Australia: What can Angels in America teach us about the marriage equality debate?

“We will not die secret deaths anymore. We will be citizens. The time has come. The world only spins forward.”

These are the words of Tony Kushner, in his play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. Kushner speaks them by way of the play’s main character, Prior Walter: a gay cisgendered man living with HIV in a time when those three letters almost certainly meant Aids. Meant death.

Of all the moments that make up the eight hours of Angels in America, those 20 words get to the politicised, pointy end of the struggle gay men endured during the western Aids crisis.

While more recent collective experiences, like a postal survey on marriage rights, seems more present and urgent for Australian LGBT community, HIV/Aids is by no means over. Globally, one million people each year still die of Aids-related causes and, for the tens of thousands of gay and bisexual men living with or at risk of contracting HIV in Australia, the stigma of the virus still hangs over our collective experience.

Angels in America won the Pulitzer prize for drama in 1993, the year it opened on Broadway. It also won numerous Tony awards and is routinely described as one of the best pieces of western drama to emerge from the 20th century. Kushner’s writing is relentless – as funny as it angry, speaking to themes beyond the Aids crisis that was gripping America and the rest of the world. 

But it is worthwhile interrogating why contemporary artists wishing to explore HIV/Aids narratives seem so intent on looking back, instead of to the very urgent stories on either side of them. Read more via the Guardian