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    The World Is Watching

    By Joanie Juster–

    Pride Month is finally here, and we are awash with rainbows. Looking around San Francisco (and my Facebook page), I see joy and pride everywhere. There are far more Pride events than anyone can possibly keep up with, and there seems to be optimism in the air.

    I looked back at my last two years of Pride articles, written during a dramatic and unsettling rise in extreme conservatism and right-wing absolutism. There was an epidemic of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across the country. Bans on drag shows and drag story hours for children, and anti-trans hate crimes were sweeping the country. This year feels different, but what has actually changed?

    The ACLU is currently tracking 515 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the U.S.—and that’s after the previous three years also set records for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans bias crimes have also shown alarming increases this year, according to the FBI’s annual crime report. Local school boards are fighting hard to keep as many LGBTQ+-friendly books off the school library shelves as possible, and bodily autonomy is under attack from small towns to the Supreme Court. It can be pretty grim out there.

    And yet Pride seems stronger than ever. The community seems to have grown stronger in the face of resistance, adversity, and downright hate. Resistance to the haters and homophobes is a necessary daily battle, so you might as well look colorful and fabulous while you resist them.

    Here in our San Francisco bubble, rainbow flags are flown publicly and proudly throughout the city, and diversity is celebrated, not shamed. Pride Month here is a welcome and necessary celebration. But it isn’t just for us.

    In 2023, at Gary Virginia & Donna Sachet’s annual Pride Brunch for PRC, one of SF Pride’s Grand Marshals, Dr. Nas Mohamed, a proud gay man from Qatar, offered a global perspective on Pride. As an outspoken activist for LGBTQ+ rights everywhere, he has amassed a large following on social media, and he uses his platform to advocate for the rights of people throughout the world.

    In his speech at the Pride Brunch, he talked about how his posts about Pride in San Francisco were being viewed and received by followers from all over. He read off a long list of countries where viewers were viewing his posts and commenting, and he shared with us some of their comments. It was sobering to hear queer folks commenting from their homes in countries where being gay is strictly forbidden, and can lead to persecution, incarceration, torture, or death. They drew hope, strength, and inspiration from seeing the festive images from San Francisco’s Pride celebrations. He reminded us that we bear a responsibility to be an example to the rest of the world of what freedom can look like.

    So go out there and shine brightly. Our Pride celebrations are for people everywhere; the world is watching.

    HIV/AIDS News

    June 5 marked the 43rd anniversary of the announcement of a mysterious new set of syndromes that was affecting the gay community. At the time there wasn’t even a name for what was happening, but the syndromes soon became known to the world as AIDS, and the virus that led to AIDS was dubbed HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus.

    Not coincidentally, June 5 is also commemorated as HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day. Why is this important?

    The people who somehow survived the ravages of the early years of the AIDS pandemic have been living with HIV for decades, and are the first generation in the history of the world to find themselves aging with HIV. Since most of them never expected to live this long, and since the medical community has no precedents to learn from, the physical, psychological, sociological, and financial challenges that these long-term survivors face constitute a new field of study. Similar to the early days of AIDS, they often find themselves figuring out how to navigate these challenges on their own, as the medical and social services communities, as well as the government, haven’t quite caught up yet.

    Photo by Joanie Juster

    The long-term survivors I know have been working hard to fight for funding, studies, and support. Thanks to their advocacy and hard work, there are starting to be more studies, more symposia, and more attention to the particular needs of this population. On Friday, June 7, a group of activists and organizations, led by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s HIV Action Network, marched to City Hall and rallied to advocate for the HIV Community Budget Proposal, and to fight for critical funding for housing and healthcare for LGBTQ+ and HIV communities.

    Hank Trout, a long-term survivor, writer, and activist, writes for the blog on SFAF’s website. For HIV Long-Term Survivor Awareness Day, he wrote an essay with a provocative title: “Why Are We Still Here When So Many of Our Friends and Lovers Died?” It is well worth reading:

    Photo by Rink

    Celebrating Pride

    As I said before, there are so many Pride-themed events this month that no one can keep up with all of them. A few that I’m particularly looking forward to are the San Francisco Giants’ Pride Game on June 15, the People’s March on June 23, the premiere of the film Sally! about activist and queer icon Sally Gearhart (as part of Frameline on June 26), the Trans March on June 28, and the Dyke March on June 29. The Pink Triangle is visible on Twin Peaks through June 30 (and hey—they need volunteers to take it down on June 30). And, for the first time in several years, I’ll be marching in the SF Pride Parade. I’ll be looking forward to seeing you all at these events and more.

    Please stay proud, stay safe, and sparkle with all your heart. The world is watching!

    Joanie Juster is a long-time community volunteer, activist, and ally.