Charles Clifton, executive director of Test Positive Aware Network in Chicago, has died. He was 45.
Clifton was a well-respected and well-liked activist and leader within the gay community, and he lectured often on gay history and AIDS issues.
Clifton was first associated with TPAN in 1996 when he moved to Chicago to pursue graduate studies at the University of Chicago. He served as editor of TPAN's Positively Aware journal for four years and as executive director since 2002.
Clifton recently attended the world AIDS conference in Thailand, and had not been feeling well since his return. He died of an apparent heart attack Aug. 15.
In Chicago, Clifton served as co-chair of the Public Policy Committee with the Service Providers Council of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), was a member of the Chicago HIV Prevention and Planning Group (HPPG), and a founding member of MOCHA (Men of Color HIV/AIDS) Collaboration.
On a national level, Clifton was Treasurer on the Steering Committee of the AIDS Treatment Activists Coalition, on the community program committee for the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, and conference co-chair of the North American AIDS Treatment Action Forum (NATAF).
Clifton had an undergraduate degree from San Francisco State University (1993) and Masters Degrees from Dartmouth College (1995) and the University of Chicago (2002). His dissertation topic was 'In the Life: Afro-Homosexuals on Chicago's South Side, 1945-'75,' with supervisor George Chauncey.
Clifton also served on the board of the original bidding organization to bring the Gay Games to Chicago. He was among the 10 Chicagoans who travelled to Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2001 to bid for the Gay Games.
Clifton was active on racial justice issues, and participated in a Windy City Times round-table discussion on racism in the GLBT community in 2003. He also wrote periodically for BLACKlines.
Clifton was among a national group of influential Black gay leaders in 2003 who issued a call to action in the war on AIDS. 'We are calling on every Black organization in America to add HIV/AIDS to its agenda. And we are asking every Black man, woman, and child to make a personal commitment to fight against HIV/AIDS in our communities,' the group stated.
Living with HIV
Clifton wrote about his own HIV status in the AIDS Community Research Initiative America Fall 2002 update.
'It was 16 years ago that I first learned my HIV status. My partner, Antonio, had been sick off and on for months and, as a result, had lost a lot of weight. In April of 1986 he was hospitalized with pneumonia. I remember the exact afternoon, when the doctor came out from examining Tony and told me that Tony had AIDS. He asked about our relationship. I told him that we had been together for eight years. Then the doctor informed me that Tony was going to die from AIDS. And so would I,' Clifton wrote.
'Following several bouts of PCP, and after developing Kaposi's sarcoma and dementia, Antonio died at 11:23 a.m. Oct. 8, 1986. AIDS. There was no mono, dual or triple combination therapy. No poverty or malnutrition. No substance use, illegal drugs or 'hedonistic' lifestyle. No alternative therapy. But more importantly, there was no knowledge, an absence of information on the disease and how to treat it. Straight up AIDS. And there we were—alone, confused and scared. What did we know? Zero. Zip. Nada.
'But I'm still here. Healthy. Drug-free. Take that, doctor know-it-all.
'It wasn't an easy process. I had to take ownership of this disease and educate myself. That took time, energy, and most of all a commitment on my part. I have been involved as a volunteer with several community-based HIV organizations over the years. Five years ago, I joined the staff of Test Positive Aware Network as the Men of Color HIV/AIDS (MOCHA) Director. Two years later, I became editor of the agency's two HIV treatment journals, Positively Aware and Positively Aware en Espanol. And as of July 1, 2002, I was appointed Executive Director of the organization. Yet I still consider myself a treatment educator and advocate, because you can't survive if you aren't informed.
'Throughout my self-education about HIV disease over the last 16 years, I have noticed that the sense of helplessness that I, and others like me, experienced back in the 1980s has not completely vanished. While the 1980s slowly gave way to a generation of AIDS activists and advocates, there are still too many people living with HIV in the year 2002. Many of these people are too afraid to test for HIV, too paralyzed to come to terms with their HIV-positive selves, and too fearful to disclose their status to even their closest friends.
'And that's why I keep on keepin' on.
'I've watched the bodies of friends slowly shut down for any number of reasons related to HIV.
'The silver bullet that we hoped HAART was a few short years back looks a bit tarnished today. ...
'I'm grateful that I've been given these last 16 years to grow as a human being and to achieve goals that I once thought were impossible. I'm grateful that I didn't waste the opportunities afforded me over these many years. I'm grateful that I've been granted the chance to make a difference in at least one person's life. If I can help one person not to be afraid, to let go of the fear which can paralyze, then I've made good on the opportunity granted me. Because that is what it is really all about.
'I'm grateful that my 'work' not only makes a real difference in my day-to-day existence, but also in the lives of so many unknown people. The struggle against HIV/AIDS, like the civil rights, gay and women's movements, must continue as a collaborative effort. I'm grateful for the many HIV-positive people—from all over the world—who have collaborated on the direction my life has taken over the years.'
Clifton was quoted earlier this year about a new AIDS Foundation of Chicago advertising campaign to focus attention back on AIDS. 'There is an urgent need for us to put AIDS back on everyone's radar screen before this crisis gets any worse,' said Clifton. 'We need people to wake up and take notice: AIDS is not going away, despite our best efforts.'
See www.TPAN.com for details on services.
See the Windy City Times, www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com for community response, under the Aug. 18, 2004 edition.