Review: 'AIDS Diva: The Legend Of Connie Norman' Explores the Life of Iconic Trans Activist

by Roger Walker-Dack

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday October 10, 2021

'AIDS Diva: The Legend Of Connie Norman'
'AIDS Diva: The Legend Of Connie Norman'  

In the second half of the last century, when the LGBTQ community found its very survival was at risk, even at its darkest moments there was also a bright beacon of light and hope. As the AIDS pandemic devastated the LGBTQ community indiscriminately in the 1980s, most felt overwhelmed and helpless, but there were a handful of exceptional people who empowered us to take charge and fight back.

Several of these leaders, like Larry Kramer and Vito Russo, became famous and rightly acknowledged on an international basis as iconic queer figures. Others who were also on the front line, and to whom we shall eternally be grateful, have been forgotten, except for a close few.

Connie Norman, the self-styled AIDS Diva, is one such person. Thanks now to a compelling new doc by filmmaker Dante Alencastre, which tells Norman's truly remarkable story, that will hopefully change.

In the first few moments of this profile, Valerie Spencer, a Black transwoman who organized with Norman and took over to lead many of Norman's activities shortly before her passing, summed up her legacy: "We are now kick-ass queens today because of Connie!"

Norman was an out transgender woman in L.A. who found her real power and strength after being diagnosed with HIV in 1987. She freely admits that, up to then, she had hardly been a model citizen, with her drug and drink problems landing her in jail. Also, she had to cope with the constant brutality of the L.A. police, who would use her as a punching bag just for 'being a sissy."

In 1987, an AIDS diagnosis was considered a death sentence. To make matters worse, many trans women had to present as men to be able to get what limited medical help was available. Norman sat at home for two months and read everything about AIDS that she could lay her hands on, and then got up and jumped back into the community.

She immersed herself in ACT-UP LA and was outspoken, passionate, and articulate. She soon found herself In a leadership position. There is some wonderful archival material of her rallying crowds at sit-ins and protests as ACT-UP is trying to get LA County to open up hospital beds to HIV patients. She also made her presence felt by being at the forefront at gatherings outside the FDA, which was famously dragging its heels in the matter of authorizing desperately needed new medications.

Whilst others like Kramer were spurred on by anger, Norman's own strength was her capacity to use love to get over the hatred hurled at the LGBTQ community. With her actions and positivity she helped to outmaneuver the indifference that many showed to the plague at the time.

The doc shows that Norman was committed to protecting trans rights, trans dignity, and trans visibility. Equally important was how she genuinely embracing gay men, lesbians, dykes, and anyone else on the LGBTQ spectrum equally.

Norman was an imposing figure whose passion for positivity even in this very dark time was nothing less than remarkable. When she went to meetings, she really took part and made herself and her ideas heard. This was not, she said, a time to be silent.

Our community has always had powerful advocates, but Norman was much more than that. She was a warrior, and an icon. As she approached her own death, she refused to ease up on any of her work. Her advice to us all remains: "Let no one allow you not to be yourself."

Connie Norman, AIDS Diva, died in 1996, the same year protease inhibitors were introduced She had fit a whole lifetime into her 47 years.

"AIDS Diva: The Legend Of Connie Norman" will at NewFest 2021

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.