Daniel Sotomayor Tribute


The universe and our ancestors have a way of delivering messages that we need to hear, read, and witness. That’s why I find myself offering countless flowers in tribute to Daniel Sotomayor. His legacy in Chicago serves as a powerful reminder that the impact of the AIDS Crisis extended far beyond the coastal epicenters of New York City and San Francisco.

I went back to Victor Salvo’s essay titled “Daniel Sotomayor: Chicago, Illinois August 30, 1958 – February 5, 1992,” which is part of the Art AIDS America Chicago exhibition book. This exhibition documents the impact of HIV/AIDS on the national art space. I’ll give you all the cliff notes to this essay, which continues to inspire my own political advocacy work.

Daniel Sotomayor was not only the first openly gay and nationally recognized political cartoonist but also a co-founder of the Chicago Chapter of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). Growing up in the Humboldt Park Neighborhood in Chicago, Daniel’s heritage was a mix of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. In the four years following his HIV diagnosis in 1987, Daniel passionately fought against the despair of the AIDS crisis until his passing on February 5, 1992.

He shouldered the responsibility of challenging not just the political establishment but also the church, his employers, fellow HIV/AIDS activists, and even friends. By 1991, Daniel had produced 147 political cartoons that addressed both current events and personal struggles. His commitment to truth-telling not only stirred controversy but also laid the foundation for the legacy we honor today.

Despite facing termination from Gay Chicago Magazine and later Windy City Times due to his outspoken activism, Daniel prioritized urgent action amid the ticking clock of HIV and the community’s mounting death toll. His life’s work stands as a testament to what political accountability should entail for leaders entrusted with our protection.

Daniel’s activism was bold. He participated in protests against the Chicago Transit Authority’s refusal to display safe sex messaging and was part of national AIDS actions demanding equal healthcare. His confrontation with then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley at the Impact Gala in 1991, where he held a banner demanding truth about AIDS, exemplifies his unwavering courage.

As I reflect on Daniel’s life, I am reminded of the ongoing struggle for justice in today’s crises, like the Overdose Crisis. The slow response of political leaders to adopt proven harm reduction strategies echoes past battles fought during the AIDS crisis. 

Every day, I carry the heartbreak and the resilience of figures like Daniel, whose battles have paved the way for our opportunities today. Daniel’s legacy teaches us to keep fighting in dark times. As an advocate, I draw strength from the wisdom of AIDS activism, maintaining optimism in the face of political disappointment, with the belief that our perseverance will bring hope to newer generations. 

Written by Aces Lira. Aces Lira was a 2019 Gran Varones Digital Arts Fellow. Currently he serves as a project manager focusing on legislative, policy, and administrative advocacy responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Illinois. Working closely with the Getting to Zero IL initiative, he focuses on the efforts to increase access to HIV prevention and treatment services and supports, including implementation of Rapid Start interventions across the state. As a social worker by training, Aces has direct service experience in education, child welfare, and migrant aid which informs his policy advocacy work. 


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