks,] 'How come you haven't cured it?'" Pascal is intrigued. "There are lots of other countries in this world that have a lot of responsibility and I don't see them stepping up to the plate either. Where is the U.K.? Where's Germany?"

AIDS is at the bottom of the list for many developed nations because the majority of the people who are dying from AIDS are African and poor and, as Pascal mentions, "the only time you hear about it or see it, is when a news crew goes and shoots some pictures of it." Other than that, AIDS is not in the public consciousness, especially with all that's going on-in Iraq and the rest of the world-that distracts people's attention. 

From a Judeo-Christian perspective, we have to do something, he believes. "It's interesting how people selectively look through the Bible and decide what's important and what things they choose to ignore," Pascal says. "And those things will change, given any particular situation." The pandemic is a threat to our humanity: "If tomorrow aliens landed on this planet, that would completely change the perspective of everybody and all of our various religions and all of our various races and cultures would cease to have the meaning that they have now because we would realize that what we all are is human." He hopes that RENT will spark enough interest in the disease, enough for people to see what AIDS is doing to people in Africa.

"The reason why we shouldn't ignore [AIDS] is the same reason why we couldn't ignore Nazi Germany," Pascal reiterates. "We have a moral obligation to stop millions of people from dying. We can't stand by and allow this to happen in this world that we share, that we all live on."   


Alina Oswald
Writer/Photographer
Author of JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS: A BIOGRAPHY of AIDS

Friday, May 22, 2015

From the Archives: Book review originally published in A&U Magazine

AIDS and the Sexuality of Law: Ironic Jurisprudence
By Joe Rollins
Reviewed by Alina Oswald

At a time when media is experiencing an "AIDS fatigue," a decline in covering HIV/AIDS topics [from a report published March 1st, '04, by the Henry Kaiser Family Foundation] Joe Rollins brings up a controversial and maybe less explored image of AIDS.  He talks about the legal aspect of the disease in relationship with law, science, and sexuality. 
In his book, AIDS and the Sexuality of Law, Joe Rollins, Ph.D. and Assistant Professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York, gives "a brief legal history of AIDS" through several AIDS-related legal cases from the Circuit Court of Appeals between 1983 and 1995. 
The book opens with an unusual aspect of Philadelphia story emphasizing the "silences" or "unknowns" present in the "legal language of AIDS" used in the movie.  These "silences" also stand true for real life HIV/AIDS-related court cases involving the closeted world of the adult theater, the workplace, and the prison. The author exploits the "unknown" of untypical subjects and uses irony and jurisprudence-the science of philosophy at law-to explain the unspoken legal language of each analyzed case.   Joe Rollins tries to correct this false by going behind the scenes of the HIV and AIDS transmission and gay/AIDS identity misinterpretation. 
During the last two decades, AIDS and homosexuality have been falsely used interchangeably.  Certain body marks or signs, called "homographesis," can give away an individual's sexual identification and, consequently for some beliefs, AIDS status.  A closer analysis shows that "homographesis" are general identifiers for the closeted world, no matter one's sexual orientation.  Therefore, they cannot mark someone's sexuality or AIDS status.  Similar so-called identifiers are sometimes used in a court of law, but they can only provide beliefs and "social facts" to replace the "unknowns." 
Even if the legal terms may, at times, seem overwhelming for the general reader, the stories and author's analysis answer with much clarity questions regarding HIV and AIDS transmission and the role of sexuality.  
AIDS and the Sexuality of Law is not only a real eye-opener relative to the legal aspects of HIV/AIDS, but it also contributes to a more complete history and image of the global pandemic.  Read it and learn from it. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

From the Archives: Did You Know...
Article originally published in A&U Magazine

Did You Know...
Interview with Harlem-Based Publisher Hickson About Getting the World Out About HIV
Did you know...

That HIV/AIDS circulates in prison through unprotected sex?

That condoms are not allowed in prison, in order not to advocate sex?

That convicts often use potato chip bags or latex gloves as condoms?  They also use Vaseline, which eats out the latex...

That, HIV-positive convicts rarely receive treatment?  Or, when they do, medical professionals do not monitor it?  Same goes for hormone therapies for transgenders.

That transgenders are at high risk for getting infected with HIV, especially those who are forced to buy cheap, black market hormones?

Why should we care?

"I get this [question] a lot at book signings," Hickson-who goes only by his family name-tells me during our phone interview.  "The real issue is HIV/AIDS," the Founder and CEO of Ghettoheat explains.  Set in the heart of Harlem, his multimedia company publishes books that explore off-mainstream topics like the ones mentioned above.  The newest Ghettoheat production is Convict's Candy, a novel based on true prison experiences of its coauthors-Jason Poole and Damon "Amin" Meadows.  The story follows in the footsteps of Candy, a victimized trans-woman who is arrested on credit card scam charges, only a week away from the surgery that would give her the body of the woman she really is. 

Holding the answers. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Holding the Answers. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Locked up with the other male convicts, Candy learns about prison life through sexual harassment, violence, stigma, and HIV/AIDS exposure.  She learns that the prison rule-"what happens in prison stays in prison"-does indeed have its own exception: HIV/AIDS.

While the novel doesn't leave anything out when exposing the reality of living behind bars, Convict's Candy offers a lesson on how not to get HIV-adding to the fight against the pandemic.
"I was really impressed with Convict's Candy," Hickson comments, "not only because the authors were writing [it] from prison, [but because, while] not many convicts touch on HIV/AIDS issues, [they] are very passionate about the topic." 

Because too many of his friends are battling the disease, Hickson is also passionate about educating people, especially the young generation (whose members he calls "rebels without a cause") on how not to contract HIV.  He believes that HIV infections will continue to rise and that the numbers will not go down soon for two reasons: people's recklessness and the Internet.

When using alcohol, meth, or other drugs that impair their judgment, people engage in unprotected sex.  Sometimes sex itself becomes a "feel good" medicine...a drug. 

But does the opposite of sex with multiple partners work? 

Hickson believes that abstinence doesn't work either, because everything today revolves around sex, starting with BET and MTV.  "People on TV become the local heroes [to youth]," he comments. 
"Values have changed," he says talking about the fast tracks of our lives, as we focus more on work and less on spending quality time with our families.  Parents are busy with work and often leave their children alone at home with too much time to watch TV.

Internet dating also fuels HIV infections.  People meet first on the Internet and then in person.  An example would be, say, an HIV-positive flight attendant involved in Internet dating who can set up numerous meetings with people all over the globe...and lead to a "world disaster," Hickson theorizes.

But is there a solution in sight?

Hickson is an advocate for safer sex, helping spread the word through his monthly Ghettoheat newsletter.  As for the raising awareness about the dangers of HIV, Hickson points out that someone well-known needs to come out and talk about today's HIV/AIDS issues and have a similar effect over people's understanding of AIDS as Rock Hudson did in the mid-eighties.    

Alina Oswald
Writer/Photographer
Author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS