Activist, Author Hits Michigan In Whirlwind Tour

By |2014-04-20T09:00:00-04:00April 20th, 2014|Michigan, News|

Sean Strub has played witness to the aftermath of the murder of John Lennon, the rise of the AIDS epidemic in New York City and the battles of ACT UP. He can now add a whirlwind tour of three Michigan cities to his list of accomplishments.
Strub toured Ann Arbor, Lansing and Kalamazoo last week in a swing of the state to discuss his new book, Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS and Survival. He also used the tour as an opportunity to discuss HIV criminalization – a topic he is an expert in as the executive director of Sero Project.
“Michigan is one of the epicenters of an epidemic of HIV criminalization, with more than 60 prosecutions to date, often for situations where there was not only no HIV transmission, but no measurable or significant risk of HIV transmission,” Strub said of the importance of discussing the issue in Michigan. “There is an awareness of the phenomenon in Michigan and a growing core of experts and activists willing to work for reform. It is possible that over the next couple of years Michigan could go from being a leader in criminalization to becoming a leader in criminalization reform.”
He said the book was important to write because so few of the men and women who served on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic in those early years remain.
“I realized there were fewer and fewer of us around who were on the front lines from the beginning,” he said. “We’re dying off and it is important that our stories be documented, particularly as we’ve seen how easily epidemic history can be forgotten, whitewashed, heterosexualized or manipulated for the agenda of others.”
Strub said it is important to remember the epidemic in those early years was a very different manifestation than what is seen today.
“As important as it is that we remember and document our history – the pain and agony of so much loss – that conversation isn’t a very good gateway into a conversation with young people today about HIV prevention,” Strub said. “They don’t want to hear grandpa’s stories about his service during the war. The consequences of HIV infection in the U.S. today are profoundly different than they were years ago; we need to respond to the epidemic they face, not the one we survived. To get the attention of young people and establish some credibility, when I speak about HIV prevention, I sometimes start with a bold statement: None of you are likely to die of AIDS if you contract HIV! Shocking to hear out loud, but it is true.”
Strub’s appearance in Lansing was sponsored by the Lansing Area AIDS Network, City Pulse Newspaper and Michigan Pride. The Lansing City Council voted unanimously to honor Strub with a resolution congratulating him on his work to combat the AIDS epidemic, as well as the publication of his new book. The resolution also committed the Council to battling governmental policies which increase stigma against those living with HIV.
During his stop in Lansing, Strub spent an hour on the radio with Tim Barron, and spent time at MSU. There he spoke to Bonnie Bucqueruox’s Advanced Writing and Reporting class, where he shared his experiences and knowledge related to media reporting on under-represented populations. Bucqueruox said students were able to learn how important reporting on policy issues is and how it has wide ranging impact on informing a broad, diverse group of people about the issues at play for any given minority group.
Jake Distel, executive director of LAAN, said the evening was important.
“The evening was informative, engaging, and especially poignant as Sean shared his own early experiences with his HIV diagnoses and the manner in which HIV impacted the gay community and the lives of friends and colleagues,” Distel said. “His experiences mirrored my own as well as others in the intimate space. The evening also provided a level of reassurance relative to the extent to which a younger generation find themselves engaged in the battle against HIV and a vital part of the discourse during the evening’s event.”
“It was such an honor to have Sean Strub, a nationally recognized advocate for people living with HIV and AIDS, in Kalamazoo,” said Jon Hoadley, who helped coordinate Strub’s activities in Kalamazoo.” His visit was both inspirational and educational. I know we can turn his visit into on-going momentum [in the battle against HIV in our state].”

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