Stonewall to Border Wall: AIDS Activism As A Model For Change In Uncertain Times” Forum

November 29th
Vashon Island High School Theater 7:00 pm


Stonewall to Border Wall: AIDS Activism As A Model For Change In Uncertain Times  will engage the community in dialogue focusing on the social justice issues emerging out of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and ’90s.  Lessons learned from the AIDS activist movement will be a key theme in the evening’s discussion.  Panelists will offer their perspectives and shared experiences with an emphasis on informing and inspiring activism regardless of issue. Several of our panelists will offer an international and global view.

38 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, with an equal number of deaths since the start of the epidemic, clearly there is still much to do.

Rebecca West will be appearing via Skype from Africa.   Audience participation is encouraged.

Global HIV and AIDS Statistics 2016


The Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village has long been a gathering place for homosexuals. The riots that broke out at The Stonewall Inn and surrounding community in the summer of 1969 are widely considered a turning point, some would say the beginning of the gay rights movement.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and police departments kept lists of known homosexuals, their favored establishments, and friends… Cities performed “sweeps” to rid neighborhoods, parks, bars, and beaches of gay people… Thousands of gay men and women were publicly humiliated, physically harassed, fired, jailed, or institutionalized in mental hospitals. Many lived double lives, keeping their private lives secret from their professional ones.

Source: Wikipedia

Rather than accept this brutal and unfair treatment the community spontaneously fought back over a period of days in multiple confrontations with police.  After Stonewall, the gay community united in ways not seen before as organizations emerged to provide support and push for change.  Tragically the tidal wave of AIDS of the 1980s and ’90s renewed and invigorated hatred toward homosexuals.  AIDS was seen as a “gay disease”.  Recrimination and marginalization fueled apathy and inaction at all levels of government and the pharmaceutical and health care industries.  Desperately ill patients were routinely refused treatment.  There was talk of quarantine, and tattooing of AIDS sufferers. AIDS gained a foothold in the gay community but after 38 million deaths worldwide, we understand AIDS as a human disease that does not discriminate.

Activists played a key role in turning the tide in the epidemic, a group called ACT UP: AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power was at the forefront of the movement.  Activists took to the streets demanding action, confronting drug companies and ineffectual governmental agencies with huge and raucous demonstrations. They fought to save themselves when nobody else would, something no other group had ever done.  They were outrageous, using non-violent civil disobedience strategies and  provocative street art to mobilize and inform their community at a time before the Internet, cell phones and social media.

While demonstrations were the publicly visible side of their efforts, behind the scenes they educated themselves, learned the science of HIV/AIDS, and the politics and methodology of drug development and approval.  The treatment breakthroughs of the mid-1990s were the direct result of activists collaborating with the NIH, FDA, and the drug industry.  Activists designed the drug testing protocols that streamlined and shortened the approval process and brought promising drugs to those that needed them.  Those protocols are now standard operating procedure for the FDA.  Activists quite literally saved millions of lives worldwide.



Stephen Silha – Moderator

Stephen Silha is a freelance writer, filmmaker, facilitator, and futurist.  A former reporter for The Christian Science Monitor and The Minneapolis Star, he has worked with Children’s Express News Service, Libraries for the Future, Yes! Magazine and Good News/Good Deeds: Citizen Effectiveness in the Age of Electronic Democracy.  He is past president of AIDS Housing of Washington, which built Seattle’s Bailey-Boushay House, the first hospice in the U.S. specifically for people with AIDS. He has co-facilitated youth-adult dialogues on Vashon Island, and is co-founder of Journalism That Matters, a think-and-do tank on the future of journalism. His first feature film which he produced and co-directed, BIG JOY: The Adventures of James Broughton, about one of his mentors, has traveled to 50+ festivals and won several awards

Brian Knowles

Brian is the executive director at Bailey-Boushay House in Seattle. “Bailey-Boushay House was named after Thatcher Bailey and his partner Frank Boushay, who died of AIDS in 1989. It was established in 1992 as a place where people with AIDS could find compassionate care and a way to live their last days with dignity”.

Brian has worked for the organization since 1992 and has been on the front lines of HIV/AIDS treatment and care since the 1980s having lived in New York City and worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC).  GMHC was among the earliest organizations to significantly mobilize in response to the mushrooming epidemic.

Today, Bailey-Boushay offers services for people with AIDS as well as those living with other life-threatening conditions.

Rev. Paul Mitchell

Paul Mitchell is pastor of Vashon United Methodist Church.  Paul is the son of a minister spending much of his youth in rural South Dakota.  He was an architect for 17 years in New York City and Los Angeles before pursuing his true vocation as a pastor.

During his time in New York he was front and center witnessing the toll AIDS had on the  gay community.  Paul has long been drawn to social justice issues and considers it an important facet of his life and ministry.

Rebecca West

Rebecca is a global health researcher specializing in adult HIV care and treatment. She has worked on projects across sub-Saharan Africa including eSwatini, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia; as well as multi-country policy initiatives. She is currently a project manager with the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California – San Francisco and is based in Bushbuckridge, South Africa. Her work focuses on behavioral interventions to increase uptake of HIV testing and treatment, and has also recently expanded to measuring health service quality.

Rebecca holds a Master of Public Health from Columbia University and a BS in Public Health from the University of Washington.

Rosette Royale

Rosette Royale is a writer and storyteller living in Seattle. He grew up on the East Coast, where, as a precocious teen in the mid-80s, he tracked early news reports of HIV. In the 1990s, he lived in Provincetown, Mass., where he worked as a reporter for a weekly paper, where his beat involved coverage of HIV/AIDS. He’s also written for POZ magazine.

He currently works as a story-gathering consultant for the upcoming AIDS Memorial Pathway (The AMP), collecting stories from local people of color talking about the impact of HIV/AIDS on their lives. The AMP is scheduled to open on Capitol Hill in the summer of 2020.

Ann von Briesen Lewis

Ann von Briesen Lewis is an international development consultant, with experience working and living in Asia, South America, and Africa. She has special expertise in evaluation, education, post-conflict transitions and international humanitarian law. Ms. Lewis represented the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance in post-genocide Rwanda, coordinating humanitarian assistance.  Ms. Lewis served as Executive Director of Fulbright Commissions in both Nepal and Indonesia, and monitored elections in four countries for The Carter Center.

Her most recent work has been designing and evaluating USAID-funded programs implementing the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief PEPFAR in Tanzania, Rwanda, Malawi, Nepal, Democratic Republic of Congo.  These HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment programs rely on local NGOs and community groups to mobilize and energize local-level solutions.

Ms. Lewis holds a MA in international development and a certificate in international humanitarian law. She lives on Vashon Island with her husband, George Lewis and volunteers at the NW Detention Center in Tacoma.