Our feature format for Gaby was a little different than our usual format. Since her feature is about an event she organized, we kept it in the interview-like format- as this feature is different than the rest of ours.
Tell us about 40 years since. What is it? Who's involved in the making of it? Turn out?
At the start of November, I listened to Larry Kramer’s ‘How to Survive a Plague’ speech for a class on civil disobedience. I’m a straight cis female, yet this speech erased all the blinding barriers. His passion and determination, combined with a realist’s motivation, invoked the empathy I previously lacked to understand the immense progression made in the last 40 years in the LGBTQ+ community. Even though this realization granted me the ability to see the world from a new perspective, it also brought my attention to the ignorance embedded within our generation. When I heard my peers senselessly joke about AIDS, fear crept in the back of my mind as my hope in humanity quickly vanished; and I couldn’t even imagine how the people being targetted felt. I decided to take advantage of my authority as VP of Young Leaders of Today (an advocacy organization) and purpose the idea of a fundraiser to commemorate 40 Years Since the AIDS epidemic outbreak. As I waited for a response from our executive board, my plans began to evolve. I managed to center the fundraiser around art. Art grants everyone the freedom to control their own narrative from a unique perspective. This freedom wasn’t always considered a right 40 years ago --hence the need to celebrate it. The fundraiser would consist of multiple local artists, bands, and activist speakers, all sharing their own stories through their perspectives. While plans seemed to come together, the executive board denied my proposal because it did not align with our main mission statement --voter registration. Despite their deferment, my passion persisted, and I felt determined to see the fundraiser follow through. After all the rejection and adversity the LGBTQ+ community encountered, I owed it to them to persist in my beliefs just like they did 40 years ago. Even though I had thorough plans for the execution, I heavily lacked the budget. I started a gofundme page (dedicated to reserving a venue for the event), all the while selling my own artwork, clothes, and records. At times, I felt extremely frustrated; my aspirations and undying determination rarely paralleled with the fundraiser’s necessary budget. Eventually, I reached my goal budget, and things began to move faster. On the day of the event, we had over 16 artists come to sell their work, 6 bands perform, and 3 activist speakers with a 300 person turnout. We ended up raising $1537 at the event, which was donated to EJAF (Elton John AIDS Foundation) and amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research).
What is the purpose behind 40 years since?
The purpose behind 40 Years Since is to honor the past and celebrate the future through various creative mediums. Through the exposure to individuality --whether it be from a personal testimony or an abstract artwork --40 Years Since admires the lives who suffered from social ignorance while celebrating future vaccines and societal acceptance for all.
What compelled you to start working on 40 years since? Why is this cause important to you?
Being a gen z-er, I never witnessed or experienced humanity’s brutal ostracization from society, and the medical field like the victims of the AIDS epidemic encountered. Sure, I can easily attribute that to the privileged life I am blessed with, but that doesn’t excuse me from acknowledging and respecting the lives lost. Too often, I walk my school hallways and hear people tell pejorative jokes with the LGBTQ+ community and HIV/AIDS as the punchline. Although I found these jokes incredibly insensitive, I managed to find one commonality between all of our perspectives: a generational ignorance.
40 years ago, society dehumanized any victim of AIDS by completely defacing their identity. The majority of people characterized the LGBTQ+ community as inhumane to justify death as their punishment. However, this cloud of discrimination only perpetuated ignorance. AIDS impacted everyone at one point in time. Whether you knew someone or lost a loved one, the virus found a way to infect everyone’s life regardless of their sexuality. The medical field blatantly ignored reacting to the uprising disease due to the mere association with homosexuals. Meaning, medical scientists were completely fine with letting people, just like them, painfully suffer from a deteriorating immune system just because of who they loved. For years, the medical field stood with unresponsive faces and witnessed people scream for help. They watched countless victims have their entire lives robbed from them and decided the best option was to sweep it under the rug. Humanity lacked the necessary empathy to prevent thousands of men, women, and children from being with us today. This turmoil and adversity fueled activists to rise above society’s narrow mindedness. Groups like Act Up and journalists such as Larry Kramer fought for every human’s right to a life unbounded. Those who spoke for the silent are a crucial reason our progressive world exists today.
While our world is far from perfection, it’s important to reflect and remember the stories that paved the present. We should honor these lives for their sacrifices, but also simultaneously celebrate the future that is to come. All the lost lives deserve to be recognized for more than what our ignorance perceives.
What are you most proud of about 40 years since?
Community. It’s surreal to see the entire event unfold before your eyes, but the power of a community is overwhelming. When I first sought out to coordinate this event, I doubted anyone would put their trust in a 17-year-old girl. Each month though, I met new amazing people who taught me more about how the world functions outside of school. At the event, I saw a sea of people with smiles stretching across their faces. They applauded and cheered every artist and activist. It was ineffable emotion to see a crowd of people nodding their heads, raising their fists, and supporting everyone and their stories.
Do you know another individual or organization pursuing a passion like Gaby? Nominate them here for a chance to be featured on our website and social media. #empowerGenZ