“A True Champion,” on National HIV Testing Day

by Phillip Matthews TPAN Executive Director, 1996–98

Orig. pub. Nov. 2000

Before I reflect on the past 10 years of “Positively Aware,” I would like to first congratulate Charles Clifton on being named the next editor of this terrific HIV treatment publication. I worked with Charles when I served as the executive director of TPAN from 1996-98.  I have always been impressed with his intelligence, work ethic and his knowledge of the issues that affect people living with HIV. More importantly, Charles has compassion and commitment to making a difference in the HIV community. He is an ideal choice to guide “Positively Aware” as it enters the next millennium. Congratulations, Charles! When Charles invited me to submit an article commemorating the 10th anniversary of this outstanding journal I agreed without hesitation. After all, experience has given me a unique voice regarding this issue. 

Phil Matthews

My personal journey of 18 years as a gay man living with HIV closely parallels the growth of “Positively Aware.” My experiences as executive director of the agency, and finally, my personal relationship with Steve Whitson, the late editor of “Positively Aware” (and my lover of three years) gave me a direct view of the intelligence, energy and commitment necessary to produce a quality publication issue after issue. I know when I became infected with the HIV virus and I even know the man from whom I contracted the disease. It was the spring of 1982 and I was a junior in college. I had not yet ventured far beyond the safe confines of my childhood home, a small town of 35,000 people. I was young and beginning to fully explore my sexuality. Of course, no one had yet started to stress the behaviors of “safe sex”… no one knew it would become our sexual reality for years to come. I would not test for the virus until 1987, by which time I was living in New York City. 

(Phil & Steve, courtesy of Positively Aware

At that time, organizations like Test Positive Aware Network and NYC’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis were just beginning to become a necessary part of the HIV landscape and there were no HIV treatment publications to read. We were flying blind and grasping for answers that did not exist. As HIV and AIDS threatened the community, activists began to organize and people living with HIV started sharing their stories, experiences and knowledge. The self-empowerment movement was born and community-based organizations started distributing pamphlets and newsletters, providing the foundation from which publications like Positively Aware would be created. “Positively Aware” has seen amazing growth and development. Each editor has brought a special talent to his job and each person’s contribution is essential to elevate the magazine to where the magazine stands today—one of the most widely read and highly respected HIV treatment publications available. 

Steve Whitson

Steve Whitson began working on the publication in 1997. As editor of “Positively Aware,” he was the happiest he had been in his life. At the time Steve was a tenured professor at DePaul University. He was first and foremost a teacher, and he used those skills to guide one of the most respected HIV journals in the country. He gladly accepted the challenge of educating people about HIV and was dedicated to providing the most up-to-date treatment information, ultimately, giving people the tools to make knowledgeable choices about their healthcare.

Steve explored the personal side of HIV by reporting on issues that affect a rich and diverse community regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. He was fiercely loyal to, and protective of, the HIV community. His size and stature intimidated people, but he was truly a kind and gentle soul. He was blessed with a rare gift to be equally comfortable speaking with researchers and physicians as he was at taking time to talk with a complete stranger about the problems they may be having with their current medications.

Steve’s wisdom and compassion touched many lives. Many of you reading this magazine are healthier today because of his commitment to making the complex world of HIV a little easier to understand…and hopefully, not quite so overwhelming and frightening. I miss him a great deal and the community lost a true champion of its cause.

Steve Whitson’s Memorial

“Positively Aware” has maintained a vital voice in the HIV community by being the voice of all people living with the disease. Congratulations on the last 10 years helping everyone affected by HIV live healthier lives. Keep up the important work!

(Main image: Steve Whitson and Phil Matthews with Brit)

Editor’s Note: Today is National HIV Testing Day, theOUTfront pauses to remember all those whom we have lost to AIDS. We urge our readers, our family, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity to get tested.  Know your status.

1 in 7 people who have HIV don’t know it

More information about TPAN HERE

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