December 2, 2010
By: Clara Lefton/TRT Guest Reporter
South Hadley–David Abbott, former member of ACT-UP and present director of the Rhode Island AIDS Project, gave a speech at Mount Holyoke College entitled “The Importance of Activism in the LGBTQ Movement” on November 17th at 7 p.m. From protesting the Supreme Court to shutting down the New York Stock Exchange, Abbott shared what he has learned over the years.
“I didn’t bring a bomb-building kit and I don’t build bombs but I can tell you how to start a really nasty little riot or I can tell you how to write press releases or I can tell you how to meet the President and have an argument with him. None of that really matters. Those are my stories,” said Abbott at the opening of his lecture. The event, organized by Mount Holyoke’s chapter of Equality Across America, detailed the 56-year-old man’s motivation to standup for what he believed in and his wish to inspire others.
The Rochester, NY native’s activism began after a 1984 visit to Massachusetts General Hospital. His boyfriend of the time, Jerry, had been in the hospital for what would turn out to be a case of encephalitis. Abbott arrived to find Jerry alone on his bed; the former college linebacker was only 80lbs. After a brief rekindling of love and emotion, a nearby nurse quickly noticed the commotion, but Abbott refused to leave.
“He was a twig and-boy the memories don’t go away,” said Abbott, his eyes beginning to tear up in front of his audience. “That’s a visit to the hospital during AIDS. I went in there to see my friend who was dying and I got left on the front curb having been cuffed.”
Scarred from his encounter, Abbott became determined to create change and joined Rhode Island’s chapter of ACT-UP shortly after.
“I came because I so appreciate what Act Up contributed to social justice movements,” explained Maxwell Ciardullo, a University of Massachusetts at Amherst graduate student.
Abbott encouraged the audience to get off their computers and participate in any cause one feels passionate about. “What really works is the soles of your feet and your presence as a human being on the street around the problem. It doesn’t go away because you typed something, that’s just nonsense.”
“It was brilliant. I had come hoping to get good ideas about activism and how to organize. I’m interested especially in his agenda…and he had some really fun and creative ways of telling them,” said local South Hadley, MA resident Sarah Olmstead who attended the lecture.
His chilling and exemplary tales of riots, protests and demonstrations went on for over an hour.
“What really matters is what I feel about it. What you feel about about it. What you feel right inside your heart because all issues aren’t important,” said Abbott.