HIV Advocates at USCA 2018 Speak Out About Pulse Orlando

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I attended the U.S. Conference on AIDS (USCA) in Orlando, Florida, in September. The organizers of the conference from NMAC said they chose Orlando as the 2018 site to honor those who died and those who continue to live in the aftermath of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting. While writing a feature story on this topic for TheBodyPRO, I decided it would be best to hear directly from four HIV advocates attending USCA about the importance of honoring Pulse and the impact of the attack on their community.

Charles Sanchez is an openly gay, openly poz writer/director/actor living in New York City. He has written for and HuffPost's Queer Voices. As a performer, musical director, and director, he has worked in venues ranging from Lincoln Center and off-Broadway to dinner theater in Arkansas. His award-winning musical comedy web series, Merce, is about an HIV-positive guy living in New York who isn't sad, sick, or dying.

Charles Sanchez

Kalvin Pugh, Kansas City CARE Clinic, Kansas City, Missouri

Pulse is like home. It happened on my birthday. I was here, six months before Pulse, in Pulse, having a great time. So, it feels very close to home. I think it's very appropriate that we're here and celebrating those lives. Especially with the focus on the Latinx and trans community here at the conference, and those being the most impacted by what happened here, it's very timely for us to be here.

Charles Sanchez

Evany Turk, Positive Women's Network, Chicago

Being the anniversary, I believe we want to continue to honor those who were lost by continuing to support the LGBT community, continuing to do what we need to do to make sure it never happens again. To continue to use our voices for power and continue to lift up the LGBT community, to surround the LGBT community and make sure we're supporting the community as much as we possibly can. Being here does that because it makes sure we're staying on top of current advances, making sure we know what's going on around the country, and making sure we keep the spirit of those people with us.

Charles Sanchez

Jesus Guillen, San Francisco

I think it really touched many of us in many different ways. First, because many of us are familiar, really, when we have a lot of friends dying at one particular moment, one after the other. And in this particular case, of course, there were many Latinos, and I'm a Latino. And I'm an immigrant. And I know, because I've been very close to that, what it feels like. So, when I knew about this event (Pulse), it was really horrible to imagine that they were trying to save their lives and they died. And they were such young people, you know? I was 24 years old when I became infected with HIV and I'm an HIV long-term survivor, and I'm here alive. But I could have been dead, you know, when I was 24. You know, in those days when we were still going to dance and having fun, not thinking about anything else but just dance and Madonna and everything else! And now these people are gone. So, wherever they are, I hope they are at peace and hopefully smiling and dancing.

Charles Sanchez

Roscoe Boyd, Prevention Access Campaign, New York

Yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to visit the Pulse site, which is now a beautiful memorial, and realized how much it impacted this community. They not only closed the club, but they turned it into a beautiful place to remember those whose lives were lost. Being from New York, it hit me rather hard, because I have friends who are connected with people down here. And to see that we're going through the process of healing and that we're finding a way to recover is pretty awesome.