A group of Emory University scholars, alums and local activists is working to preserve a critical piece of gay Atlanta’s history that at times is tough to watch but should never be forgotten. You can help.
The problem with recounting any portion of the AIDS epidemic is of course that many major players died, and many survivors don’t want to look back any more. But organizers backing the “AIDS Legacy” documentary project (trailer above), several of whom are survivors themselves, are committed to telling the story of Atlanta’s unique response in the early years of the crisis.
“Former Georgia state House representative Jim Martin uses the term ‘The Atlanta Way’ to describe how our city mobilized to address the disease,” says gay Atlanta’s own City Council Member Alex Wan, who is also director of development & alumni relations in the Emory Libraries Development Office.
“Influenced by their experiences from the civil rights movement, these leaders called on people’s compassion to garner support and assistance,” Wan continues. “Sandy Thurman, former AIDS Czar, has a great line in the trailer about why this is a collective fight when she says, ‘There is no ‘them’ and ‘us.’ There is only us.’ Still rings true today.”
Wan is part of a vast support team behind the project that launched a crowdfunding effort to see the film through to completion. For his part, Wan steps up his own “Gay Hoarders” commitment to Emory and to LGBT history. Other notable organizers on the documentary include Randy Gue, curator of modern political and historical collections at Emory’s Manuscript, Archives & Rare Book Library, and Jesse Peel, a longtime gay activist whose own papers are already a permanent part of the MARBL collections.
Wan credits the tenacity of Gue and Peel for getting “AIDS Legacy” off the ground. One look at the inspirational people in the trailer explains the motivation to make it happen, he tells Project Q Atlanta.
“It’s truly inspiring how this determined group mobilized to find treatments and support for those with HIV/AIDS while the institutional health and other systems were utterly failing the sick at the time,” Wan says.
Gathering minds from the early front lines to commit their memories to film for posterity reads like a “Who’s Who” of AIDS warriors on many fronts. Look for reflections in the film from representatives at the CDC, Morehouse School of Medicine, the Georgia legislature, public health organizations, and founders of AID Atlanta when there was no budget and no outline for how an AIDS Service Organization should be organized or run.
“This early work created many of the organizations – AID Atlanta, Jerusalem House, Positive Impact, Open Hand, etc. – that are still on the front lines even as we continue the fight today,” Wan says. “It’s important that we not forget or lose that tremendous effort, particularly as people and organizations move, evolve, and yes, pass away.
“What better way to honor all those who we lost along the way – what feels like almost an entire generation of gay men,” he adds.
With interviews in the can and a strong support system, Atlanta’s “AIDS Legacy” project is in the home stretch. To send the documentary across the finish line, they’ve raised about half of a $10,000 goal in an effort that Emory Rollins School of Public Health will match dollar-for-dollar. To get in on it, the crowdfunding continues through Aug. 21.
Video by Tomorrow Pictures courtesy Emory Libraries