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The AIDS Activist Project

The Making of an AIDS activist in 5 parts – Part 4*

Hal Haner, the first person I photographed for the project.


It was difficult after Randy’s death. In 1989, I went to see a counselor at The LGBTQ Community Center. I was told; you have to stop drinking; you have to stop doing drugs. You have to go to ACT UP meetings; make new friends. Meet people going through what you are going through.

I had no clue what ACT UP was. I did as I was told; went to a Monday night meeting at the Center. I joined the Media committee and eventually, I found a place in ACT UP.

Around that time, I was accepted into the Community Health Project. When I enrolled, I was told they test t-cell counts every 3 months. If that was good, I was ok. They would test for HIV if asked. If they saw problems with t-cell numbers, they might suggest finding out your status, it was left to the patient.

In the midst of this, work began on the AIDS activist project.

The first person photographed was Hal; we became friends. I saw him at ACT UP demonstrations. During the demo; he marched a bit, then find a place to rest for a few minutes. AIDS was taking its toll; he got back up, he fought on.

Hal came to my studio to look at his contact sheets. He picked out the photo used in the book. He liked the contrast between Reagan’s face and his. One day he came by after his appointment at Beth Israel Hospital. He was going there for radiation to treat Kaposi Sarcoma, a cancer common to People With AIDS. They began to ration the treatments; 3 lesions at a time.
It was then I decided to get tested for HIV. I didn’t want to take up a spot if someone else needed the care. I asked to get tested. They went over everything involved and the possible consequences.

I went in for my results, the doctor came in and said; congratulations, the test came back negative. I was happy; relieved. When I got out to the street, I found the first payphone and called my sister to tell her.

After hanging up, I thought, this really doesn’t change a thing. My friends are still sick, dying. Hal can’t get the treatment he needs.

This had to change.

I became an AIDS Activist.

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