World AIDS day is upon us. That magical time of year when we celebrate…. What?
For as long as I have been active in the AIDS community, 30 years in one capacity or another, I never understood what exactly World AIDS Day is about. I went to Wikipedia for the answer.
According to Wikipedia World AIDS Day, observed December 1 each year, is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. It is common to hold memorials to honor persons who have died from HIV/AIDS on this day. Government and health officials also observe the event, often with speeches or forums on the AIDS topics. Since 1995, the President of the United States has made an official proclamation on World AIDS Day. Governments of other nations have followed suit and issued similar announcements.
OK – nice start. But what has it become. The first thing to greet me, as a visitor to the official World AIDS Day site, was an ad to purchase a “limited edition sparkly red ribbon.” Wow! What a great way to show solidarity with the dead and dying. Be all sparkly and happy. “See I support you!” I really don’t need that kind of support. I could order a box of red ribbons for 30£. And that helps me how? In my mail over the past month, I have more than a hand full of invitations to fundraisers. I am surprised Hallmark does not have a line of cards out. The smallest box on the front page of their web site is dedicated to “getting involved.”
I think it is clear that we have gotten off topic. World AIDS day was created to honor the dead and prod governments into action. It is still a pandemic and the there is much to be taught to friends and co-workers and most important, to government officials who control the purse strings. At least once a week I get a question about how I can be Positive and my partner is still negative after almost 19 years. My partner gets asked regularly, “how could he have sex with someone who is positive?” The lack of knowledge within the GLBT community is breathtaking. Maybe because we are in the south where schools are forbidden from having frank discussions about sex, but we as a society are setting ourselves up for an epic fail in protecting the next generation.
Every few years the virus has been shown to mutate. The virus is getting stronger and more and more resistant to medications. People are going to start dying again. Having gone through Kaposi Sarcoma myself and having had patients with Pneumocystis pneumonia die in my arms, I can tell you that it not pretty. It is not dignified. It is not painless. There was never a time in my life that I was negative. From the first month the test was available I flunked. There is no reason another person in Florida should get infected if we were doing our job, our obligation, to learn and teach about AIDS.
This year nationally is becoming a year of political action driven by the Occupy Wall Street movement. We need to recommit ourselves as a community to political action. One of the causalities of the past decade of budget cuts to support the wealthy and corporations is that many AIDS and public health groups have been force to close or cut back on services. So yes, we need to dig deep and give. Not just money. We need to give of our time and talents. We also need to focus on direct political action. We need to develop a new generation of leaders who understand what we have been through and have a desire to stop it from being repeated. We need to lobby for more money or at the very least not to loose any more. Most importantly we need to stop acting so corporate in our response. We need to start acting locally and maybe take a lesson from ACT-UP about direct political action. Locally we have some very good people on the school board and a few on the county commission. We need to support them and talk to the others. We need to recommit ourselves to the original goals of the World AIDS Day founders. At the same time we should not forget that some times direct political action is necessary. The world’s spotlight will be on Tampa next summer when the Republican circus comes to town. We need to let them know that it is not ok to lie to the children about AIDS and gays. Neither is “curable” and only one needs to be treated.