POZ September Hero

From a recent issue of POZ

September 2014

Let’s Kick ASS

by Casey Halter

Tez Anderson
Tez Anderson

Tez Anderson, a 55-year-old San Franciscan living with HIV since at least 1983, has been an AIDS activist for decades, including rallying in ACT UP Golden Gate in the 1990s. But five years ago, he had a mental breakdown. It was the culmination of two decades of alienating his friends, falling in and out of depression and completely ignoring his finances and his future.

Looking back, Anderson realizes he was still stuck in AIDS survival mode—and it was driving him crazy. “Every time I took those pills,” he says, “I was reminded of those that I lost.” What Anderson didn’t realize at the time, however, was that he was not alone.

Fast-forward to June 18, 2014, when more than 250 people showed up in solidarity for the first National HIV/AIDS Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day. Organized by Anderson’s new San Francisco grassroots support group, Let’s Kick ASS (AIDS Survivor Syndrome), the event helped bring awareness to the trauma and mental health issues faced by those who made it through the early years of the epidemic.

“We want to end the isolation and help people imagine the future they never dreamed of,” says Anderson, who chose the date as a way to commemorate his fellow fighters; it marked the 33rd anniversary of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s first report of what became known as AIDS.

After a day of planting trees in San Francisco’s National AIDS Memorial Grove, attending survivor-themed talk shows, holding support programs for HIV-positive and HIV-negative advocates, and garnering more than 1,000 Facebook “likes” for the long-term survivors’ movement, Anderson knew he had started something serious.

The vibe, he says, was reminiscent of the old ACT UP but with a modern feel. “People wanted to take action,” he recalls. In fact, the group’s next goal is to get “AIDS survivor syndrome,” which is similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), on the mental health map. They want clinical studies and national insurance coverage.

“If AIDS had happened mostly to straight white men, there would probably be AIDS museums in every city of America,” Anderson says. He has a point: So far, AIDS has claimed more American lives than both world wars.

Let’s Kick ASS currently meets in San Francisco for monthly town halls, weekly coffee get-togethers and regular meditation classes. The group is considering opening new chapters in Houston and Portland, Oregon, and is reaching out to cities across the country.

See it online: http://www.poz.com/articles/tez_anderson_2866_26010.shtml


So Damn Busy

This site doesn’t get much love. I’ve been so busy. Speaking before a California State Assembly hearing on GBT Aging and speaking at the White House Listening Session at the Hastings Law School. Stay tuned I’m going the updating this site soon.

Cheers

Tez


So I Started This Thing

Called LetsKickASS.org and people noticed. Here is a piece in Instinct Magazine:

Its mission—To build a community for long-term survivors. Anderson says that it’s healing for people to come together and share their stories. “We are living in a future we never could’ve imagined,” he says. “I’m trying to help people imagine it.”

 http://instinctmagazine.com/article/bottom

SF Weeklyhttp://blogs.sfweekly.com/exhibitionist/2013/12/lets_kick_ass_long_term_aids_s.php

San Francisco AIDS Foundation BETA feature: BETAblog.org/kicking-ass-meet-tez/

SFAF.org/hiv-info/hot-topics/from-the-experts/heroes-in-the-fight-meet-tez.html

The Bay Area Reporter has done a couple of pieces about the work of Let’s Kick ASS:  http://ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=69214

You can read the Castro Biscuit account of our first town hall here: http://castrobiscuit.com/2013/09/25/new-grassroots-aids-group-lets-kick-ass-holds-first-town-hall-meeting/

http://betablog.org/perspectives-from-the-aids-generation/

Let’s Kick ASS founder Tez Anderson was in the audience and offered his take. “We need mental health services to focus on the post-traumatic stress that most of the people in this room who are over 50 live with every day,” he stated. “But what we really need more than that is us coming together again.” Anderson explained that one goal of the new organization is to reunite the survivor community and build on its strengths: “We all had years and years of grief and strife and angst and terror, and we’ve come through it. How can we celebrate the resilience of this community? I believe we should celebrate how far we have come, instead of focusing on what we’ve lost and what we’ve given up. Let’s focus on how we can make these next 20 or 30 years the best they can possibly be.”

Sharp agreed and commented that, in addition to comprehensive health care to treat both HIV and aging-related illnesses, “I see the need for the rebuilding of a strong compassionate community where we take care of one another.” Hicks agreed. “People just get so tired, they feel isolated, they stop taking their treatments, and they die,” she said. “How do you help give hope to these folks so they take their medications and they live on? I think it’s through this kind of movement.”

So what will it take to effect these changes? “I’m encouraged right now by the crowd in this room,” said Sharp. “I’m encouraged by what I see with the Let’s Kick ASS movement, which I believe is the new movement of long-term survivors. We’re coming together to try to create some solutions around these problems—and we need people. That’s what it’s going to take.”

2014 is going to amazing!