“I suspect – I know – my funeral will shock people when it happens. We Americans are terrified of death. Death takes place behind closed doors and is removed from reality, from the living. I want to show the reality of my death, to display my body in public; I want the public to bear witness. We are not just spiralling statistics; we are people who have lives, who have purpose, who have lovers, friends and families. And we are dying of a disease maintained by a degree of criminal neglect so enormous that it amounts to genocide.”
The above are the words of the late Mark Lowe Fisher, a prominent activist and campaigner who fought hard for healthcare services and available treatments for those impacted by the AIDS crisis that shook the world at the end of the 20th Century. When he sadly died of AIDS in 1992, he made clear instructions that his funeral was to be made political, with his friends and loved ones carrying his open casket in a procession ending at 43rd Street in front of the Republican Headquarters in New York City on the day before Election Day, November 2, 1992.
Fast forward to the end of 2018, and I’m sitting in a San Francisco apartment, learning about Fisher’s funeral procession in a documentary I happened to stumble upon on television. I noticed myself getting emotional watching the footage of political march made from such a personal event, the end of a life. I could only imagine the pain, anguish, and anger felt by Fisher, the LGBT community, and their friends and families affected by the AIDS crisis during the time. Fisher wrote in Bury Me Furiously, “We understand our friends and families need to mourn. But we also understand that we are dying because of a government and a health care system that couldn't care less.” The documentary and Fisher’s own story inspired me to write a poem, Funeral, which I’ve included at the end of this article.
Today, the suffering of people with AIDS is mostly a thing of the past, although there remain parts of the world with inadequate or irregular access to life-saving medicines and services. Nevertheless, the introduction of anti-retroviral treatment (ART) in the late 1990s, and their massive advancements in such drugs since then, means that AIDS can be avoided entirely, and those living with HIV can take a little as one pill a day to stay healthy. In doing so, they become what is known as undetectable; when the viral load is suppressed to such a low and stable level that it is no longer a threat to a person’s immune system, or more importantly, to anyone else. Hence the new phrase; Undetectable = Untransmissible.
F5 marks this World AIDS Day with a humble commitment to its staff, customers, community, and partners, that we must take part in the efforts to break down the remaining stigma about living with HIV, not just today. Through our work with our employee inclusion group, F5 Pride, we organise events and fundraise for several LGBT+ charities worldwide, including HIV awareness and prevention organisations. We have previously written about the impact of our wider customer and community network, most notably through the Kenyan government’s use of F5 NGINX to help maintain a reliable medical service for people living with HIV throughout the country, and we could not be more proud of the role our technology plays in that story.
Today, the medical progress in fighting HIV/AIDS has come on so long, that there are now active trials on a possible vaccine for HIV, something not considered possible in Mark Lowe Fisher’s time. Once such a vaccine becomes a widespread and accessible reality, there remains only the social stigma facing people living with HIV. That work must start now, and it starts with each of us.
This World AIDS Day, remember that people living with HIV, once Undetectable, cannot pass on HIV to anyone else. Remember that thanks to modern medicine, HIV-Positive people, when on regular treatment and with an Undetectable viral load, live long and healthy lives. Remember that those living with HIV are not defined by their status, but continue to experience social stigma based on ignorance about the virus. Remember that there are many parts of the world where access to anti-retroviral treatment is either unstable, unreliable, or extremely expensive, putting many lives at risk. Remember that there continues to be those who die of AIDS, but no longer because there’s no medical treatment available.
That is why Mark Lowe Fisher’s words are still strong and worth listening to.
by Scott De Buitléir
San Francisco, December 2018:
In an apartment, sheltered,
In a city where love is free (health, not so much)
I sat down to receive education:
How I wept, all alone,
Watching a funeral march
Of a friend I never knew,
To hear the fury in his words read aloud,
The last he’d ever write;
“Action, out of love and rage”
What an alchemy —
A potent concoction designed
To stop them all, and think,
And if passers-by said “so what”,
About neighbours’ hearts being broken,
Maybe they didn’t realise, they still paused to see
His friends, family, his followers,
Carry his coffin to the killers;
The Pontius Pilates of the day.
How brave and strong the others were,
To sacrifice the ashes of their fallen beloved
To curse the king of the uncaring.
How heartbreaking that many don’t learn
Of the pain they all suffered,
But although the war is almost won,
The cost of life cannot be redeemed.