Today is World AIDS Day. The World AIDS campaign reports that more than two million AIDS related deaths reported globally in 2008 – two million children under the age of 15 now live with HIV. Although no longer the only or even largest group impacted by HIV, LGBT people are particularly stigmatized and targeted for HIV-related discrimination. For example, The Ugandan Parliament is considering a bill that allows for a seven year prison term for any person or organization who supports or promotes lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people’s rights. It would jail for up to three years anyone who fails to report a person they suspect of being lesbian or gay. A person living with HIV who has consensual homosexual sex would face the death penalty, regardless of risk of HIV transmission and even if their partner is also HIV-positive. (Punitive Laws threaten HIV Progress, Human Rights Watch)
I heard a bit of the speech by the President of South Africa on NPR today that spoke an important message:
Together we can overcome this challenge.
Let today be the dawn of a new era.
Let there be no more shame, no more blame, no more discrimination and no more stigma.
This is a day I think about all these things: the political issues, how access to prevention and care is still complicated by stigma.
But mostly it is a day I think about Lucas.
Lucas was my best friend, through college and beyond when we both moved to the same city. Even before we met, mutual friends predicted we’d hit it off. And we did. He was creative and witty, a great dancer and an even better dresser. His sense of humor was dark and irreverent. Because of Lucas I learned that I loved Thai food, indy films, disco dancing and thrift stores.
Lucas got sick in the 80s, when the epidemic was just beginning to be talked about. Long before successful treatments were developed. Many still believed gay men deserved this illness because of their “sinful lifestyle”. Ignorance and homophobia abounded and some folks were afraid to even be around someone HIV+ lest they catch it.
Sometimes I wonder how things could have been different, if our society had been more accepting back then, if we educated everyone about healthy attitudes towards sex and self-care. But mostly I try to focus on how grateful I am that I had Lucas in my life. I would surely be very different without him.
Today I think about and talk about Lucas; he is alive as part of me.
Remember those we’ve lost; celebrate and support the survivors.
Kathleen Young, Psy.D.