In a letter to his dear friend, Reggie Williams wrote: “I want to tell our story, our history … I want to inspire Black Gays.” Reggie Williams lived with many struggles. Balancing the racism of one community and the homophobia of another, Reggie made his life’s work empowering and advocating for men like him. He experienced firsthand the inequities faced by gay and bisexual men of color and stepped in to fill the gap.
Reggie Williams began working as an X-ray technician at Cedar Sinai Hospital during the wake of the AIDS epidemic. Activist groups began forming in San Francisco to center on the health and wellness of those affected, but Williams believed the efforts aimed at prevention were not culturally compatible with Black gay men and gay men of color. Williams took action on his own, initiating the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention to ensure men of color received the education and services necessary to save their lives. After being diagnosed HIV positive in 1986, Williams got involved in multiple organizations that addressed AIDS in San Francisco’s communities of color. He spoke with high school students about prevention and led efforts to survey Black, gay, and bisexual men’s knowledge, attitudes, and behavior regarding safe sex and HIV/AIDS. Reggie Williams shared his story to correct and create a historical perspective of the epidemic’s effects on the lives of African Americans. “I share with them that they don’t have to get this disease. I got it because I didn’t know. I didn’t get it because I am gay. I didn’t get it because I am Black. I got it because I didn’t have the information.”
Reggie Williams would later relocate to Amsterdam with partner Wolfgang Schreiber to avoid the stigma and discrimination associated with his HIV-positive status. While he still believed the disease would inevitably take his own life, Williams remained hopeful for the health and wellness of Black gay men in the future. He lost his battle with AIDS on February 7, 1999, at only 47.
But Reggie Williams is still here … because he fought to change the face of gay liberation. His work empowered young, Black, gay men to feel pride in who they are.
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