Instagram can be used for multiple reasons. It gives us the opportunity to take a peek into the lives of celebrities we adore, check up on our friends and loved ones and double tap a bunch of guys we find irresistibly hot.
Then there’s The AIDS Memorial page, which in my opinion is an account that any and everybody should be following on the popular social media platform.
I backed into it a while ago and was blown away by the stories people shared about their loved ones who tragically passed of AIDS. Every post is different but each come with enough emotions to make someone (present company included) cry their eyes out as they read about several subjects and the impact they made on this world prior to their unfortunate passing.
It’s a necessary tool for anyone who wants to be educated and learn about the incredible people who were part of our history and how they’re remembered all this time later.
I was fortunate enough to speak to its founder Stuart on how the page began and so much more in my powerful exclusive with him.
What inspired you to start this groundbreaking Instagram page?
I did not have a plan, but I have always been interested in a variety of reasons in the stories that I now feature on TAM long before I created it. I had a dormant Instagram account and it just sort of happened.
Just like any medium, I understood that Instagram could be particularly useful if used purposefully. TAM attracted some media attention when it had just a few hundred followers and I have not really needed to promote it. It has always bothered me that such recent history, with so many gone, is rarely focused on and largely forgotten, coupled with the fact it is still taboo to talk about AIDS. So as TAM got more attention and grew through word of mouth, I just thought that maybe I could help change that a little bit.
I was never a big user of social media before TAM and when I have “dipped in” I have found it to be mainly an illusion. For me, reality has always been more interesting than fantasy especially so on Instagram where you get sucked in to comparing your life to others and never feeling good enough. I would like to think I have created something that is the antithesis of all that. But I do not find TAM depressing, ironically quite the opposite. TAM and the community that has evolved around it, gives me hope. Regardless, Instagram is the perfect place to reach a far-ranging demographic to instantly share the stories of not just the famous who perished but the unknown and those left behind, including Long Term Survivors (LTS) of HIV/AIDS.
It’s an account unlike any other in regard to the stories shared by loved ones of people who died of AIDS. How are you able to manage your emotions when receiving each message in your inbox?
It can be difficult. I thought I would become immune to getting upset but I still do and daily. There are times I often post to TAM and then decide, that is it, I need a break and I’m not going to post for a while or ever again — I need a time out. I often feel too emotionally drained to continue especially so during COVID.
However, that never happens. I do not stop. I sleep on it. One reason I keep going is because TAM is a much-needed daily realty check for me and those who follow. I read the posts and realize how lucky I am. TAM is the constant reminder to live life to the fullest and to appreciate the people that are close to you, don’t wait until their gone! TAM is also a wake up call to be more compassionate, less judgmental and a reminder not to sweat the small stuff. I relapse constantly but TAM’s daily posts call me to action.
Have you received messages from the younger generations who may not have known about the impact that AIDS once had on our society?
The feedback is always amazing. Millennials seem pretty clued up and have a real thirst for finding out about those who came before them. Most recognize that those who are featured on TAM helped to build the foundation for the freedom which they enjoy today.
I also get messages from younger folk who tell me that they did not have any idea, until they followed TAM, the extent of the AIDS crisis and how they want to help now in some way. But I also recognize, for some, that TAM might not be the type of account which they are ready to be invested in right now. You cannot blame them for that. I am not here to school anyone nor am I the gatekeeper of AIDS history, far from it, but I hope TAM will be around long enough for them to find their way back to it and their history at some point in the future. Just like I did.
Do you feel as if this generation of people are still forgotten in the world we live in today?
When I read comments left on TAM repeatedly saying, “I didn’t know that so many died”, it just proves how this significant period of time — and so recent — has been forgotten. There are so many stories I have received that tell of those who, while dying of AIDS, were scared that they would be forgotten. This has stuck with me. Granted AIDS is not a subject that anyone wants to be reminded of, but everyone leaves behind a legacy when they pass, and it is not any different even if you have died of it. I purposely use the hashtag “What is Remembered Lives” to accompany all posts as a way to emphasize that we must not erase from our consciousness the lives of those who perished due to this unspeakable disease.
Are you hoping to do anything else with The AIDS Memorial outside of it being on Instagram?
The AIDS Memorial has a dedicated following on Facebook which many people do not realize. There are a few things in the pipeline. If they happen, they happen, great, but I do not have an agenda other than to keep doing what I am doing.
Next Tuesday is World AIDS Day. What is the one thing you hope people take away from it that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives?
That’s a tall order which I cannot answer other than to say, on today of all days, we must continue to remember those who were afflicted with AIDS that were abandoned and mistreated by family, friends and the medical establishment, ostracized like lepers while suffering the indignity of having their cause of death concealed due to fear and stigma.
We must never forget the appalling stigma, neglect, homophobia and hatred they endured, otherwise, history will keep repeating itself. It is also important to remember today those still living with HIV especially LTS who continue to help break down misconceptions about it. Their insight is so inspiring and to a large extent ignored. We will always be indebted to them for being on the front lines fighting when there were no treatment options. Many LTS were used as human guinea pigs so that society today now have antiretrovirals that make HIV a chronic but manageable condition.