NEWS OF THE DEATH in April 2009 from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma of Cass Mann, HIV/AIDS activist and co-founder of Positively Healthy UK, is slowly percolating through his large network of friends, patients and fellow activists around the world.

Diagnosed with HIV in 1985, in 1986 Cass was spurred on by the death of his best friend David Reichenberg to address quality of life issues affecting gay men with AIDS. Together with Dietmar Bolle, Cass co-founded what was to become Britain’s only gay men’s holistic HIV/AIDS charity, Positively Healthy.

Inspired by Sally Fisher’s AIDS Mastery course in the United States, Positively Healthy taught gay men living with HIV and AIDS to fight back against the ‘death and dying’ culture that had engulfed the gay community. By rejecting our society’s passive reliance on medicine to come up with all the answers (and our tendency to crumple when it can’t), participants in Positively Healthy’s workshops were encouraged to take control of their own lives and their own health, and to enjoy life in all its glory instead of being consumed by the expectation that death was only a short breath away.

The bravery of these men cannot be overstated. Following the discovery of AZT, the expectation in the UK was that everyone with AIDS should take it, irrespective of the side effects or their ability to withstand them. Those who felt that AZT was not for them faced an extraordinarily vindictive backlash. Those who supported them, most notably Positively Healthy, were pilloried by the press, which wrongly and divisively characterised Cass as an HIV and AIDS denialist. He was nothing of the sort.

Undaunted, even by death threats and an attempt on his life, Cass fought on. He made it his mission to consume every word written about HIV and AIDS in medical journals, and to convey that knowledge to Positively Healthy’s attendees so that they might make informed decisions. Likewise, he acquired and disseminated a wealth of information about nutritional support – an approach that was nothing short of revolutionary given the complexion of the gay scene at the time. It is hard now to appreciate just how prescient Cass was: what he advocated back in the Eighties and Nineties is now the norm. How sad that he should have suffered so much at the hands of his detractors.

Twenty-three years into his own odyssey with HIV, Cass developed AIDS. He accepted the utility of modern ARVs and enthusiastically attributed his recovery to them. But two decades in the AIDS field had taken their toll and he wanted to do something different.

As he began to wind down Positively Healthy he recorded a series of short monologues, which AIDS Videos broadcasts via YouTube. In them Cass implores gay men to think about the value of life, and to put an end to the catastrophic cycle of HIV and AIDS. If you do nothing else to honour the life of this great man, please watch them.

A longer version of this tribute, including contributions from Peter Tatchell and others, can be found here.

Link to Cass’s videos on YouTube

Please note: AZT remains a valuable part of a growing arsenal of antiretroviral drugs used in the treatment of HIV and in the prevention of the virus’ transmission from mother to child. We urge readers not to base decisions regarding treatment with AZT on accounts on this site that describe difficulties arising from its use in the 1980s and early 1990s. Medical knowledge about HIV and its treatment has progressed exponentially since then and AZT is prescribed very much more carefully nowadays.

We suggest, as Cass always did, that you talk to your doctors and read up-to-the minute research, then make your decisions accordingly. Links to further resources are provided on our Links page.

Copyright © 2010 Cass Mann Memorial. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be quoted or reproduced without our express permission.

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