as we all celebrate adam rippon and his brilliant performance this past week for the figure team competition at the winter olympics in pyeongchang, i want to remind the universe of the fabulous rudy galindo, a latinx HIV positive gay man who queered the figure skating world more than 20 years ago.

after winning a few junior championships, rudy got a taste of national success skating with kristi yamaguchi, when they won the US national championships in both 1989 and 1990. their partnership soon ended as kristi began her very successful career as a solo skater. rudy’s solo skating career was quite the opposite.

although surviving extreme poverty, rudy’s family had sacrificed everything to support his dream as a figure skater. during the late 80s  and early 90s, rudy struggled personally as two of his coaches and his brother George succumbed to HIV. his sister laura became his coach.

after taking 8 months off from competing, the 1996 US championships were taking place in his hometown of san jose, california. rudy decided to give his skating dream one more shot and decided to compete. he would skate one of the most beautiful and most remembered long programs ever.

with thousands of people cheering for him, rudy became the oldest US  national champion. he became the first out national champion. he became the first mexican-american national champion. that night, rudy became a gawd damn legend!

rudy would go on to win the bronze medal at the world championships. he retired from competing soon after but still skated professionally and chyle, he gave you performances! in april of 2000, he disclosed that he was living with HIV. he skated to “ soon in the clowns” soon after.

“HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence. you can go out there and do what you want.” rudy galindo. he has become an HIV advocate and now coaches kristi yamaguchi’s daughter. and despite not initially having the support of the skating world, rudy is now celebrated as a pioneer.

fun fact: when i was in the hospital w/ a t-cell count of 100, the woman i shared a room with, in an attempt to make me feel better, said, “you know who rudy galindo is? he is so lovely. like you, so lovely.” that shit still stays with me. “if he can survive this, so can you”

much like rudy, i survived and found that place over the rainbow to shine. 

we celebrate you, rudy!

Today is the 32nd anniversary of my lover Jeff Leibowitz’s death. He died sometime either during the night or during the early morning of February 11, 1986. He was first diagnosed with Kaposi Sarcoma, now recognized as an AIDS-related opportunistic infection, on his 30th birthday on September 9, 1980. We had only been together for six months. I swore to him that I would never leave him. I never did. I was with him until the end.

Out of the many things that I have done in my life, I am proudest of this. I stayed with him in those scary days when no one knew what was happening. I went dancing with him, I shaved his head, I gave him his first pork chop. I took care of him and fought for him in those terrible early days. Jeff changed my life. What he had to go through in the early days of the HIV epidemic was nightmarish. He is the reason why I became an AIDS activist. After he died, I swore that no one should go through what he did.

I will always be grateful to my family for immediately accepting him as a member of the family, immediately, especially when his own family couldn’t or refused to deal with his illness. My family would kiss and hug him in the days when no one knew how the disease was spread. 

Our relationship started when we met at a Christmas party for what was then called the Gay Switchboard of New York. We were both in the kitchen standing by the garbage can when someone said, “Where’s the trash?” and we looked at each other. We laughed and started talking. It ended six years months when I was shoveling dirt onto his coffin in a traditional Jewish funeral.

I really have no idea where I would be now if it weren’t for Jeff. I will always be grateful for having Jeff in my life and I will always miss him. Always.

Robert Vazquez-Pacheco, New York

Robert is Nuyorican writer and visual artist.


NEW VIDEO: “LGBTQ+ Advice: Bigot Grandmas, Getting Tested, First Pride & More! - one of my favorite things about being in the LGBTQ+ community is the chosen family it comes with. I’m no expert, but in my new video, I give viewers some big-brother advice from the heart. Hope it helps - I don’t have all the answers, so ask YOUR chosen family for advice you need! :]

What People Living With HIV Want You To Know

“Once I began my medication I realized that not only was it very manageable but a relief, not having to worry about my health every minute of the day.”

“Most people don’t know the difference between HIV and AIDS. They assume that I have AIDS and I’m really really sick or that I have to take a bunch of pills every day. Most people don’t understand how far we’ve come with the science and that by taking one pill a day, I can live a happy, healthy life.”

“I deserve to be happy and healthy. And I am.”

“My life is fairly normal other than my status,” Elder said. “I sleep, wake up, workout, eat breakfast, go to work, attend comedy shows, kick back with friends, read books, laugh at cat videos, stargaze, hook up, date… I just happen to take a pill every morning that those who are negative do not. This pill allows me to live a long a fulfilling life and allows me to protect others from HIV.”

“People live in fear of disclosure, which creates isolation in their treatment, which fosters depression because living in secret with a chronic illness and fear being judged … it’s just not an environment that’s conducive for living with this disease.”

“I’ve lived openly with HIV ever since I found out I had it…I told everyone, even strangers, and kids were pretty decent about it, but adults sometimes were not.”

“I’m not glad I have it. But I am happy that I do know my status. Now that I know my status, I’m doing whatever it takes to protect myself and others.”

“The biggest way [HIV] manifests in my life is when something that is unrelated to HIV happens to me and I have to see a doctor. The doctors always bring it back to HIV. That kind of stuff will drive you crazy because, in the medical space, everything relates to the HIV and it shouldn’t.”

What People Living With HIV Want You To Know

via attn

on this date in 1981, the new york times printed an article with the headline “rare cancer seen in 41 homosexuals.” this headline is historic because it is the first mention of what would become the hiv epidemic. at this time, on this date in 1981, the epidemic didn’t have a name. 

even after 36, it is still chilling to read this headline because it is a sobering reminder of all that the world didn’t know about hiv. what caused it? how to treat it? we didn’t know shit! it took three years to identify HIV. three years to find out that it wasn’t cancer. however, in those three years, stigma, blame, and shame didn’t need a name to thrive. many died not even knowing the name of the disease that robbed them of breath and humanity. 

this headline is historic because it is the first mention of what would become the hiv epidemic. 

36 years later we know so much. we have survived so much. we now have life-saving meds. we now even have PrEP - the pill that helps to prevent hiv infection. this is huge because, in 1981, treatment for any virus was rare, yet alone a virus that was virtually unknown. 

we still have work to do. we still have to shift culture and we still have to fight health care and access. we still have to fight to live. but we know so much more now than we did on july 3, 1981.

People with HIV were not being treated as criminals, people who KNOWINGLY INFECTED PEOPLE WITH A DEADLY DISEASE WITHOUT THAT PERSON’S KNOWLEDGE OR CONSENT were. You cannot be so much of a dipshit that you don’t understand the difference.

Every summer, Jameson Camp hosts one special sleep-away week for kids affected by HIV or AIDS.

Each of those years, groundskeeper Brad Higgins would watch campers and their parents have tough conversations in the car before getting dropped off at the camp in Indianapolis.

That’s because the camp has always had this rule: Campers need to know why they’re here. And once children learned, they needed a stigma-free place to process it.

Some campers here are living with HIV/AIDS themselves. Others have parents living with it, or perhaps family members who have died from the illness and maybe “the rest of the family didn’t know that,” says Higgins.

Today, the stigma around HIV/AIDS may not be as profound, but it’s still there.

Between Swimming And Archery, This Camp Helps Kids Overcome The Stigma Of HIV/AIDS

Photos: Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting