December 21, 2020 at 7:37 am EST | by Troy Masters
300,000 and counting…
coronavirus, COVID-19 discrimination, gay news, Washington Blade
(Image courtesy of the CDC)

“This is the final surge,” says California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “This is the most challenging moment since the beginning of this pandemic.”

Newsom was talking about the catastrophic spread of COVID-19 and the crushing number of grave cases jamming ICU units throughout the Golden State.

Left unsaid during his recent news conference is a cultural subtext that needs to be screamed out loud.

Despite 300,000 U.S. deaths and counting — someone dies of COVID every 30 seconds — people are tuning out, blaming government and public health departments for bad messaging, losing control of this and causing financial disaster for businesses and the millions who’ve lost their jobs.

Masks work but haphazard restrictions haven’t stopped the spread. So why believe a vaccine will do the trick?

A vaccine is but one weapon in the fight against COVID-19. The truest weapons will continue to be social distancing and masking up to protect yourself and others from this airborne virus.

But some of us have been here before and have already suffered a catastrophic leadership vacuum and just pure evil during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. We called out Ronald Reagan then and we must call out Donald Trump now.

Trump has relished in a narcissistic feeding frenzy of conspiracy theories to his followers. He insisted COVID was a hoax and when he got it, he pretended it could be easily conquered though few have access to the same treatment and care he received.

Even now, his shockingly soulless and willful spreading of misinformation continues as the death toll mounts.

Too many in our community seem to have fallen for it.

Upset about bar closures, being denied an outdoor dinner experience at La Boheme, having to spend holidays at home instead of tripping on a red carpet to get to another cocktail party – too many LGBTQ people swaggered over to Trump’s death cult of defiance.

Don’t get me wrong. People are suffering deep economic injury. But I am patient and I trust the new administration will offer real help.

More than a half million people will be dead by the time we celebrate Pride in 2021, probably more than 50,000 in LA alone.

Will you be among them? Do you really care?

In the earliest days of AIDS, our community struggled as pandemic raged and without governmental intervention. When no one came to the rescue, we tried to rescue ourselves, coming up with simple solutions like wearing condoms and reduction in the numbers of anonymous partners.

But, after a while, simple solutions like “wear a condom every time” became boring and people took umbrage at the seemingly anti-sex and homophobic calls to limit the number of sexual partners, the monitoring or closure of gathering spaces and at the constant intrusion into every aspect of their personal lives. People began fighting for the right to return to life as normal — virus be damned.

As AIDS deaths soared, the community, though united on many fronts, splintered into camps, including advocacy groups like ACT UP and a small group of alienated HIV-positive men who touted a kind of not my brother’s keeper barebacking culture. And like the criticism aimed at unmasked MAGA supporters crowded together at an indoor Trump rally, some people understood when HIV-negative men engaged in unsafe sex, it was a personal choice, despite the risks.

Yes, it’s all too familiar. When AIDS hit, our spaces emptied — and not because our local governments issued stay-at-home orders. The Castro emptied. WeHo changed. The Village emptied. Our spaces emptied out of fear, confusion and an abundance of caution. We were left with no information, no therapies, no treatment, no infrastructure to support us. No government to bail us out.

We were left with nothing but dead and dying friends and fear and a powerful sense of pride that many of us devoted the best years of our lives, our careers, our treasures and our love to saving our community.

We learned that as knowledge and science advances, what is required of our vigilance changes. And so we learned to push through.

HIV became a chronic, manageable disease that is now entirely preventable. We have more tools to prevent it than ever, thanks to activists who pushed science in the direction of treatment. And until the new COVID vaccines are proven effective and accessible, wear a mask.

Don’t become a statistic – 300,000 and counting. Hope to see you at Pride.

Troy Masters is publisher of the Los Angeles Blade.

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