I remember very vividly the visual inset on the news during the 80s when the anchors on television would report about HIV and AIDS. It was a dark logo with AIDS spelled in a mosaic, and for some reason, it created feelings of apprehension in me.
I wasn’t aware of the transmission methods or the facts at the time, but I knew it was something bad, and something that happened to people.
Years later, when I was in High School, we learned the methods of transmission- unprotected sexual activity, blood transfusions and sharing needles. We had a number of speakers come to our classes to encourage us to abstain from all those of those methods of transmission.
When I returned to New York after a 5 year self-discovery journey in the Hawaiian Islands, I took a job as a HIV Prevention and Testing Counselor. This was on the tail end of the old method of doing things and the horizon of PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) but the old memories of the newscasts in the 80s and my mother losing several childhood friends to complications of AIDS fueled my work. It was also when I just took the job, that I was in the hospital every weekend, keeping a dear friend company. This friend, took me under his wing when I entered the gay scene and looked out for me- a 19 year old young gay man trying too hard and too fast to be grown.
He died a few weeks after World AIDS Day 2011. About a month after I started my new job working in HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment.
The landscape of HIV/AIDS has drastically changed, for the scientific better. There are many options for folks living with the virus that can enable them to live a typical lifespan. There is medication that can prevent possible transmission even if the exposure occurred 24 hours before starting medication. There is medication that can prevent infection even if traditional barrier methods aren’t used.
These medical options are available now. People can live healthy, happy lives while living with the virus. I personally take every World AIDS Day as a moment to remember the ones who I’ve lost either personally or vicariously. But also to remember the people that history has forgotten.
The folks who died alone in St. Vincent’s on 7th Avenue, because they were ostracized out of fear, ignorance and bigotry.
The folks who were viciously blamed and judged for their condition by the people the loved.
The folks who died alone at home.
I make it a point to reflect on these thoughts, because the work of ending AIDS is not done. There’s still stigma, discrimination, rising infection rates in countries like the Philippines, and even criminalization.
So in honor of both Giving Tuesday and World AIDS Day, I will be making a contribution to God’s Love We Deliver, which was an agency founded in New York about 30 years ago by a woman on a bike delivering food to a man living with AIDS. I invite you to do the same if you are able, and I challenge you to envision how wonderful a world without AIDS would look like.