Iris de la Cruz, activist and namesake of Iris House.
by Beverly Rotter
Iris commanded attention, always bursting into a room, turning an outsider into a friend with a blunt remark, confronting people who looked at her struggle with drugs and prostitution and finally with AIDS as shameful and telling them she was not ashamed. She fought the stigma of AIDS, her body weakened but her spirit and humor never waned. She was an inspiration to so many people that she was afraid her dying would disappoint them. Iris was loved and respected as an activist. She worked with Life Force, women educating women, and wrote a column for people with AIDS a newsline called ‘KOOL AIDS WITH ICE.” It was a humorous assault on bourgeois pieties which flirted with the bizarre. Her writings were filled with salty memories of street life and practical (if weird) advice on living with the illness. She produced political and educational materials and became a widely sought after public speaker. She started the first support group for positive women and another for hetero singles. She would only stand for so much romanticizing. In one of her columns she wrote, “There are the ditzes who insist that they love this virus because it’s part of them. Tell me this after you’ve stopped counting the deaths or have spent time with someone suffering from dementia. Let’s get this straight, I hate this virus and it’s the hatred and rage that keeps me going. Wimps get buried.” Her life was hard and crazy, loud, funny, angry, drifting at times but ultimately filled with purpose. AIDS produced her finest moments. It has been many years since Iris passed. I have been very involved with people with AIDS and I have found that they are going back into the closet. They are ashamed of a virus that they are carrying. What it means to me is that they will not be getting the medication and care they need and would rather die alone in the streets than go for help. Iris wrote these words to help people and it’s time to bring her words to life again and perhaps save some lives. The new medication is not working on women as well as on men. I know this for a fact because I did sit on the Board of Directors at the Iris House. We rented a large space but unfortunately we outgrew it and had to buy a building.
Somewhere along the way the women have lost their spirit. They would never think of asking their men to use a condom for fear of getting a beating. So they get AIDS and die with shame and guilt. Women need to regain their strength and get mad, yes they need to get very mad and fight back. Anger is motivating and I think so many of the words of Iris De La Cruz will make them realize they are victims and should be angry.
Beverly Rotter is the mother of Iris De La Cruz, a founding board member of Iris House and organizer of “Mothers March Against AIDS.”
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