Letter to a Young Activist
It’s National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD). A national day devoted to telling you to be safe and how to be safe from HIV. Another day of folks holding you accountable and responsible for your own safety as a young Black gay man. Safety? Days like today must seem cosmically absurd and certainly hypocritical to have older people tell you how to be safe when they fail you on a daily on so very many fronts. When those who deign to scold, rebuke, and judge, if only implicitly through days like today, are consistently unwilling or unable to pass the laws and policies that can save, protect, and enrich your life, you have every right to ask why this protection matters more than other paths of protection.
When schools are sites of mass murder without end and the expected response are anemic “thoughts and prayers.” When you can be shot and killed by the state for petty survival strategies within the structures and cultures built by oppressors, ones that helped usher you into the need for survival strategies at all or that can cost you your life for committing no crime at all. When you are among those most likely to be without shelter, have estranged families under the auspices of “caring” religions, incarcerated under adult charges (even when innocent), and have preventable histories of trauma and abuse, it has to feel galling to talk about the safety of condoms and your “responsibility” to your body and community. When you are most likely to be impacted by HIV, and you see time and time again your story being told in ways that deny your humanity and reduce you to deficit and pathology. We, at the Counter Narrative Project, get it. We too are appalled at the myriad of ways this culture has failed you and still have the nerve to lecture you on your obligations to safety.
You are already demonstrating how much better your brother’s and sister’s keepers you can be. As the frontline activist demanding change from those who came before you. As the protectors of families chosen and born into. As the devoted frat member from your line. As the consistent, healing voice in your choir or pulpit. As the person who answers that friend’s call at 3 am. As the trusted sis or bris who tells the others whose car not to get into in the dead of night. You are already responsible. You are already doing the work. Get on PrEP (Truvada as an HIV prevention pill), if you feel like its right for you, and if you’re negative and sexually active. Continue to stay on antiretrovirals (ARVs) to achieve and maintain viral suppression, if you’re living with HIV, to remain healthy. Continue to use the basic barrier method tools like condoms that have prevented HIV and other STD acquisition for many for a generation. Meeting these goals is relatively easy compared to all you’ve been through to keep you and that which you love safe and present. Just continue to be more of who you are to protect yourself and all you care about.
You be your safety. Be the one thing you don’t have to second-guess or question. Know you’re safe because you did what it took for you to stay safe. And, just by being your safety, you’ll make your community safer too. You got this.
I love you,
Cover image by Rotimi Fani-Kayode
L. Michael Gipson is a writer, educator, and 24-year advocate for a host of social justice causes, L. Michael Gipson, MS is the co-founder of the Beyond Identities Community Center for LGBTQ youth in Cleveland, the Black Alphabet Film Festival in Chicago, and the Black Bear Brotherhood in Detroit. Currently, Gipson is the Founder and Principal of Faithwalk, LLC and the Urban [W]rites project. A Red Dirt Press author, Gipson serves as Editor-at-Large at SoulTracks.com and Lead Writer and Co-Producer of the PBS docuseries Indie Soul Journeys.