May #91 : Editor's Letter - by Walter Armstrong

POZ - Health, Life and HIV
Subscribe to:
POZ magazine
Join POZ: Facebook MySpace Twitter Pinterest
Tumblr Google+ Flickr MySpace
POZ Personals
Sign In / Join

Back to home » Archives » POZ Magazine issues

Table of Contents

Children of a Lesser God

Virgin With A Vengeance

Liver and Let Live

Submission: Impossible

Now They C It

Drug Trade

Insecurity Council

Lady Buggers

Latest Battles On Latex

Knock, Knock


Leap of Faith

Sunshine Therapy

AIDS Lyrics

Love Songs

It Takes Tube

Pot Shot

Show Us the Money

It Happened in May

Guru Gere“Gotcha??

Take This Mug and Stuff It

The Rub

Big Easy

Doctor Shocker!

Warts and All

On Your Feet

Brains, Not Beauty

Math Hysteria

Main Squeeze


Treat and Run

Double Agent

Unhappy Together

A Fish Called Tuna

Risk and Tell

Tell and Risk


Editor's Letter

Star Billings

Most Popular Lessons

The HIV Life Cycle


Herpes Simplex Virus

Syphilis & Neurosyphilis

Treatments for Opportunistic Infections (OIs)

What is AIDS & HIV?

Hepatitis & HIV

email print

May 2003

Editor's Letter

by Walter Armstrong

The 20th anniversary of the Denver Principles is upon us, and I had hoped to celebrate it here. Have you heard of the Denver Principles? They are worth some study. They marked the official birth of the PWA self-empowerment movement and AIDS activism. Such a glamorous pedigree has given license to myths, but in fact the origins were grass-roots messy, not to mention gay raunchy. In retrospect, they were also miraculous.

In June 1983, 11 gay men from San Francisco and New York City were invited to attend a national conference of gay doctors in Denver. All 11 had the mysterious new disease. Many were in their 20s. Some had the blue Kaposi’s stigmata and the concentration-camp bodies that turned even medical professionals phobic. They also had the desperate courage—and, yes, rage—of prisoners of war facing a firing squad.

In a piece called “The Way We War” (POZ, February 1997), Richard Berkowitz, the group’s sole survivor, recalled how fraught (and funny) their first meeting was: “The two cadres immediately clashed.…The men from San Francisco kept hugging and holding one another—a far cry from our [New York] tendency to complain, yell and curse. But our differences went deeper than style. We argued over treatment approaches, …causes [of the disease] and, most fiercely, the connection between promiscuity [and AIDS] (a theory advocated by New York but denounced as homophobic by San Francisco). One night at dinner, Michael Callen suddenly asked, ‘Who knows how to take two dicks at once?’…a trick question intended to reveal what, other than AIDS, the 11 of us had in common:We were all sluts,” Berkowitz concludes. “By accepting the role of promiscuity…, as personally painful and politically provocative as it was, …we could lead the way in protecting the gay community by promoting safer sex. For 11 men made to feel like lepers while aching more than ever for affection, this was a revelation.” Owning up (and owning their truth), they were inspired to draft a genuine declaration of independence, seize the conference stage, unfurl a “Fighting for Our Lives” banner and raise a defiant voice.

“We condemn attempts to label us as victims, a term that implies defeat, and we are only occasionally patients, a term that implies passivity, helplessness and dependence on the care of others,” the statement began. “We are people with AIDS.” The POWs had turned themselves into PWAs.

They made demands: “Support us in our struggle against those who would fire us from our jobs, evict us from our homes, refuse to touch us or separate us from our loved ones, our community or our peers, since available evidence does not support the view that AIDS can be spread by casual, social contact.”

They claimed rights: “To as full and satisfying sexual and emotional lives as anyone else. To quality medical treatment…privacy, confidentiality of medical records and human respect. To die and to LIVE in dignity.”

They assumed responsibilities:“To choose [our] own representatives, to deal with the media [and our] own agenda…. To be involved at every level of decision-making…on the boards of directors of provider organizations…. To substitute low-risk sexual behaviors for [dangerous ones]…and to inform [our] potential sexual partners of [our] health status.” (For the complete Denver Principles, click on

The words moved people, and more important, they got people moving. “And the rest is history,” it is tempting to add. In fact, last January, 130 Ugandan women with HIV presented the Kampala Declaration at a conference on mother-to-child transmission, stating, “We are the experts in our communities.” While this is only the most recent of many instances of PWA self-empowerment’s wildfire spread, it would be a betrayal of the blood, sweat, tears (and, no doubt, other body fluids) of the 11 founding fathers to celebrate the Denver Principles as a 20-year achievement. The reason barely needs stating: Conditions worldwide for PWAs are worse today than they were in 1983. Science has come far, the PWA movement even further, but politics is still business as usual.

Let’s own up: The weird disease that sprung up in the Castro hills and on tiny Christopher Street now girds the globe in a genocidal embrace. Your own suffering and losses have been multiplied by many millions. Still, our institutions and corporations (does that mean us?) deem saving entire communities—even, God forgive us, actual continents—not worth the cost. Then consider this: The world’s only superpower has other wars on its agenda. So the Denver Principles remain a dream deferred.

A celebration? No. How about desperate courage—and, yes, rage?

-- e-mail:

[Go to top]

Facebook Twitter Google+ MySpace YouTube Tumblr Flickr Instagram
Quick Links
Current Issue

HIV Testing
Safer Sex
Find a Date
Newly Diagnosed
HIV 101
Disclosing Your Status
Starting Treatment
Help Paying for Meds
Search for the Cure
POZ Stories
POZ Opinion
POZ Exclusives
Read the Blogs
Visit the Forums
Job Listings
Events Calendar
POZ on Twitter

Ask POZ Pharmacist

Talk to Us
Did you participate in an event for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2016?


more surveys
Contact Us
We welcome your comments!
[ about Smart + Strong | about POZ | POZ advisory board | partner links | advertising policy | advertise/contact us | site map]
© 2016 Smart + Strong. All Rights Reserved. Terms of use and Your privacy.
Smart + Strong® is a registered trademark of CDM Publishing, LLC.