Recalling the AIDS Journalists Who Died Covering the Epidemic

Written by | HIV

Journalists

Speakers at Bodies on the Line (from left to right) JD Davids, Anthony Viti, Anne-christine d’Adesky and Linda Villarosa

One of the most noteworthy community events of 2017 was a tribute to the journalists who have been chronicling HIV from the start.

It was a gathering meant to shed light on men and women who served on the frontlines of covering AIDS during its earliest years — both editors and reporters who committed their careers to chronicling the epidemic.

Current and former journalists assembled at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan to honor their friends and colleagues in an event called “Bodies on the Line: A Memorial to Honor AIDS Journalists.” It was an opportunity to reflect on their contributions and revisit challenges of covering HIV/AIDS both then and now.

“Their work is their legacy,” opined lead organizer Anne-christine d’Adesky, an investigative journalist and author of The Pox Lover: An Activist’s Decade in New York and Paris, which explores the early days of AIDS activism and journalism. “They provided a unique voice for how they lived the story of AIDS, and how they documented it for our community. That story is just as vibrant today, and their words are just as alive to speak to us. They were pioneers in many areas beyond journalism.”

The event, intended in part to observe the 30th anniversary of ACT UP and AIDS activism, also featured a tribute by New York Times columnist and author Samuel G. Freedman to his former colleague Jeff Schmalz, who had penned dozens of AIDS articles and passed away in 1993.

Through words and images, presenters recognized a dozen individuals: Michelle Wilson of The Positive Woman, Max Robinson of ABC World News, Danny Sotomayor of the Windy City Times, Cookie Mueller of Details, Kiyoshi Kiyomira of Critpath, Mike Hippler of the Bay Area Reporter), Iris De La Cruz of PWA Coalition Newsline, Paul Rykoff Coleman of Outweek, Michaeul Callen of PWA Coalition Newsline, Craig Harris of In the Life, Joseph Beam of Black/Out and In the Life, and Assotto Saint, poet and author of Spells of a Voodoo Doll.

Two noted LGBT radio show hosts — longtime ACT UP participant John Riley and AIDS activist Bob Lederer — paid tribute to Michael Callen at the stirring event. “Michael is someone who I considered an icon, an often-overlooked figure in the history of AIDS activism,” Lederer said. “He really was a model journalist/activist.” Lederer also took a moment to mention that many of those being singled out for their contributions worked tirelessly in grassroots journalism — not merely for larger commercial outlets.

Anne-christine d’Adesky

Journalist and author Anne-christine d’Adesky was the event’s lead organizer.

Anne-christine d’Adesky spent months curating the names of potential honorees to ensure they represented diversity in gender and ethnicities, and now says she’s planning another larger event — potentially as soon as this December in conjunction with World AIDS Day December 1 — which is annually dedicated to both raising awareness of the disease and mourning those who have been lost. By showcasing the impact these journalists had on the frontlines of AIDS reporting, d’Adesky hopes to also shape how younger generations see the epidemic.

The event also addressed coverage of the AIDS epidemic into the future. Organizers announced the launch of “The Kiki,” an inaugural scholarship for reporters intending to cover HIV. The scholarship was named after Curtis “Kiki” Mason, a columnist who helped pioneer HIV cancer trials and died in 1996. The scholarship will be annually sponsored by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. “I feel this is an American story, a story way beyond the gay or AIDS community,” d’Adesky said. “It’s a global story, and it deserves to be seen that way.”

You can learn more about the work of “Bodies on the Line” organizer Anne-christine d’Adesky at thepoxlover.com.

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Last modified: November 16, 2017

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