Activist Phill Wilson reflects on his AIDS work to save lives


For millions, LGBTQ+ History Month is about survival.

The story of Phill Wilson – the story of founding the Black Aids Institute, bringing people closer to politics and turning his grief into action – that story – is also one of survival.

To understand this, we have to go back to the 1980s, when the AIDS epidemic began.

It became the leading cause of death among young adults in the United States, claiming more than 100,000 American lives by the end of the decade.

Phill Wilson was almost one of them. He was diagnosed at age 30.

“The counselor said I probably had about six months left to live, so I should go home and get my things in order,” Wilson said.

There are, of course, reasons for him to celebrate that need no explanation. He knows how far he has come.

Wilson and his partner, Chris Brownlie, were diagnosed around the same time and began to stand up to address the many disparities that come with AIDS, recognizing that African Americans in particular were not being served. So they took it upon themselves, starting with the community.

Wilson continued: “It was the community that moved the science. It was the community that moved the policy. It was the community that moved the treatment. It was the community that moved the treatment. equal rights.”

This eventually led Wilson to leadership roles, serving as Los Angeles AIDS coordinator, helping to establish the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and working with two presidential administrations to fight the disease.

The disease that almost took him, and in 1989 took Brownlie.

“He died around six in the morning in November, the sun had just come up. At nine I was in my office because there was going to be a whole series of people who were going to die that day. .There must have been other people admitted to the hospital that day.”

The work they started together has continued. And still does.

Wilson said: “If we hadn’t done the work on HIV and AIDS, we wouldn’t have a Covid-19 vaccine today. We wouldn’t have been able to manifest what I honestly believe to have been a relatively quick response to monkeypox.”

There are still gaps to fill and questions to answer. Among them is at the heart of LGBTQ+ History Month.

“What is the responsibility of young people to quote-without-quote remembering the struggle.”

Today, Pride Month and everything the rainbow touches speaks in celebratory tones.

A generation of homosexual adults did not survive the AIDS epidemic. They may take this work for granted.

Which is perhaps frustrating for those who put the work in place. But wasn’t that the purpose of the work itself.

“Do I really want anyone else to go through what we went through? Absolutely not. I don’t. So, I don’t know.”

“Isn’t that the ultimate question about history, respecting history and how you think about history? To kind of have this battle.” concludes Wilson.

Reference material coordinated in collaboration with the ONE Archives Foundation.

The ONE Archives Foundation is the independent community partner that supports ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California (USC) Libraries, the world’s largest repository of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) materials. Founded in 1952 as ONE Inc., the publisher of ONE Magazine, ONE Archives Foundation is the oldest active LGBTQ organization in the United States. In 2010, ONE Archives Foundation deposited its extensive collection of historical LGBTQ materials with USC Libraries. Today, the organization is dedicated to promoting this important resource through a variety of activities, including educational initiatives, fundraisers, and a range of public programs.

ONE Archives Foundation’s K-12 flagship educational programs provide educators with the resources they need to teach accurate and authentic LGBTQ+ history, including professional development webinars and free LGBTQ+ lesson plans available online. download from our website. Additionally, the ONE Archives Foundation mentors young people to become ambassadors of LGBTQ+ history through the Youth Ambassadors for Queer History program. Learn more here.

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