Tuesday, December 17, 2013

AMFAR's Kenneth Cole Erases AIDS Survivors & Dead from History

(From the left, the late great gay and AIDS activist Michael Callen, Dr. Mathilde Krim and out gay Dr. Joseph Sonnabend. Michael and Joe, Mathilde too, were _not_ quiet in first decade of AIDS. Credit: Peter Serling.)

The pope is Jewish, the NSA is not spying on you and twenty-five years ago, gays were silent about the AIDS epidemic and not screaming about the dead and the dying. Of course, none of those statements is true to everyone except show mogul Kenneth Cole who is also the president of the American Foundation for AIDS Research board of directors.

Actually, more than twenty-five years back before the term AIDS had been created, my friend Mel Bronfman was sick with a mysterious set of ailments the doctors at St. Vincent's hospital in NYC's Greenwich Village couldn't cure. As he went in and out of the hospital, his longtime companion Ed Armstrong was desperately trying to keep Mel alive.

After Mel died, there was much crying and yelling and anger expressed at the failure of the medical profession to save our friend, and we made futile attempts to get straight City Councilmember Carol Greitzer to do and say something about dying gay men. She and Ed Koch deserve special mentions in AIDS Epidemic Hall of Shame.

Those dark days with Mel and Ed are on my mind today because of an outrageous belief on Cole's part expressed on a late night talk show last week promoting a movie he produced about AMFAR. I have friends and longterm AIDS survivors Sean Strub and Mark S. King to thank for making me aware of Cole's idiocy and for taking him to task.

First up, is Sean, underline added:

But last [week] Ken Cole was on Chelsea Handler's Chelsea Lately and uttered another flat-out mistruth—a fabrication that is an insult to an entire community: 

Handler: "How did you get involved with AIDS research?" 

Cole: "This is was like 25 years ago and people weren't talking about AIDS then because stigma was so devastating (and arguably stigma has killed more people than the virus itself has), and the gay community wasn't speaking up, they were afraid to."

I've got news for Ken Cole.  Twenty-five years ago, it was almost solely members of the gay community who were speaking up about AIDS. [...] For Cole to suggest that either the gay community "wasn't speaking up" or imply that there wasn't adequate attention to the disease until he got involved is wrong on so many levels. He owes the gay community—and all those who were "speaking up" in those years—an apology.

Yes, I totally agree an apology _and_ an extended explanation are in order from Cole and his PR team. Here's Mark King delivering more truth-telling:

Cole's remarks are part of a larger tendency of people re-framing AIDS history to suit their own purposes, in this case, promoting the amfAR documentary and canonizing two of its founders, Mathilde Krim and Elizabeth Taylor. 

And a storyline in which the straights come to rescue the diseased gays, I might add, may assuage heterosexual guilt for their own inaction. For his part, Kenneth Cole responded to my Twitter tirade about the vital role of the gay community during early AIDS by tweeting, "@MyFabDisease agree, our film Battle of amfAR confirms your point. I was saying that because of stigma, many others were reluctant to speak." 

But regrettably, the HBO documentary doesn't confirm the role of gay community at all. In fact, it minimizes it.

Look, I'm not saying the assistance from straight allies such as Krim and Taylor and others shouldn't be acknowledged. All I'm asking for is that longterm AIDS survivors and our dead who were not silent 25 years ago be recognized.

If Cole can't speak the truth and retract his lie, then the leaders of AMFAR should correct what he said. Hello, AMFAR executives? We need to hear from you!


Jerry Sloan said...

Cole is certainly wrong about AIDS activism. According to him 25 years ago would be 1988. Here in Northern California and SF in particular before ACT UP there was Citizens for Medical Justice that held demos all over the Bay Area and numerous on the West Steps of the California Capitol Building.

We were always delighted to host them at the Lambda Community Center when they came to Sacramento

Unknown said...

Thanks for the historical reminder, Jerry, about CMJ. I worked with them back in the day and they did tons of great work.