Waiyde Palmer was born on October 17th, 1960 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He has four siblings, but is the youngest by a full decade; as he describes it, his childhood was like simultaneously growing up “in a large family and as an only child.”
Waiyde’s quiet mother and strict, authoritarian father raised their five children to believe that education and self-improvement were the only way out of their working-class circumstances. As the only child left at home after his siblings moved away for college, Waiyde’s tumultuous relationship with his father resulted in several violations of trust. In his interview, Waiyde mentions that when a queer person is in an environment where “it’s unsafe for you to be the authentic you,” it becomes necessary to keep secrets from everyone around you. By the age of twelve, Waiyde was hiding habits and behaviors from his parents. By thirteen, he was saving up money. By senior year, he had moved out and was living on his own.
After moving out of his parent’s house, Waiyde came across the radically inclusive world of punk music. Punk spaces were accepting, open-minded, and totally rebellious, and Waiyde says they changed his life. Engaging in the punk scene also introduced Waiyde to sobriety at the age of 22, marking a transformative moment in his life.
As a child, Waiyde had strong emotional reactions toward inequality; he recalls sensations of deep, “fire-hot rage” towards witnessing an act of racism as early as age five. This commitment to combating injustice persisted into adulthood. After moving to Cleveland in his twenties, Waiyde became involved in activism for a wide variety of causes; he mentions anti-apartheid, anarchy, denuclearization, and more. In September of 1987, after being diagnosed with AIDS, he moved to San Francisco and became deeply entrenched in AIDS activism. As an early member of ACT UP/San Francisco and Stop AIDS Now or Else, he participated in multiple landmark protests and events, many of which changed not only the course of his life, but of history.
The first openly gay person Waiyde ever met was his drama teacher in high school, a man named James Myers. Of Myers, Waiyde says: “He sparkled and made you feel like you could sparkle too, and do it safely.” The same could be said for Waiyde. His storytelling shines in subtle, unexpected ways, such as in the words of thoughtful wisdom that glimmer throughout his anecdotes. On punk rock: “Wherever you went, you could find family.” On ACT UP: “Sometimes, you have to be the wave that crashes against the rock. Eventually, the rock feels the wave.” And finally, on queerness: “We can develop and define ourselves based on our beliefs as an individual, rather than what society says we should or shouldn’t do.” Empathy and energy coalesce in Waiyde’s profoundly inspiring interview; in short, it simply sparkles.