Harry Breaux: At 72, Surviving the AIDS Epidemic

When I met Erin Allday, the journalist whose idea it was to start reporting on long-term AIDS survivors, I was attending a working group requesting the city for funding to help us folks that never planned to live this long. Having been HIV+ since 1980, and from 1985 on being told repeatedly that I would die within two years, it was a  bit of a shock to end up being “saved” by the cocktail in 1996 and realise that I would live to a ripe old age. At 72, drug compliant and living healthily, I am well on my way.

I sero-converted in 1980, diagnosed with HIV in 1985, was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS in 1996. All those years were filled with the loss of friends and loved ones to this disease.

Having fallen into the spotlight of Erin and Tim’s documentary was a twist of fate I had no inkling of until it became real during the year that I was interviewed and photographed for the film. As with any edited vehicle, there were some things about me that didn’t come out and others that did. Overall, the experience of having a pinpoint of light shining on me was fun and sad.

The attention I received, and the reason for it, was certainly the fun aspect. The recalling and “exposing” of my well-buried memories from those years in the 1970’s morphed from the joy of freedom to horror. Of the fight for “gay rights” and the freedom to express a gay lifestyle without fear of reprisals, of Harvey Milk’s assassination, along with that of Mayor George Moscone, and of the onset of the “AIDS years”.

When a leader is struck down, another leader can be found to lead, but when the group disappears, the movement takes a very different turn. That’s what happened in the 1980’s after the dramatic and passionate period of the 70’s with freedom and turmoil. We turned our faces to the shock and fury of the 80’s and AIDS and its ever dwindling numbers of participants.

I am grateful that some record of the people who experienced those times is being kept, and grateful for the many films on this subject. From Hollywood’s “MILK” with Sean Penn, to the documentaries of Cleve Jones (When We Rise), David Weismann (We Were Here and others) and many others, featuring the stories of the early AIDS years and the incredible response mounted in San Francisco by a small, dedicated group of men and women of all types to deal with those years and those incomprehensible events.

I’d like to thank the SF Chronicle for having the courage to make this documentary, Erin Allday for the initial idea, Erin Brethauer and Tim Hussin for the film itself and Audrey Cooper for agreeing to take on the project for the paper. I am honored to be a part of one more piece of this phenomenal and varied “quilt” of stories and anecdotes known forever as the “AIDS Years”.

May you enjoy viewing our story and know that it’s everyone’s story now. Thank you for your love.

Harry Breaux’s story of surviving the AIDS epidemic is one of eight long-term survivors featured in Last Men Standing, which will screen at the Scottish Queer International Film Festival at the CCA on 1st October 2017. Tickets are priced on a sliding scale, from Free – £8 in £2 increments. A guide to the sliding scale can be found here.

See here for more information on access measures in place for SQIFF 2017. If you have any questions about the content of films or events or about accessibility at the Festival, please contact info@sqiff.org. We are continually working to improve our access measures and welcome any feedback.