Do you remember the first time you heard of HIV or AIDS?
Depending on how old you are, it might be something that's been around all your life--or at least all of your "conscious" life (I don't know about you, but before I was 10 or 12, I was fairly ignorant of the goings-on of the world--although that may have changed some since then, too.)
I was in middle school when they started talking to us about AIDS. (They being teachers; my family didn't talk about things that were unpleasant if they could help it--at least not with me) I remember watching An Early Frost on television in 1985 because I adored Aiden Quinn. From that, I got that contracting AIDS meant getting sick and dying, and that it had something to do with being gay. (It's been a very long time since I've seen the movie, so I'm not sure if that was the real message, but it was the message that I remember.) I remember being in the 9th grade and a friend of mine doing a report on AIDS for some class or another; from him I learned that it had come from Africa and had something to do with primates, that somehow the disease had crossed over from the primate population to the human population and that at the time, they thought it had something to do with someone consuming infected primate meat/organs.
I remember several of friends coming out to me in high school and just after, and going to the bars with them; I remember being afraid that someday someone I knew and loved would contract AIDS and die, because even then, the only real treatment was AZT--it was better than nothing, but it wasn't anything compared to what's available today. Getting AIDS still seemed to mean being handed a death sentence.
I remember when Freddie Mercury died of complications relating to AIDS.
Fast forward 20 years. It's 2012 and I Daniel, from my third book Hanging by the Moment announces to me in that way that characters do, that he's HIV positive. For the last 20 years, HIV and AIDS have sort of faded into the background of my consciousness. It's gone from something I'm terrified of to something I'm simply aware of. It's another STI--admittedly, it's the worst, but it's easily preventable and doctors and scientists are making strides everyday, coming up with better treatments, coming closer to a vaccine, and possibly even a cure. Most young people treat HIV like it's "nothing"--even some older (my age) educated people liken it to diabetes. Incurable, but manageable. I don't necessarily agree (I don't agree at all, in fact), but in the face of everything else going on in the world, AIDS isn't something that's on my brain very often.
Then Daniel came along.
I've already spoken at length about my research into HIV and AIDS and all of the things that shocked me--but biggest of all is the fact that people are still contracting HIV. Second largest is the fact that there is still so much misconception about HIV and AIDS. Since I started volunteering for AIDS Partnership Michigan, I've fielded a lot of hotline calls from men and women who have absolutely no idea how HIV is transmitted or prevented. (Which is probably WHY people are still contracting HIV).
I'd like to challenge everyone, today especially, to commit to some kind of outreach/education. It doesn't have to be a huge effort. Talk to a teenager about safe sex. Be an open, safe sounding board for a young adult. Wear a red ribbon and don't be afraid to say why when someone asks. Be as open as your situation allows about your own sexuality/gender orientation. Within your means, support AIDS/HIV charity. Most programs welcome volunteers--it doesn't cost you anything but some time, but the service is invaluable. If there isn't an HIV specific program near you, how about a program that works with at-risk youth? Did you know that LGBT kids make up the bulk of homeless youth on the street? Most were kicked out of their homes over their gender identity or sexual orientation.
In the comments below, I'd love to hear when you first heard about AIDS or HIV. Everyone who comments will be entered to win an HIV awareness tote bag (retail value $15). I'll pick the winner on the 5th. (Please be sure to leave me a way to contact you if you win).