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PSU hosts livestream with HIV survivors in the era of COVID-19

One survivor featured in a San Francisco Chronicle documentary drew parallels from the HIV crisis of the 80s and 90s to today's COVID-19 pandemic.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland State University (PSU) is co-hosting a livestream event Thursday, featuring a documentary and panel discussion with survivors of the HIV crisis in the 1980s.

Jesus Guillen is one of the men featured in the film Last Men Standing, produced by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2016.

"I am an HIV long-term survivor, 36-37 years by now," Guillen told KGW ahead of Thursday's event.

Guillen and other aging survivors are part of a now shrinking population first diagnosed in the 80s and 90s

Years later, the documentary continues to be shared globally to make sure their stories are not forgotten.

Guillen said living through a year of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought back difficult memories.

"For many of us, including me, there started to be a lot of triggers," he said. "Like the sense of rejection and 6 feet of distance, and keeping away from each other."

He recalled the panic in the '80s and '90s about the previously unknown cause of HIV and AIDS. Many out of fear ostracized people who were diagnosed, not knowing the disease could not be transmitted through the air or by touch.

"That was pure homophobia, pure ignorance and pure hate," Guillen said. "Because in the first years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, it was told literally that it was happening to the worst of the worst of people."

Groups such as gay and bisexual men and sex workers felt the brunt of isolation and stigma.

Guillen said he sees similar prejudice in the era of COVID-19.

"The hate crimes against Asian people," he said as an example. "The stigma and discrimination associated with one particular group of people ... That still means we're not learning something from the past."

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Guillen noted that, like COVID-19, HIV has historically impacted people of color and other marginalized groups at a disproportionate level.

He acknowledged the subjects raised in the documentary feel heavy after a whole year of a new pandemic, but emphasized it serves an important purpose for everyone.

"We have to be together to pass through these things," Guillen said. "If we don't think globally, the pandemic will never end."

PSU's livestream event for Last Men Standing is Thursday, April 8 from 4-6:30 p.m. PDT. It is free to anyone who registers online.

The event is cohosted by the Department of Psychology at PSU, the Diversity & Identity Management Lab in the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder, and HIV Long Term Survivors: The Grassroots Movement.

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