Visit The Independent at
Local Rocker Calls for More AIDS Funding
By Michael James
Chuck Panozzo, co-founder and bassist for the rock band Styx, announced to the world he was gay and HIV-positive over a decade ago (see “Styx Rocker Reflects on Coming Out, HIV” The Independent, March 24, 2005, V.2, Num. 6) with a national platform courtesy of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). He wanted to make sure the announcement would make some type of positive impact on a broad level. He is also extremely vocal when it comes to various HIV and social issues, including funding, equality, youth education and outreach and many others.

“I quickly realized that there were other issues out there than just me being gay,” he said. “The transition into being the National Coming Out Day Spokesperson for the HRC was educational. At the time I was uneducated about issues that are much more important, such as AIDS... Being in the public eye in this capacity is just as important as being on stage. It’s a way that I can, hopefully, help educate and make a difference.”

At the same time Panozzo came out as a man who is gay, he also announced that he was HIV-positive, which was a wake-up call of sorts when it comes to the stigma surrounding the virus. “This country is so backwards when it comes to these issues,” he said. “In Europe it is perfectly acceptable to talk about AIDS and safe sex. Here in the U.S. no one wants to talk about it. It’s almost a taboo.”

He also says that many people - the government and church included - have demonized the illness and the people who have it. “Some people actually believe that if you’re gay and get HIV you deserve it,” he said. “They wouldn’t look at a person that’s hundreds of pounds overweight that just had a heart attack and say ‘well, they deserved that.’”

The spokesperson position with HRC also allows Panozzo, a Wilton Manors resident, to stress the importance of gay role models. “The younger generation needs to have an example set for them,” he said. “They need to know that if you get HIV it’s not like getting a cold, it’s a condition you’ll have for the rest of your life. We need to get away from this glossed over Disneyland version of HIV. If you get infected when you’re 20 you may very well live another 30, 40 or 50 years with the medications out there now. But, that comes with complications, side effects, the chance of resistance, and hoping you can make it to the bathroom in time.”

He also stated that mature gay men need to be conscious of how they act in public, as it is another way to set examples as role models. For, as he explained, if a younger gay man that just came out of the closet sees a type of behavior they will presume it is generally acceptable.

He stated that mature gay men need to act the part. He said, “We need to keep in mind that our actions, inactions and the things we say can very well influence how these younger guys are going to behave, act and react… We need to make sure there are condoms in every bar in town, that there are safe sex messages in as many places as possible. Otherwise, it’s just going to keep getting worse.”

For those who are newly diagnosed he says that people can’t isolate themselves but should surround themselves with friends. “We’ve also got to find something else for younger people to do rather than just hang out in clubs,” he said. “People need to start forming small groups that meet at homes to socialize and talk about ways we can improve our community and the way in which we’re addressing the issues facing us today.”

One of those issues that he is very vocal on is that of funding for HIV-positive individuals. He said, “We’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars killing people in a war and we can’t find money for research? They’re pulling back Medicaid and Medicare, so people can’t get their meds or see their doctors… It’s a swing to the extreme right, which makes me very concerned - it’s extremely dangerous. The fact that the greatest country in the world doesn’t seem to care that their citizens are dying is unconscionable.”

The swing to the extreme right concerns Panozzo in more ways than just HIV/AIDS and gay rights. “The Constitution stands for freedom and the current administration seems to be wanting to use the Bible as a text book for re-writing it. What country am I living in? We as a community need to work together.”

He added, “We have a degressive administration that discredits thought and teaches that science is wrong… People need to get active in the fight. Without a change in who is in office, the current administration is going to do what they want. It’s going to be important for us to find out about the candidates and make our voices heard.”

When it comes to human rights, HIV/AIDS awareness and liberty in general, he states that the situation is “looking rather gloomy.” He says, “It’s up to us as gay men and women to come together as a whole. There truly is strength in unity. Sometimes, it takes that one person to pull the movement together and push it forward.”

He is hoping that people will start getting together to discuss the issues affecting not only the GLBT community, but American society at large. “The Independent is so important when it comes to these types of issues, because the people who read it are intelligent and want to make a difference.”