I was born in 1979. That puts me at an age that when we all filed into the auditorium of the Robert Crown Center in Hinsdale, Illinois to learn about human sexuality, my junior high classmates and I were taught about HIV/AIDS right alongside other sexually transmitted diseases. By this time we knew how HIV was transmitted, and we knew that condoms were our best chance of avoiding sexually-transmitted HIV. We knew that both men and women could contract HIV, that it wasn’t a curse on gays, that you couldn’t catch it from a toilet seat or from kissing someone with AIDS, that it wasn’t a gay cancer. But our understanding of HIV/AIDS was still new enough that is was impressed on us how narrowly we had avoided it. We were made to understand how new this knowledge was.
I have many gay friends and some of them did have to live through that decade or so uncertainty when the gay community was being decimated by this new, unknown plague. I have watched grown men crumble 30 years later at the memory of that haunting time. I have met scientists who became scientists because of their passion to end the reign of terror that has been caused by this disease. I have friends who are social workers because they have been driven to provide care and comfort to people who are affected by HIV/AIDS. I know activists who work daily to end the stigma that is still in many ways associated with being infected with HIV.
I missed AIDS. But AIDS is still here, very much a part of our lives. Most of us have come to accept that HIV is a disease, not a curse put upon a certain portion of the population. We know how to lessen the transmission of HIV. Learn the history of HIV/AIDS and you will be as angry as I am when you hear about asshole clergymen who tell Africans that they shouldn’t use condoms, or that condoms will increase their chances of contracting HIV. Listen to the stories of people who lived through the mid 1970s and early 1980s and lost partners, friends and family to AIDS. You’ll feel your heart break when you hear about studies showing increases in HIV infection rates in the United States and other places where we’re supposed to know better.
Anyway, what set this all off was a video about the AIDS Memorial Quilt over at Joe.My.God, which I’ve posted at the bottom of the page. The AIDS Quilt is a memorial to those who have died in the AIDS pandemic. Here’s a little history from Wikipedia:
It officially started in 1987 in San Francisco by Jones, Mike Smith, and volunteers Joseph Durant, Jack Caster, Gert McMullin, Ron Cordova, Larkin Mayo and Gary Yuschalk. At that time many people who died of AIDS-related causes did not receive funerals, due to both the social stigma of AIDS felt by surviving family members and the outright refusal by many funeral homes and cemeteries to handle the deceased’s remains. Lacking a memorial service or grave site, The Quilt was often the only opportunity survivors had to remember and celebrate their loved ones’ lives. The first showing of the The Quilt was 1987 on the National Mall in Washington, DC, The Quilt was last displayed in full on The Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1996.
Also according to Wikipedia, the quilt is still growing, and bears more than 46,000 panels celebrating and grieving the lives of over 91,000 people. The quilt is managed by The Names Project Foundation, and portions of the quilt still go on tour and are hosted by various organizations in order to remind people of the magnitude of the AIDS pandemic, and to raise funds to support AIDS service organizations.
Here it is. Have a tissue handy.
UPDATE/CORRECTION/APOLOGY (2/21/12) – After reading some of the stories that have been shared here and on my Facebook wall, I feel that I need to apologize for this sentence:
“I have many gay friends and some of them did have to live through that decade or so uncertainty when the gay community was being decimated by this new, unknown plague. “
I believe that I have been unintentionally cruel here. I have many friends – gay AND straight, bisexual and all shades of gray – who lived through the earlier days of AIDS. To all of my friends and readers who were affected by HIV/AIDS regardless of your sexual orientation – it was not my intent to diminish or forget about you or your experiences. I apologize for my thoughtlessness.