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The Personal And the Political: Losing Parents to AIDS


February 25, 2014

With Alysia Abbott, Kia Benbow, Mathew Rodriguez, and Sarah Schulman

Talking to adult children who lost their parents to AIDS. 

In partnership with Visual AIDS.

Even though AIDS was identified (as GRID) in 1981, we now know that people were dying from it ten to thirty years before. Of those who died of AIDS, many had children. Some of their children were born HIV positive, some were born negative because of medications given in utero. The amount of people whose parents died of AIDS may number in the hundreds of thousands nationally, and in the tens of thousands in New York City. Yet they have never been heard from as a community. Other nations have culturally acknowledged this experience, yet the U.S. has remained silent. 

This events is to start this conversation. What are the experiences of people whose parents died of AIDS? How do they understand these experiences? What do they need? There was substantially fifteen years of government inaction regarding AIDS that lead to the global crisis we face today. Did their parents die of AIDS, or of government indifference and neglect? How can such a significant experience be brought to light in its range and scope and integrated into our understanding of the AIDS community?


Alysia Abbott is the author of Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father, which is a story about growing up in the iconic moment of Haight-Ashbury in the 1970s with her father, the writer Steve Abbott who died of AIDS related complications in 1994. Abbott has written for numerous publications including The Atlantic, Psychology Today and many others. She lives with her husband and two children in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Kia Labeija (Benbow) is a multi-disciplinary artist working in photography, illustration dance, performance and installation. Benbow is a member of the iconic house of Labeija. As an activist Benbow has been a champion of HIV/AIDS related causes, including raising awareness of young people living with HIV and increasing people's exposure to art through nightlife. Currently, Benbow is at the New School. 

Mathew Rodriguez is a writer and is the Editorial Project Manager at, the web's most complete HIV/AIDS resource, where he has written about his relationship to his father, Alfredo Rodriguez, who was living with HIV and passed away from an AIDS-related illness at the age of 55 in the year 2011. Rodriguez is a queer Latino who engages in both AIDS and queer activism. 

Sarah Schulman is a writer, teacher and AIDS historian. Her books focused on the AIDS crisis include the novels People In Trouble, Rat Bohemia and The Child and the nonfiction books, My American History: Lesbian and Gay Life During the Reagan/Bush Years, Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS and the Marketing of Gay America and The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination. With Jim Hubbard she is co-director of the ACT UP Oral History Project and co-producer of the feature documentary film UNITED IN ANGER :The History of ACT UP. As a journalist, Sarah reported on AIDS for The Village Voice, The Nation and other publications. She was a member of ACT UP from 1987 to 1992.

MAC AIDS Fund is the Lead Corporate Sponsor of the Why We Fight exhibition and related programming. 

This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of Hermes Mallea and Carey Maloney, with additional support from the LGBT Initiative of The New York Public Library. Time Warner is a founding supporter of the LGBT Initiative.
Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos Exhibitions Fund, and Jonathan Altman.