I am sickened once again and want to bring this subject back to your attention. We are living in a day where HIV/AIDS isn't mainstream media coverage anymore, but it doesn't mean that it has gone away, isn't a threat, believe me it is still there and ready to jump on anyone it can come in contact with. Remember, HIV doesn't care who you are, your ethnicity, your social status, or sexual preference, it will infect anyone that it comes in contact with. I recently saw an article on the web about Atlanta, how more people there are being diagnosed with Full AIDS versus HIV. That means there are too many people neglecting themselves. It is everyone's job to Know Their Status. It not only protects the one being tested but those they love and have sexual conduct with.
This morning a friend of mine sent me a report from POZ.Com which states that 91% of HIV passes from those that don't know their status or who are not in care. This is a tremendous percentage and something that we need to talk about. The United States has gone from a state of panic and awareness to a place of complacency and silence. This is totally unacceptable! Something must be done, and I am calling on you to help me reach out and spread the word. I would like to see the end of HIV in my lifetime. I have a group of friends and we go out and speak all the time trying to end fear, prejudice and misunderstandings about HIV/AIDS. There are too many young people today that have no idea how they can contract the disease. Today's youth those that are ages 17-30 don't seem to have a clue how or where they can contract this disease. It is so bad in the area in which I live that a friend of mine was terrified the first time he came over to my house. He didn't want to touch me, use any of my cups or utensils for fear of the disease, I didn't know it then. But, by listening to me talk to others, he soon learned that HIV/AIDS wasn't something that could be picked up casually like an online date for the evening. No, he found out that it was a blood borne disease and could only be transmitted if one had some type of mishap or had sexual relations without protection.
Once he explained to me how afraid he had been when he first met me, and how I had helped educated him on the disease all without my knowing that he was scared mind you. This made me realize that I was doing something right. I don't have a problem opening up to others and telling them my story. I reveal to anyone who will listen my disease and what it can do and how it can be prevented. The group I spoke about earlier is called the Positive Champions Speakers Bureau, whose aim it is to end stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, but we also seek to educated others about the disease, we try to show and demonstrate in our lives that this disease can happen to anyone. Our group is a cross-section of those we represent. We are composed of both gay and straight men and women, minorities, and magnetic couples. We don't discriminate at all we have come together with the realization that there is still too much ignorance in the world about this disease. We all have different backgrounds, educations, religious preferences, nationalities and races. We are the changing Faces of AIDS. No one on this planet is exempt from exposure and once you realize that the job of education and training becomes a much larger challenge.
Much to my dismay many of us who are infected find it hard to talk about our illness. Why are we so shy when it comes to talking about HIV? Many of the reasons could be: because of fear, fear of rejection, fear of being ridiculed, fear of being made and example of, fear of people making fun of us. Whatever it is that is keeping us from talking about it needs to be address and the only way to do that is by educating and personalizing the stigma associated with HIV/AIDs if we can rid ourselves of this fear we might more effectively reach a broader spectrum of people. Fear and hysteria were hallmarks of the early years of this disease. Widespread public panic forced pharmaceutical companies to invest billions of dollars into research, the government was pushed into action by appropriating money toward research, and the CDC was born. Back then the new media broadcast stories about people suffering with AIDS, it became a household name. But, fear ran wild in those days because there wasn't a clear understand of what the disease was or how it was transmitted. It was commonly mislabeled as the Gay Disease, Gay Cancer, GRID and so forth. However, this epidemic wasn't isolated to one specific group it soon moved to the rest of the population. It went from an outbreak to and epidemic to a pandemic in less than 20 years. There is still no cure for the disease but new testing has made early detection possible and new medications have come out that make it easier for an infected individual to live longer and stay healthier. Times have changed and so have the attitudes of the people, but it is important to understand that just because these advancements come about doesn't mean that people aren't still dying from the disease. Yes there is still money going into research, and everyday more and more information comes out about the virus. But, it isn't news worthy, doesn't get the headlining like it used too.
Back in the 1990's a memorial quilt was made each panel was exactly 6' x 3' and was decorated by the people that loved and missed the person whose name was on the panel. It used to be displayed all over the country at Gay Pride events. Today, it has been retired and portions of it are displayed in Washington D.C. and other places. Gay Pride events have become exaggerated craft fairs, concerts and commercialized, some education goes on but it is the secondary focus I am afraid. Does the youth of today that visit these Pride events even know that there was a memorial AIDS Quilt? Do they have any idea of what it was like to watch friends and family pass away with lesions and extreme complications to this horrible disease? I don't think they do. Those of us that are old enough to have lived through the 80's and 90's recall all of these things and so much more. We can tell you that the reason why the panels on the quilt were exactly 6' x 3' because it was the exact measurement of a coffin. We were burying those we loved. A whole was ripped into our society, loss and fear were rampant. I would also hazard to guess that these younger generation kids don't even understand the significance of Gay Pride, and why we actually celebrate it yearly. Who out there remembers the Stonewall Riots, the beginning of the Gay Pride movement, how we struggled for acceptance, equality and equal rights. As I have said earlier times have changed, and we the custodians of knowledge have done a very poor job in educating those that come after us about the beginnings and reasons why we have some of the celebrations and memorial services that we do have.
If we can ever hope to get a handle on this disease and make sure that it finally ends within our lifetime is to take a bigger active role in this education process. We have to shake these fears, and open our mouths, we must tell anyone who will listen about HIV/AIDS, dispel the lies, fears, and ignorance that surround this disease. It can only get worse if we sweep it under the carpet and try to hide it. Does it really matter that people are living longer and are living healthier with the disease today? Of course it does, but it doesn't end the hatred, fear, persecution and other stigmas associated with the disease. Only by being transparent and letting the world know that we won't accept and tolerate these types of behavior anymore. Plus, we need to emphasize the importance of getting tested regularly and KNOWING YOUR STATUS.
Please don't hide your head in the sand, it is everyone's responsibility. How many of you know that 3 out of every 5 people you pass on the street are HIV positive and don't even know it. Do you realize that in the United States that every 7 seconds another person is being diagnosed with HIV? It is staggering to think about these things and yet so little is being done to educate our young people. I live in Daytona Beach, Florida, and I live very close to Bethune-Cookman College which resides in the heaviest hit zipcode in Florida of HIV Infection.
Please take the time and talk to anyone around you who will listen to your story. You don't know who around you might need to be inspired by you and might gain hope just by hearing your testimony. Encourage everyone you know to get tested regularly and to Know their Status, it might not only save their life, but those that they love and care about.
As always my hope and dreams are with you,