New Grassroots AIDS Group, Let’s Kick ASS, Holds First Town Hall Meeting

Let'sKickASS.orgLast Wednesday at the City’s LGBT Center, in a first of its kind, historic town hall meeting nearly 200 people who lived through the first two waves of the HIV/AIDS pandemic came together to commiserate, formulate and activate a new group, Let’sKickASS.org (AIDS Survivor Syndrome) dedicated to meeting the unique needs and challenges of long-term, HIV/AIDS survivors.

Tez Anderson

Tez Anderson, founder of Let’sKickASS.org, listens to a community member during the groups first meeting at the LGBT Center on Sept. 18th, 2013.

The brainchild of local AIDS activist/writer and 30 year HIV/AIDS survivor, Tez Anderson, Let’s Kick ASS is a grassroots project empowering Long Term Survivors (LTS) and citizens the group has knighted ‘Wounded AIDS Warriors’.

Let’s KickASS website explains, “Long-term survivor is a relative term, referring to those who tested HIV-positive before protease (inhibitor drug treatment) and HAART when testing positive was a death sentence. That population is now into midlife and elderhood. HIV and Wounded AIDS Warriors are anyone traumatically affected by the first two decades of AIDS, which can include those who remain HIV-negative and those who seroconverted later.”

“AIDS Survivor Syndrome (ASS) is what I call what happens after the AIDS tsunami recedes.” Mr. Anderson explained in an email exchange with the Castro Biscuit, “those first two decades of AIDS traumatized an entire generation. The signs someone may be dealing with ASS are: depression; personality changes; flashes of anger; survivor guilt; jumpiness and anxiety; emotional numbness; insomnia; social withdrawal and isolation; hopelessness; substance abuse; sexual risk-taking; and lack of future orientation. Any combination of those and other signs related to surviving when so many loved ones and community members died. I wanted to hold a town hall to take the pulse of the tribe. I knew how ASS nearly destroyed my life and talking to folks over the past couple years I realized that others were going through something similar.”

Let's Kick ASS Town Hall co-moderator, Greg Cassin. Photo: Waiyde Palmer

Let’s Kick ASS Town Hall co-moderator, Greg Cassin. Photo: Waiyde Palmer

It seems he had hit upon an idea that resonated with the community. That night a large crowd gathered in the Centers’ Rainbow Room for the town hall entitled ‘Definition of Brave’. The audience cut across every line of race, ethnicity, and social background in the Bay Area LGBTQ/AIDS community.

Representatives from many AIDS Service Organizations (ASO) or AIDS focused groups attended including SF AIDS Foundation, Sero Project, SF Council on Aging, Int’l Organization of Women Living with HIV, and Bay Area Positives.

Mr. Anderson co-moderated alongside Greg Cassin. They also assembled a panel of 20+ years HIV/AIDS LTS or HIV/AIDS caregivers that included Will Boemer, Bart Casimir (former Pres. of NAPWA), Ramon Martinez (STOP AIDS), Michael Siever, PHD. (Stonewall Project), and Ed Wolf (30 year Shanti volunteer) that fielded questions from the audience and provided personal perspectives to the evenings discourse while using the discussion to brainstorm ideas and issues for the new group to focus on.

The Town Hall Panel: (L-R)

Let’s Kick ASS’ Definition of Brave Town Hall Panel and Moderators: (L-R) Michael Siever, PHD., Ramon Martinez, Bart Casimir, Will Boemer, Ed Wolf, Tez Anderson, and Greg Cassin. Photo: Waiyde Palmer

The most repeated theme rising from panelists and crowd was how LTS specific needs are going, by-and-large, unmet by ASO’s and that funding directed toward their well-being, study, and survival seem non-existent. Other repeated themes were demanding a seat at every table where AIDS is a focus and advocating on LTS behalfs. Advocate work was a top priority whether it involved procuring more affordable housing, studying the effects of aging and HIV, or the life challenging reality of multi-drug resistance that many LTS’s are experiencing.

It was an emotional evening as some LTS who’d come to share were doing so for the first time. The pain of living and surviving the catastrophe of AIDS as young men and women now weighed heavily on their current middle age and elderly lives. Many provided examples of challenges surrounding procuring basic needs like housing, food, and comfort in a City where costs of all three are skyrocketing and housing and services continue to shrink. Others pointed to how decades of activism had led to burnout and how they felt the AIDS movement was being controlled by “AIDS, Inc.” and drug company concerns over those who lived with the disease and activists.

Nearly 200 attendees come to the first meeting of the new grassroot AIDS LTS Group, Let's Kick ASS

Nearly 200 attendees come to the first meeting of the new grassroot AIDS LTS Group, Let’s Kick ASS. Photo: Waiyde Palmer

A number of participants proposed a return to direct action alongside levels of self-care and group empowerment. Eric C. Ciasullo, a married father of two, former member of ACT UP, and board member of the now defunct National Association of People Living With AIDS summed it up best, “We need to see a more active push on our parts to be included on all levels of AIDS care, treatment, policies and politics. We can’t wait and hope to be heard– we must demand it.”

Mr. Anderson’s reaction to the night? “I was beyond thrilled,” he wrote, “because it’s clear that people are ready to begin a new chapter in the AIDS saga. It felt like a cross between an ACT UP meeting, a rally, and a tent revival. We had people from all over the Bay Area volunteering to help. We have big plans for the Let’s Kick ASS movement.”

Let’sKickASS.org will be developing plans for the next event they hope to hold in mid-October that they foresee evolving into perhaps a monthly meeting. They know after this illuminating and well-attended town hall there is a lot of work that needs to be done to address the City’s LTS and Wounded AIDS Warriors and many are ready to do it.

Want more info, to get involved or keep up to date with Let’sKickASS.org? Follow them on Twitter or ‘like’ them on Facebook.

Waiyde Palmer

Waiyde Palmer loves San Francisco, social activism and punk rock(ers). His work has appeared in Handbook Magazine. SF Bay Times, The Advocate, Diseased Pariah News and American Music Press . He also has an extensive and repeatedly redacted FBI file.

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10 Responses

  1. Matthew says:

    While I am thrilled that this type of program exist for the long term survivors; I really feel strongly that our community has forgotten about gay men that are negative.

    I am a 40 year old gay negative man, and I see NO support for me to stay negative. I see nothing about safe(r) sex practices. The only message(s) I see in the community is “know your status”. That says nothing about prevention.

    I have several friends who are in their 40′s and 50′s who have seroconverted recently. I asked them “Why”? and the main reason that the responded with was that “being HIV+ is not a big deal anymore”. Where is the support for gay men to stay negative?

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    • Waiyde Palmer says:

      To be clear: this isn’t a ‘program’ it’s a grassroots group-along the lines of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis or ACT UP and at no time did they say or did I write that they feel that HIV is ‘no big deal’.

      These are long term HIV+/AIDS survivors or long term HIV- caretakers who are uniting to advocate on behalf of the first 2 gens of AIDS that remain alive and challenged in their survival by a host of other issues all relating to HIV.

      Huge amounts of money are spent on prevention and PrEP in this City & country. If people are acting like ‘its no big deal’ around you it’s more due to the lack of an active AIDS activist presence and advocacy in an era where exposure and lack of peer support has allowed STD’s in general to explode across multiple generations.

      This group welcomes HIV- men who’ve fought hard to stay that way. There is also several ASO’s who have support groups-STOP AIDS, SFAF, et al-who provide peer reenforcement in being and staying HIV-.

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  2. sfjohn says:

    Well let’s see – if it hasn’t been instilled in everyone’s head that Safe Sex is the way to go after all these years it baffles me.
    As someone who has been Poz since 1988 (and almost dying in 2009) it really floors me that men in their 40s&50s would say something so dumb as “being HIV+ is not a big deal anymore” – let me have a good long chat with them!

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  3. Jon says:

    I think a lot of people appear to take on the “it’s not big deal” attitude, at least outwards, because beating yourself down and dwelling on it everyday is miserable. I think most neg guys greatly misunderstand the mental anguish given with a diagnosis, and the high rates of substance abuse and depression that follow.

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  4. Kile Ozier says:

    I simply want to articulate a few thoughts on the meeting of Wednesday evening.

    There are generations of men and women who still suffer from the Plague, from living through a time where we watched as our friends, lovers, partners, parents, children were felled like timber as we caught and buried them, one by one, then turned to catch and bury the next one.

    I believe this has had and continues to have a profound and near-permanent effect on those of us who survived the plague years; whether one is positive or negative is, at this level, irrelevant. What pertains is the fact that there is a grief that has taken root, deep within each of us, that has not been addressed, fully articulated or effectively processed. This Grief is, I believe, at the core of the addictions, the depressions, the despondency and the suicides…the dysfunction in relationships, the absence of relationships and the resultant isolation of so many who were so vibrant and vital just a few decades, ago.

    Gay and Straight, Man and Woman, Positive and Negative; millions are victims of more than the insidious virus. These people were shoulder to shoulder with one another for more than a decade of decimation; of burying friends, family and lovers – day after week after month after year – with no opportunity to grieve each personal loss. 

    Overwhelmed at what we all faced, we all set aside our grief in order to do the work, and now that grief is so much a part of us, our psyches and culture that we almost don’t even see it. But, it’s there when one gathers oneself to look. It’s there in the epidemic of meth, in the thousands of men and women who have become culturally agoraphobic as they hide in their homes and eschew personal contact. It festers in all of us, I believe, and shows itself in dysfunctions across the entire spectrum of human experience. 

    This is where I believe the conversation should be taking place; this is what I believe calls for us to address, to articulate, to advocate and remedy. The rest will happen through channels already in existence.

    But, I didn’t hear the beginnings of that conversation. I did not experience that inclusiveness. I don’t see efforts to reach out and offer sensitive, knowledgeable succor and I don’t see a Movement aborning to call the attention of our nation to what I see as the Real Problem.

    Many in the meeting spoke of peripheral issues: issues of aging that are exacerbated by the damage of meds, issues of political movements about “us” that don’t have any of “us” advising or guiding or mentoring, issues of businesses and companies that could do well to include members of this Warrior Class on their boards and advisory committees. All of this is valid; yet, there are agencies and organizations in place to address these things and many more. Perhaps pressure on said organizations to live up to their missions rather than the launching of a New Movement is what should be on the table.

    I, personally, would like to see a Movement of Conscience and Consciousness; enlightening and priming our society for empathy and action. I would embrace a visible (and audible) national conversation about the deeply-seated damage that continues to erode a valuable resource of this nation…Us.

    So many people simply cannot find, thus cannot articulate, address or process, the grief that lives within them. That, to me, is the overarching job that needs doing. This new initiative under discussion has the opportunity to be about succor and healing. I hate this sense of an agenda that is too broad to serve as a rallying point, to all-encompassing to offer focus.

    Here is a link to an article I wrote for The Good Men Project, one of many I’ve seen about this dark dynamic; http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-good-life-good-grief/

    So, I was most disappointed in Wednesday night. I see a great need, and I don’t see it being addressed. I fear, from what I experienced, a lot of furor, sturm und drang and still people will be home, alone, crippled and unknowing why.

    This breaks my heart.

    KO

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  5. Well, KO, instead of waiting for either AIDS Inc or someone else to address the issues of concern to you, why not organize your own meeting?

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  6. Kile Ozier says:

    I haven’t been waiting, Michael.

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  7. I am glad we are having this summit. In recent years I have been thinking about what happened back then. I am a bisexual woman who is hiv negative. I was deeply effected.

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  1. October 18, 2013

    […] In New York City last spring, members of the first generation of AIDS activists held a community forum titled “Is This My Beautiful Life? ” to share their perspectives and discuss the resources available (or missing) for people who survived the early epidemic. Here in San Francisco, the grassroots organization Let’s Kick ASS hosted two packed public forums to kickstart action around the priorities of long-term survivors. (Watch a video of the group’s first forum, “Definition of Brave,” and read about the evening’s themes and highlights.) […]

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  2. December 14, 2013

    […] You can read the Castro Biscuit account of our first town hall here: http://castrobiscuit.com/2013/09/25/new-grassroots-aids-group-lets-kick-ass-holds-first-town-hall-me… […]

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