I don't want to talk about what inspired this blog post; it's gotten enough press. I'm here instead to talk about how important it is for marginalized groups to know their own, unique history and share it with the generations after them.
"Silence = Death" became an important slogan in the queer community in the late 1980s. The silence in question was that of President Reagan. The death: tens of thousands of gay men being infected with, and dying from, HIV/AIDS every year, while the federal government did nothing.
Seriously: read the timeline in that last link. The numbers made me physically sick. Prior to this latest snafu on the campaign trail, I had a rather peripheral understanding of the AIDS crisis in America. As an elementary-age kid during the height of the epidemic, I learned about it a little in school; it was the nineties, and they couldn't ignore it any longer. Of course, the focus was mostly on cases like Ryan White, the boy who contracted HIV from a blood transfusion, and not the scores of grown men dying all over the country.
Then I grew up, figured out I was gay, and got more context by association. I saw Rent onstage and in the movie theaters and learned about Act Up! and AZT. I joined the LGBT center in college and met men who had protested and fought for recognition during the epidemic. I had gay friends who were scared of contracting HIV every time they had sex with someone new, no matter how careful they were. I had gay friends who rolled the dice with their sex lives because they took PrEP and figured that was enough to keep the worst away. I knew about AIDS; I knew it had been bad. But I didn't know how bad. Because no one ever told me.
No one ever told me how the government ignored the epidemic for years and years. No one ever told me about the countless, brilliant minds and talents and agitators that were lost in a decade. No one ever told me how the queer community was gutted with each loss, or how they continued to fight for a voice--for help, for anything--even as their friends and lovers wasted away in front of them.
What's equally important: I never asked.
Imagine a world where every queer kid grew up like me, or even more sheltered from their own history. Imagine my generation, with the Internet at our fingertips, never taking the time to learn about the struggles of the queer generations before us. Now, imagine if this week's gaffe had happened forty, fifty years from now, long after any survivors of the epidemic had passed away.
Would there be anyone alive to set the record straight, or would the villain of the story live on in history as the hero?
The less we know about our own culture, the easier it is for the majority to co-opt it for their own gains. The majority does not cherish the history of the minority; what happens to us is unimportant, so long as it doesn't spill over into their lives. This is why, in 2016, HIV/AIDS medication still costs thousands of dollars a month, but every gay man in American is forbidden from donating blood, on the off-chance that an "innocent" might be infected with HIV. They bend over backwards to protect their own from the disease, to the point of barring us from giving such a valuable resource, but they don't fight alongside us to care for those who are already dying and can't afford treatment.
We aren't going to learn this stuff in a textbook. It is up to us to seek information from those who came before us, and to pass it on to those who follow. No one will do either for us, and if we stop, so does our control of the story. Our story.
Silence still equals death in the queer community. Today, it is mostly metaphorical (though not entirely). It means the death of our culture, our history: our very voice in the annals of time. We need to learn and understand what happened, so it never happens again. We need to make sure our people and their power are remembered as they were. Make time in your life for a history lesson, be it with an elder who lived through past struggles, or down the rabbit-hole of Wikipedia. Work or volunteer with young people. Tell them what you learned, what you know, what you experience today as an adult living in the margins.
Tell them, because no one else will.