I have been Dr. Cyd’s high-school intern for over a year and yet, two weeks ago was the first time I heard of Evan Ruderman, her late daughter. Evan’s passing at the hands of AIDS came up as her 20-year anniversary of death approaches. But when I heard of this anniversary I didn't just feel grief, I was surprised.
Dr. Cyd and I have been working to answer questions asked of her by middle schoolers for 14 months. We meet in person or jump on the phone to talk through oftentimes silly but always important curiosities from all ages. However, in all this time spent together, Evan did not come up once, and AIDS and HIV were rarely even mentioned. So, I wanted to use this vigentennial to talk to Dr. Cyd about her experience as the mother of Evan and a sex educator in the midst of the AIDS epidemic in New York City.
This is what I learned.
Evan was dynamic. She was a natural-born leader, and Dr. Cyd states that even in childhood “older people would ask her for her opinion”. She always had something to say. She was strong-willed, oftentimes escaping school to roam the city or consort with other progressive teens at youth centers. When a group of workers came to her school to petition the students to join trades, especially women, she found one of her callings. Evan became a member of the electricians union in her late teens, the third woman ever to join. She found pride in her job despite the blatant sex discrimination she faced and worked from within the union to make it more accessible to women. Her activism knew no bounds.
These characteristics seem contrary to the ones we associate with those infected by HIV. And yet they aren’t. Despite the disease, Evan continued her involvement, using her position as a young person affected by HIV to showcase that they do exist. She joined workshops, founded an organization to find a cure for AIDS, and fearlessly advocated safe sex to young people. Despite the barriers being known as infected caused her, she threw herself into her work. She wanted young people to understand, “how simple it is to protect themselves. It's so complicated once you are infected to stay alive and to deal with it, and it's so simple to avoid it on a certain level”.
HIV may no longer be as difficult to survive, but it remains present and dangerous. Just last year 1.3 million new people were infected with HIV. (UNAIDS) And yet, there is a diminishing amount of education on it. We view this epidemic as a thing of the past.
With the brilliant memory and experience of Dr. Cyd, I'll explore why we have defined the AIDS crisis as unimportant and antiquated when it still affects millions. We will do this for the current youth and for Evan, whose spirit is unwavering and whose passion for HIV education lives to this day and will continue as long as there are people to fight alongside her.
Written by: Olivia Salinger
Evan and Dr. Cyd
We are hoping to make this into a series of articles, possibly a book. If you have any stories about the AIDs epidemic in NYC, Evan Ruderman, or your experience living with HIV we would love to hear your story. You can reach out to email@example.com.
UNAIDS. “Global HIV & AIDS Statistics — 2020 Fact Sheet.” UNAIDS, UNAIDS, 2021, www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet.