Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Look Back at 2015: My Defining Moments

My Defining Moments from 2015
Interviews, photo shoots, and much more

And we've arrive at another year's end, a time when we might take the time at some of the defining moments that helped shaped us this year. Here are a few of my defining moments, in no particular order:

Some of My 2015 Defining Moments

1. Interviewing ACT UP photographer and activist Bill Bytsura for A&U Magazine, and learning more about the AIDS Activist Project, now to become a book. (look forward to reading the book)

2. Getting to work with award-winning filmmaker Wolfgang Busch on some fantastic projects. To learn more about some of the awards Busch has received over the year, read this article.

3. Interviewing Joseph Rivera, co-founder of Baila Society, for A&U Magazine, and also attending this year's Bailando por una Causa event, in New York City.

4. Attending Ideas City, reuniting with other members of the Undetectable Flash Collective and also with Visual AIDS.

5. Interviewing Avram Finkelstein, artist, activist, founding member of Silence = Death collective, for A&U Magazine.

6. Photographing the HIV Warriors campaign. Read more about it in A&U Magazine.

7. Attending the book launch of Art & Understanding anthology at Linda Stein's studio in Manhattan, and reuniting with the fantastic A&U team.

Art & Understanding: The Anthology. Book launch at Linda Stein's studio in NYC. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Art & Understanding: The Anthology. Book launch at Linda Stein's studio in NYC. Photo by Alina Oswald.

8. Finally deciding to try out Instagram.

9. Interviewing and photographing the fantastic young men, artists and activists, behind The Each-Other Project for A&U Magazine.

10. I got to work with activist Ron B. again, meet wonderful people, and photograph a taping of No Boundaries show at the Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN).

11. Had the chance to review the new documentary, Larry Kramer In Love & Anger, for A&U Magazine.

12. Writing about marriage equality for JC Independent, and also reviews for Out IN Jersey Magazine.

Marriage Proposal at NYC Pride 2015. Photo by Alina Oswald
Marriage Proposal at NYC Pride 2015. Photo by Alina Oswald
13. Celebrating marriage equality with some fantastic friends, and also running into some old friends at 2015 NYC Pride. Photographing this year's Pride, and witnessing a special wedding proposal, right in front of Stonewall Inn. Congrats Chris and Steven! :-)

14. Upgrading my photo and lighting, and also (some) computer gear.

15. Finally taking the necessary time to photograph some of my favorite subjects, and also showing that particular body of work to reviewers. Also, many thanks to my reviewers and mentors, for taking the time to comment and advise.

16. Having the chance to interview and photograph wonderful people--activists, artists, and the like--people who make a difference in their community. You can read more about that here.

17. Great times with family, friends, and other significant individuals. Those are the most precious moments!

These might be just a handful of those defining moments, those that first come to mind. There might be more.

Thank you all for stopping by! Hope you all had a fantastic year, and that you'll ring in 2016 with your families and loved ones.

I wish you Happy Holidays!!!

Happy Holidays card designed and with photos by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Happy Holidays card designed and with photos by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

And A Happy New Year, too!

Happy New Year! card designed and with photos by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Happy New Year! card designed and with photos by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Alina Oswald

Friday, December 11, 2015

From the Archives: My Interview with Award-Winning Author Kergan Edwards-Stout

From the Archives: My Interview with Award-Winning Author Kergan Edwards-Stout

I met Kergan Edwards-Stout a few years ago, at the Rainbow Book Fair, in New York City. I'd 'known' him from Twitter and Facebook, but, call me old fashion, there's still nothing better than meeting one of your favorite authors face to face. Not long after that meeting in Manhattan, I got to read his (then) brand new collection of short stories, Gifts Not Yet Given, and upon finishing the read, I knew I had to talk more with the author about his books, written and yet to be written.

Here's our interview:

How does an author come up with the idea of a short story collection after having published an award-winning debut novel? I ask because many believe that short stories and such collections are not that popular nowadays...
I try not to think about whether or not a book is marketable when I write it.  I write from an emotional need, and I can’t let marketability affect my writing—I need to stay true to my impulses.  For my first book, Songs for the New Depression, it was about a cynical gay man facing death, and I knew it would be a hard sell! (laughing) Still, I had to tell the story which lingered in my soul. For this new book of short stories, Gifts Not Yet Given, the collection is tied together by holidays, from Halloween to Easter to Thanksgiving, and I tried to capture the emotional life changes that people go through.  My hope is that readers will be able to relate to the characters as they experience these “life moments.”

Your stories are quite fascinating, enlightening... therapeutic, in a way. Throughout your collection there's a feeling of renewed appreciation of one's self, of life, and what is meaningful in life--friends and family, etc.
That is exactly what I was going for!  To me, what is most interesting in life is our emotional journey.  The ups and downs we experience, and how we deal with those challenges, really define who we are.  In each story, characters suddenly find themselves faced with an unexpected choice, and their growth, or lack of growth, is very telling.  Hopefully readers will find themselves transformed in the process.

Holidays do that to most of us, bring out the best in us, I think. Gifts gives a new sense to holidays around the year. It helps us discover not only ourselves, but also the essence, the true meaning of holidays.
Personal growth can happen at any time, but I know that for many, holidays are a key time, as family and friends gather, allowing for such interactions to occur. 

You also take on a variety of topics, some more popular than others. AIDS comes to mind, but also dealing with illness, facing mortality, among many others. I admire you for doing that.
Thank you!  I know some of those issues will be very surprising for readers expecting Hallmark-card holiday stories, but I didn’t want to write what people may expect.  I wanted to write what felt authentic to me.

Why do you think writers, or other artists for that matter, don’t take on these less popular topics? Are they afraid?
For me, it comes down to, why do I write?  Many writers out there are concerned and driven by book sales, and calculate their stories to fall in line with whatever is popular or follow formulas true to a specific genre.  But I never started out wanting to be a writer.  Writing found me.  It was way to get my tangled thoughts and emotions out of my head so that I could more closely examine them.  And my stories then reflect the issues I care about.

So, are any of the stories inspired by actual events? They capture everyday life with such finesse, readers may forget the tales are fiction and feel they are reading about their own lives.
Some were definitely inspired by real life.  As you know, my debut novel was loosely based on a partner who died from AIDS in 1995, and there is a story in the collection which was inspired by his final days in the hospital.  And even the stories which are completely fictional have some personal impetus, as they burst out from my creative conscience, and largely fall in line with my world views.  Many are about being respectful of each other, being authentic to who we are, showing compassion, and the importance of discovering and claiming our own unique place in the world.

What would you like readers to take from Gifts Not Yet Given?
My hope is that readers will find themselves touched by the characters…  They are a varied bunch, from young to old, gay and straight, of different religions and ethnicities, but emotionally we are all the same, driven by the same desires and needs.  I hope people connect to our shared humanity.
Do you have any upcoming book events lined up that you may want to share? After all, the holiday season is just around the corner. Gifts would be a great...gift to be given for the holidays.

What are you working on now?
I have a memoir called Never Turn Your Back on the Tide, which is my next project.  It was based on a relationship I had where, after adopting a son together, I found out that my then-partner wasn’t at all who he’d presented himself to be.  It’s a tricky thing to write, emotionally, but it’s a story I need to tell.  It’s one of those things that when people hear it, they say, “That is so crazy—it can’t be real!”  But it is, and I lived to tell. 

With your challenges, having lost a partner to AIDS and another to deception, it sounds like you have a wealth of experiences to write from.
It’s true.  And, at the same time, my partner Russ and I have two kids, so I have little time to dwell in the past, which is a good thing.  I’m able to draw on these varied experiences when I write, but they’re easy to put aside when I hear one of the boys, calling out my name.

Kergan Edwards-Stout can be found via his website, Facebook, and Twitter. His new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, can be found at Indie Bound (Independent Book Stores), Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or at your favorite book sellers.

Friday, October 23, 2015

From the Archives:
The Baltimore Waltz
Written by Paula Vogel
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Reviewed by Alina Oswald

Originally published in A&U Magazine--America's AIDS Magazine

Although much has been discovered about HIV/AIDS in the last twelve years since Paula Vogel's The Baltimore Waltz first premiered in 1992, produced by The Circle Repertory Theatre in Greenwich Village, today maybe more than ever, is the right time for a revival of the Obie award winning play because of its multiple timeless themes: AIDS is still a real part of our lives and its cure is yet to be found, even more, the number of HIV-infected people has increased since the play was first written in 1989, only one year after Paula Vogel's brother' Carl died from AIDS-related causes; second, today's administration considers AIDS issues of similar importance as the administration of the eighties; third, as the Paul Vogel tells Signature Theatre, The Baltimore Waltz is a play not so much about AIDS, but about coping with the grief caused by the death of a brother or sister or a loved one, and learning to live and laugh again through this grief, as a healing process. 
Paula Vogel believes she can best keep her brother, Carl Vogel, alive through a play-rather than through a novel, for example-because, only in a play the story takes place in present time.  While in real life, over the years, she's learnt to use past tense when talking about her brother, Carl will forever come to life, in present time, with each performance of The Baltimore Waltz. 
The revival of the play premiers this year at the Signature Theatre in New York City, as part of Paula Vogel Playwright-in-Residence 2004-2005 Season (November 16, 2006 - January 9, 2005), marking the 17th anniversary of Carl Vogel's death (January 9, 2005).
Set in the eighties, the one-act, 85-minute play uses fantasy to bring to reality the European trip Paula Vogel never took with her brother.  The Baltimore Waltz is Vogel's way of grieving her brother's death, using the satirical and at times frenzy story of an imaginary European trip of Anna (Kristen Johnston; Sex and the City), an elementary Baltimore school teacher and her brother, Carl (David Marshall Grant, The Stepford Wives, television's And The Band Played On, Broadway's Angels in America for which he was nominated a Tony Award), a San Francisco public librarian, while in search for a cure for Anna's fatal illness-ATD, or Acquired Toilet Disease, contracting from using her students' restrooms. 
The transition between the present time reality and the imaginary journey is marked by an alarm clock that comes off and interferes with Anna's plea directed to the audience which starts and ends the play.   
When Carl and Anna learn from their Baltimore doctor (Jeremy Webb, Law & Order and Law & Order: SVU), that his "hands are tied up by the FDA" Carl decides to take try a miracle drug-giving patients to drink their own urine-an Austrian urologist, Dr. Todesrocheln (German for "death rattle") had to offer.  Carl also takes with him Jo-Jo, his childhood plushy bunny and symbol of his love and trust legacy for his sister.  But Anna doesn't understand this symbol, nor does she want to spend more time with Carl, instead, she lives each day of the trip as if it was her last, indulging in good food and long-neglected sexual experiences with bell-boys (Webb, in each case) from each country they visit (France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany), while Carl has his own sexual experiences with a man (Webb) who also carries a plushy bunny. 
The only hint of the rude reality trickles its way into Anna's imaginary trip through the projection of the photos, supposed to be taken while in Europe, yet showing familiar Baltimore sights.  The photos represent the first trigger back to the reality and force Anna to long for what is real in her life-her students and her home, a yearning coming to life through Anna's own words: "I had enough.  I've seen enough of the world I wanna see."
But, for the trip not to have been in vain, Carl and Anna have to find the magical cure they are searching for.  And to do that, Carl has to meet with his old German friend, Herr Harry Lime (Webb) he once considered a God, now living by the motto: "if you want to make billions, you sell hope; it's a business."  Paula Vogel introduces Lime as the third man from the 1949 movie with the same name (where Harry Lime, a German con-artist sells diluted medication in post-war Vienna and, in order to escape the law, goes "underground" by faking his own death).
     While Carl talks with Harry Lime and reflects over the consequences of their younger behavior that made Carl "grow old before [his] time, Anna waits for the doctor, in a hospital room.  As she refuses to try the urologist's [Webb] treatment, his words: "Where is your brother, you fool?  You left your brother in the room alone, you fool!" trigger her mind back to present time reality where the Baltimore doctor (Webb) emphasizes the tragedy of the present time: "I'm sorry, there was nothing we could do."  What Carl left behind for her were his plushy bunny and a few brochures for the trip to Europe they never took.
After trying, unsuccessfully, to revive her brother's stiff body, Anna addresses the audience again: "I could never believe what sickness can do to your body.  I must learn how to use the past tense."  The play ends with a grand finale, of Carl and Anna dancing Strauss' "Emperor's Dance," remaining together and bypassing the death's barriers.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Spanish Bay, by Hans Hirschi - A Book Tour

Spanish Bay - Book Tour (Playlist and more)

Hello Everyone,

I'm glad you joined me on the Spanish Bay book tour. While we're at it, check out my other related post here. Now, the question is: what music do you listen to when reading a book? Or maybe you don't listen to music, you just lost yourselves in the story, following the characters and their journeys every...page of the way.

Spanish Bay, by Hans M. Hirschi

When it comes to background music for listen to, when reading a good book...well, for me, and I believe for many, it depends on the book--romance, a classic novel, mystery? A feel-good story would go very well with a mellow, feel good kinda music, don't you think? At least for yours truly. Or one might have his or her own favorite musicians...like myself. I tend to read (and also write, for that matter) while listening to something that sets the mood, and yet stays in the background, does not distract, nor does it interfere with my reading. And usually, when I read a good book, everything else seems to fade away, leaving me alone to enjoy the story, and the characters of that story.

There's a deep, powerful connection between readers and characters, one that only a good book, good read, and writer, can provide. And that takes me to Hans Hirschi's books, in general, and to his latest novel, Spanish Bay, in particular.

To start with, the cover is one of a kind, itself demanding a certain kind of music, in a strange, but beautiful way. The read, well...is engaging and entertaining from the very beginning. Imagine yourselves on a deserted beach, you and the book. The actual book. Brush your fingers over the cover, try to familiarize yourselves with the image. Then slowly, so slowly, open the cover and take a peek inside. Start reading. I can guarantee that you won't be able to put it down.

As for the music...that's ultimately up to you, the readers, to build your playlist. As for myself, I'd read while listening to classical music. I'm a fan of Chopin, and played it a very long time ago, too--waltzes and/or nocturnes by Chopin. Nothing quite measures up, I believe. On the other hand, if I put on Queen/Freddie Mercury, I might end up singing along. (And, these days, you wouldn't want to hear me sing.)

For those interested, here are a few links to some reading music:

Chopin, Mozart, Bach (I'd skip Bach, I had to play it, and listen to it...not my favorite, but some might like it):

Here's a link to how to make your own reading playlist for teens, since Spanish Bay is a YA novel:

Find out more about Spanish Bay, by Hans Hirschi here. I'm sure you'll enjoy the read!

As always, thanks for stopping by!
Alina Oswald

Friday, October 9, 2015

 From the Archives

Promises to Keep: President Obama’s Politics of Change and the Future of Gay Rights
(Originally published in Out IN Jersey Magazine)

      “I think that every century has a different group of people [who] have to overcome an obstacle,” Lovari comments. The outspoken gay activist is also an award-winning recording artist who wrote the single Free to Love to support the continuous fight for marriage equality. Lovari explains that in the nineteenth century we abolished black slavery; last century, we fought for and won women rights; this century is gay rights’ turn. He adds that maybe one day we will look back at our fight for gay rights the way we look back, today, at our fight for other civil rights.
      …But that day is yet to come.

The Road Ahead. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
The Road Ahead. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

      The gay revolution did not start in the twenty-first century, but with the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Four decades later and counting, the LGBT community has come a long way, yet the fight is far from over.
      Today, next to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), marriage equality may just be one of the most fiery and talked about topic within the LGBT community and beyond. Like with other civil rights—for example the interracial marriages—the fight for legalized same-sex marriages took over the country one state at a time. And it started with Massachusetts.
      On May 17th, 2010, the Bay State celebrates six years of allowing legalized same-sex marriages. The decision has not only offered a safe haven for same-sex couples and their families, but also boosted the local economy, brought in new creative minds and an infusion of much needed younger population into the larger neighboring area (some 14.7 percent of Maine’s population is 65 years or older).
      Statistics have shown that, to start with, same-sex marriages have brought money into the state of Massachusetts through the booming wedding business. This is significant especially during tough economic times. A study by the Williams Institute of UCLA has shown that, as a result of its legalized same-sex marriages, the state of Massachusetts has gained 111 million dollars in gay weddings related spending—from gowns and tuxes to flowers, cakes, catering and hotel reservations for out-of-state guests. Gay couples usually spend about 7,400 dollars per wedding, while one in ten couples spend more than 20,000 dollars. Extrapolating these numbers to all 50 states, it turns out that, if allowed at federal level, gay marriages alone would bring a nearly one billion dollars in increased tax revenue each year.
      Also, a study done by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has shown that married same-sex couples grow closer and, more often than not, they are out. In addition, it turns out that marriage has a positive influence on the children of same-sex couples. 
      By legalizing gay marriages the state of Massachusetts has attracted gay, and also straight individuals who are part of the creative class—a group of individuals who are either financial gurus, top software programmers, educators or other passionate professionals creating in their field of choice, while thriving to excel in their profession and achieve higher goals. Generally, these are young and dedicated individuals who find appealing to live in communities which are open-minded and open to diversity.
      In the years following 2004, other New England states followed Massachusetts’ example and legalized same-sex marriages. As a result, they offered new opportunities and freedoms to married same-sex couples and their children, allowing them not only to live in one particular state, but also to move within the New England area without fear of losing their marriage—or adoptive parents—rights.
      Maybe it’s not a surprise that New England was the first to allow equal marriage rights. After all, while not always perfect, the region is known for its openness to tolerance throughout the centuries. After all, New England became the safe haven for seventeenth-century Europeans, offering a place where they could freely express their religious beliefs. Later, the region became the starting place for the abolition of black slavery. 
      But the end of the Civil War was not the end, only the beginning in the fight for civil rights. Only much later after the War, some of the states started legalizing interracial marriages (also known as miscegenations). A 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed interracial marriages in all states. As a result, the miscegenation laws still remaining in a few states became invalid. Although not enforceable anymore after 1967, these laws were enshrined in the constitutions of at least two states… South Carolina removed the law in 1998. Alabama, in the year 2000.
      President Obama’s parents got married in 1960 or 1961, as he explains in an interview with members of Human Rights Campaign [HRC]. His parents’ marriage would have been illegal in some states from the South. Therefore, the president explained that he understood the same-sex marriage rights issue “intimately.” Yet, during the same interview, the president also declared that he supported civil unions with federal rights and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). (These were the same views he had shared with Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, back in 2008, when he also mentioned that marriage is not defined in the U.S. Constitution, but by each state.] Marriage has always been defined at state level. Each state has its own definition of the term based on age, sex, (and race, which couldn’t be enforced after 1967).
      President Obama is definitely not alone in his views. Like Obama, and also at least officially, other liberals, including Hillary Clinton, share the same views on marriage equality. While this can be disappointing, on the other hand, based on their history, conservatives are almost expected to oppose any LGBT rights or other progressive initiatives. Yet, recently, Cindy McCain surprised everybody with her decision to openly support gay marriages. She switched from her husband’s (Senator McCain) views on the issue and appeared in an NOH8 ad—a “silent photographic protest” against the passage of Prop 8 in California, by celebrity photographer Adam Bouska and his partner, Jeff Parshley. 
      The question is: Does Cindy McCain’s switch make any difference? She does not run for presidency. Nor does her daughter, Megan, who also appears in the same pro gay marriage ad. On the other hand, Obama will run for re-election in 2012.
      In 2008 he ran for change. And his supporters, including those from the LGBT community, believed him. Yet, his promised changed is yet to make any significant impact on people’s lives. The truth is that, like every other president and candidate for public office, Obama did overpromise, and then, once elected president, maybe he realized that his hands were too tied to do everything he had intended to do in the first place—one example is the healthcare reform.
      While some members of the LGBT community are rightfully disappointed with the change and promises Obama has delivered so far, especially when it comes to equal marriage rights, others, like Orange County AIDS and gay activist Terry Roberts, believe that it would be a “political suicide” for Obama to openly admit that he’s for gay marriages. Roberts also believes that, if re-elected, the president will legalize same-sex marriages at federal level, because he will feel free to tackle the most progressive topics on his agenda.
      This begs the question: would openly admitting his position on gay marriages really cost President Obama his 2012 re-election?
      Answers may vary from one member of the LGBT community to another.
      New York City recording artist and activist Lovari thinks that, no matter what poles say, people are split down the middle when it comes to gay marriages, reasons being (like with everything else) money and religion. A Hillary Clinton supporter, he also believes that the LGBT members who’re Obama supporters and who want their rights so strongly still believe in the president, because, like anybody else, they want so desperately to believe in something. “I don’t count,” Lovari adds. “I didn’t vote for him.”
      Across the Hudson River, Jersey City photographer and activist Beth Achenbach hopes that “people don’t put so much hope into [Obama] to change things that [they] don’t work on changing, [themselves].” Because, she says, Obama can’t change everything. It is up to members of the LGBT community to be the first in the fight for their rights.
      In sunny Florida, where same-sex couples aren’t even allowed to adopt, 25-year-old painter Teresa Korber agrees that people tend to lose faith when promises are broken or don’t materialize soon enough. “We are all people, we are all the same,” she comments, talking about same-sex marriages. She also encourages everybody to be patient. After all, most people don’t know politics and are not in President Obama’s shoes; therefore, cannot judge. Instead, Korber advises people to be persistent in fighting for their civil rights. She passionately believes that persistence always pays off. She should know. Persistence has helped her become the accomplish artist she is today.
      Any type of human discrimination is a cause for civil rights. This century may just be the one of gay rights. To accomplish that, though, same-sex marriage activists and supports need to follow in the footsteps of those who’ve fought before them: to never give up, always be vocal. “We just always have to be vocal,” Lovari encourages. “Never shut up. We don’t have all this [money,] so we have to always vocally express ourselves. Always talk, talk, talk. […] People are listening.”

As always, thanks for stopping by!
Alina Oswald

Friday, October 2, 2015

From the Archives:
Pills Profits Protest: Voices of Global AIDS Activists
Co-directed by Ann-christine d'Adesky and Ann T. Rossetti
September 2003

Reviewed by Alina Oswald
Originally Published in A&U Magazine--America's AIDS Magazine

Power Pills & shoes. Photo by Alina Oswald. Originally created for a food photography assignment.
Power Pills. Photo by Alina Oswald. Originally created for a food photography assignment.

Pills Profits Protest is an up-to-the-minute chronicle of global AIDS treatment access movement that weaves personal battles with HIV/AIDS, stories of activism against AIDS and the big pharmaceutical companies from around the world, with opinions of politicians, journalists, doctors and members of national and international organizations.    
Co-directed by Ann-christine d'Adesky, an AIDS journalist since 1984, the one-hour documentary "was made in fits and starts," as Ms. d'Adesky explains, in a two-year timeframe-from the AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa, in the summer of 2000, an event that "turned despair into hope," to Brazil, in 2002.  Along the way, documented stories from India, Haiti and Uganda added to the film's message...that it is easy to mobilize people to fight against AIDS and for their rights to treatment and this fight takes different paths in different countries. 
Especially in poor and developing countries, people "on the ground"-those who are affected by the disease first hand-cannot afford the exorbitant prices of the Western drugs.  Result?  They develop not only their own generic medications but also their own survival strategies.  
For example, Brazilian health representatives believe that "until not long ago HIV affected the [human] body in the same way AIDS affected the world."  Nowadays, all Brazilian people living with HIV/AIDS have access to generic AIDS medications and treatment.  India first got into the game in order to provide Brazilians with cheaper drugs... nowadays, it develops its own.  In developing countries, providing treatment and care for people living with HIV/AIDS is not a health issue, but an economical issue.  Even more, in African countries, the fight for access to AIDS treatment for all translates into a women's movement for their rights and for the rights of children and orphans. 
The global fight against the high Western AIDS treatment prices follows the diversity of the global fight against AIDS.  Globally, there is a huge "gap between what people want and what the government thinks it's good for the people," a gap that the Global Fund Organization many hope is capable to bridge.  As of summer of 2001 the Fund was "half billion dollars and growing," as Collin Powel announced at the UN conference, while AIDS activists demonstrated inside the UN building. 
So, is there any hope that this bridge will ever be built?  After watching Pills Profits Protest we surely hope so, or at least agree with Rachel Cohen's (Doctors without Borders) beliefs that the global movement for AIDS treatment for all may start another research revolution.  Pills Profits Protest reaches for the hope still present in our hearts, an enthusiastic approach to inform and educate about the reality of the global fight against AIDS through the fight for available treatment for all.

Friday, September 18, 2015

From the Archives: Out of Hiding originally published in A&U Magazine

Out of Hiding - A Woman's Perspective
(Quite a few years ago, I had the unique opportunity to interview Brenda Stone Browder for A&U Magazine. Here's what she had to say

Lunar Eclipse. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Lunar Eclipse. Photo by Alina Oswald.
With all the recent media attention, we may think that we know all about life on the Down Low.  The truth is that we barely heard half of the story.  To hear the other half-the woman's side of the story-reading Brenda Stone Browder's book, On the Up and Up-A Survival Guide for Women Living with Men on the Down Low comes in handy.      
"I am first of all a child of God and all I do and say gives honor to God," Brenda Stone Browder says when we talk on the phone.  She is also an educator, lay speaker, and the ex-wife of J.L. King (author of bestseller On the Down Low). 
The term, Down Low (meaning "in hiding"), refers to African American men who are living a secret gay lifestyle.  Although the term is used mostly in the African American community, the practice is not. 
As Browder explains in detail in her book, men on the Down Low are usually attracted to naÔve women who lack self-esteem because these women can easily become their "cover girls" who unknowingly help them cover up their DL behavior.     
And Brenda Stone Browder knows the "cover girl" type; she used to be one... but not anymore.  Now, up from her DL relationship, she urges women who find themselves in similar situations to learn to love and respect themselves first, and to put God first.  "Everything else will follow," she assures me. 
And if they need help and support, Brenda Stone Browder is there for them, through workshops and seminars and through her book to help women understand that their partners' DL behavior is not their fault, to help them regain their confidence and realize that not every man is on the Down Low and that they are worthy of unconditional love with the right person.  
Topics of discussion in Brenda Browder's seminars cover a multitude of topics: 
- The DL lifestyle topic teaches women how not to let their partner's DL lifestyle control their life, but to use it as a learning experience. [Related online resources can be found at www.brendabrowder.com or www.straightspousenetwork.com.]
 - The safe sex topic urges women to negotiate condoms in their relationships. Too many times, especially when in a long-term relationship where has never been any apparent reason to practice safe sex, bringing up topics like condoms or getting tested is not that simple.  That's where Brenda Stone Browder's book-as much as J.L. King's books-can help, providing an avenue for people to be able to have a safe-sex dialog and not be too uncomfortable about it.   Those interested to learn more can check out "A Conversation of Reconciliation," a tour through which the two authors come together to share their own experiences of the Down Low phenomenon and talk about safe sex and HIV/AIDS prevention.  [More details on www.brendabrowder.com]
- The prevention topic (as a key role in defeating HIV/AIDS or any illness or disease) interests Browder in particular.  "[AIDS] doesn't have to be a part of your life," she comments.  "[Young people in particular] have to understand that AIDS makes their life difficult when it doesn't have to be.  All it takes [to avoid getting infected] is a little responsibility."    
- The role of churches in fighting the AIDS pandemic as go-to places where people living with HIV/AIDS should find help and support.
Browder urges churches to become partners and educate their communities to embrace the AIDS community.  "I feel that churches should open up the dialog because [AIDS] is not gonna go away just by ignoring it. We need to be a part of that prevention and care."

As always, thank you for stopping by!
Alina Oswald

Friday, August 7, 2015

From the Archives: Article originally published in Beyond Race Magazine

The ‘H’ Man Brings the Heat: Article originally published in A&U Magazine

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).

Live Lava. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Live Lava Heat. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved. (if you stand close enough, the smell and heat of the lava reaches you, wraps around you)

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

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?

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. 

Dab the AIDS Bear. Lensbaby Photography by Alina Oswald
Dab the AIDS Bear. Lensbaby Photography by Alina Oswald
 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

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

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
Author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS

Friday, May 8, 2015

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

Playing with (Super)-Words

It goes by Tina, Crizzy, or Tweak. No matter the name, crystal meth made the national headlines as the party drug of choice for gay and bisexual men. The party can start on a Thursday or Friday and continue throughout the weekend, and Monday is still not crystal-free. For methamphetamine users, "Suicide Tuesday comes at the end of a binge. Rest comes on Tuesday, but at a price," Duncan Osborne explains in the introduction to his new book, published by Carroll & Graf.

Stack of sun glasses. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Rainbow Reflections A Self-Portrait. Photo by Alina Oswald.
In Suicide Tuesday: Gay Men and the Crystal Meth Scare, the leading journalist, who has written widely about gay men and the crystal-meth connection to HIV/AIDS, goes behind the scenes of the so-called meth epidemic to uncover the truth behind the recent media frenzy surrounding crystal use and the HIV "super"-virus. Some of us may recall that HIV made the news in early 2005 when attention turned to one gay male patient who supposedly was infected by a "super" strain of the virus, resistant to virtually all antiretroviral medications and rapidly leading to the development of AIDS. The individual, the media was quick to point out, had been a meth user, which reportedly led to condomless sex with multiple partners and eventually HIV infection.

"I don't know that words like 'epidemic,' 'outbreak,' or 'problem' are right to use [when talking about meth]," Duncan Osborne comments during our phone interview. "It's very easy to say 'something is a problem.' It's much more complicated to describe who is affected by this problem, how they are affected by it, and then talk about what to do about it."

As the author explains in Suicide Tuesday, gay men who use methamphetamine represent a subset of all gay men, and within this particular subset there is another (smaller) group that appears to have a very serious problem with crystal use.

Facts speak for themselves-a 1997 study by Michael Gorman, a research scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, identifies seven distinct subcultures of male methamphetamine users just in Seattle. In order to help these men, one needs to realize that one is dealing with different populations of men who may use the drug in various ways and for different reasons, in different places and times. Therefore, how one reaches out to these various groups may vary as well. "So, it becomes very complex all of a sudden," Osborne says.

He gives two broad reasons for the hysteria surrounding meth and its connection to HIV infection: the nation's media, which is increasingly interested in entertaining-rather than informing-readers and viewers; and politics, not so much in terms of the "super"-HIV coverage (a story that Osborne considers nonsense) but in terms of how methamphetamine relates to other topics.

"There are political reasons for presenting these issues in an inflammatory and scary way," he says. "It is a way of creating support for a particular response to those phenomena. I think that this White House has been very effective at manipulating people's feelings related to terrorism, [that] some members of Congress have been very manipulative and very dishonest about the threat that methamphetamine [use] poses to America. And they do it because there's money in it."

Osborne finds it most unfortunate seeing people in AIDS service organizations and the gay community talking about methamphetamine in the same way Newsweek, for example, does. "It's very unhelpful. [It just does] not move us forward. I think we're all smarter than that."

While his book exposes the destructive effects of meth and the high price users have to pay, Suicide Tuesday is yet another means for its author to encourage the gay community to stay away from the hysteria currently surrounding methamphetamine use and, instead, to talk about crystal in a thoughtful and careful way.

Duncan Osborne hopes that Suicide Tuesday readers will get the facts about methamphetamine use, HIV, and gay men, and begin to insist that AIDS groups and gay groups in their own communities respond to what's happening in gay men's lives in this culture of hysteria. "If that happens, that would be great."