Monday, April 24, 2006

AIDS in the Bahamas


I received a letter from a reader in the Bahamas and thought it was worth sharing in light of the recent report about homophobia in Jamaica.
Hi Steve I Just discovered your blog looking around for stuff about the new Neil Young record. My name is Andrew Jones. I've been positive for over 20 years..started writing and playing music after diagnosis actually during my first serious illness - shingles in the mid 80's. Saved my life for sure.

I was full blown by 91 or so and managed to hang on until the new meds came around. I've made 4 records in betweeen illnesses. I'm also living with hep b and c and have done a couple of inteferon treatments on top of HIV meds. Anyway I just wanted to thank you and congratulate you for your work. I'll spend some time reading your writing and hopefully hearing some of your songs. I spent a lot of time in New York in the 80's and Boston in the 90's.

I'm back in the Bahamas now where i was born and grew up. I've been working with HIV here for a while now. It's a pretty bad situation here... Between 3 and 4.5 % HIV positive and although there are services and free meds available now the stigma is still terrible and a lot of people wont even come forward for testing much less treatment. I'm one of 3 openly positive Bahamians so there is a lot of outreach work for us here. The primary transmission here is said to be heterosexual but who can tell really. I'm straight but have a lot of gay friends here. The Bahamas is also ( i saw your piece on Jamaica) an extremely homophobic culture. Rosie O' Donell just did a documentary about the horrible reception her gay family cruise got here last year. Anyway I Just wanted to say Hi to a fellow traveller... I've been away from music for a year or so although my band is coming down from Massachusetts this weekend to play in Nassau and we're talking about recording again this summer. I havent been writing much lately but I'm hoping to find a way back to it. I was on Sustiva for a long time until september last year and fell into a sustiva depression which i think might be partly why I havent been writing as much as i always did. You can check out a few samples of my music here http://spirithouserecords.com/ Best of health and happiness to you and as we say in the Bahamas

Plenty PLENTY Love Andrew
I wrote Andrew back and told him I was planning on putting more of the music from TLS here on the site over the coming weeks in celebration of our 10th anniversary L.A. workshop. He was very excited and told me more about the Bahamas.
I'm considering doing some more explicitly HIV + material for my next project. It's always been in there but i feel the need to come at it a little more head on this time around. Indeed i also find a lot of people who don't know or have forgotten what it was like in the early days of HIV.

Its really crazy here in the Bahamas some of the misinformation and sheer ignorance that persists in the general culture. The government and a few committed individuals are doing a good job but the general population is still caught up in the same old religious hysteria, stigmatization and homophobia and it makes it really hard to reach the people who need help. I put together a benefit for our local HIV+ network a couple of years ago with some local musicians and my band. It went over pretty well and I find that music and arts in general are a good way to reach people on this issue.

The first time i talked publicly here was about 5 years ago on a radio interview about my music when the interviewer asked me some question about where my music came from and I had a moment where i just realized I had to be real about who i was and where my music came from. It was really liberating for me and a lot of people heard that interview and I got a lot of positive response from that and every other time I've spoken out here. It makes me realize how lucky I am to still be here and able to speak out when so many cant.

In the early days of HIV in the Bahamas people who were positive mostly ended up living and dying at an old leper colony on the back side of the island because family members wouldn't have them in the house. Its getting better but I meet a lot of positive people here who are just terrified and are still convinced they have a death sentence. I always hated that 'death sentence' crap!
Andrew is clearly out front and a hero to many people there. If only we had more people like him.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Steve It looks great. I'm enjoying reading back entries on
your blog. I absolutely Love the title Bonus Round by the way. It
gives me those good chills. That Jamaica piece is really disturbing.
The Bahamas is not quite so far gone although the gay bashing reggae
artists are hugely popular here and the self appointed 'Christian'
leaders hold a lot of power, including the power to ban local theaters
from playing Brokeback Mountain as they did recently, or to scare the
crap out of a boatload of tourists as they did with Rosie's cruise. .
There is a local gay lesbian bisexual transgender rights group called the
Rainbow Alliance led by a very dear friend of mine. Helen Klonaris, who
is currently studying in San Francisco. She is a gifted writer and
singer/songwriter, if you are interested in what she has to say I could
surely put you in touch with her. She is pretty fearless and with a
few other people has consistently taken on the forces of opression and
homophobia in the Bahamas including staging a counter demonstration at
the dock when Rosie's cruise was here.

Steve Schalchlin said...

I'm always excited to read and hear about other brave musicians in places like yours who are not afraid to speak up for what's right. Helen Klonaris sounds like a great woman. Keep up the fight, my brother. I hope some day we'll meet.

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