AIDS Walk New York is Sunday, May 15, in Central Park. For more information on the event, how to sponsor or register to walk, click here.
When I asked a few people if they’d like to talk about AIDS, one of them responded by saying he couldn’t; not that he’s apathetic or too busy—rather, he told me, he’d have no idea where to start. When I asked another how he’d like to be identified, he said “Human Being.” In the 30-year war against AIDS, words have never sufficed; they can only introduce, and, thankfully, educate. In our horror, though, we have found common ground. Compassion isn’t a trait reserved for doctors or ministers or charitable organizations; it lies in the heart of what makes us achingly, wonderfully mortal.
Many people reading this weren’t alive when those four letters become the elephant in God’s living room, while many others have watched those living rooms turn into haunted houses, seeing lovers, friends, relatives, neighbors disappear beneath the floorboards as their fingers slipped out of reach. I asked these five people, five very different human beings, three simple questions; when did you hear about AIDS, how has it affected you, and what would a cure mean? I’m not certain any of them would say they gave “complete answers”—indeed, each one asked me if what they’d written was enough. You can’t give a complete answer to a disease, and a time, that has defined us, at times defeated us, and always baffled us. You can only say your thoughts, and, like every memorial service, hope it helps yourself and inspires others, and, just maybe, connects a dot.
Thanks are given to those who contributed their time. For everyone else who is affected by AIDS, which is everyone, here’s to hope and life and a cure. In our remembrance of everyone lost lies our humanity.
Colton Ford, Actor/Singer
When Did You First Hear About AIDS?
When it first hit in the early ‘80s. I remember my partner at the time and I freaking out. Now, even though we were really young and not too sexually adventurous at that point in our lives, we thought we were destined to get it just because we were gay. There was such mystery about the particulars of the disease that it was easy to jump to conclusions based upon the fear around it.
How Has AIDS/HIV Affected Your Life?
I don’t think there’s anyone that hasn’t been affected by it one way or another. I’ve known people who have lost their battle with the disease, as well as people who are living fulfilling lives with it; where the virus is undetectable and they’re able to stay healthy. It is something that we as gay men have to deal with and manage through, both for ourselves, individually, and for our friends and those that we don’t know that are dealing with it.
What Would a Cure Mean?
A cure needs to be found, and I believe it will be.
Photo: Kevin McDermott
Ian Jopson, Human Being
A: I first heard about AIDS in 1984. I’d been seeing the precursor articles in gay magazines, etc., about the mysterious gay cancer that seemed to be appearing but really had no name for about a year before that time…I was living in Western Australia. I went along for my first AIDS test in about 1985; I was nineteen, my best friend was twenty. I tested negative and he tested positive.
B: I’m not sure where to even start with this. I lived through the worst of the early years of the crisis; I think I’ve been to over 100 funerals, and lost my early circle of close friends. I’ve been volunteering for AIDS service organizations for about 27 years and spent my first four years in New York City working as Creative Director for AIDS FOR AIDS International. I’ve been involved with AIDS Walk New York since 2004. The last few years I have been devoted to raising money for people in developing countries to help them deal with HIV and extreme poverty.
C: Hope for millions of people around the world and a new beginning.
Lisa McMann, New York Times Best-Selling Author of the “Wake” Trilogy and “Cryer’s Cross.”
A: I think it was in the mid-‘80s, in high school. Lots of fear about “catching it” in ridiculous ways—by touch, toilet seats, that kind of stuff.
B: In the early ‘90s I found out a high school friend, Paul, had been diagnosed. We had ridden the school bus together when I was in kindergarten and he was in first grade. I always sat with him in the front seat. Paul had a blood transfusion in high school—I can’t remember why, now, but that doesn’t matter. When my husband and I heard that Paul had AIDS, we were working with teenagers. We asked Paul to come and speak to our teens about it, which he graciously did for many teen groups and high schools, shedding light on a lot of misinformation. He died a few months later, leaving his wife and child behind.
C: Freedom from fear and heartbreak for lots of friends and loved ones. And maybe Paul’s work wasn’t in vain.
Photo: Vania Stoyanova, VLCPhoto
Carson Kressley, Emmy-Winning Host of the OWN Series “Carson Nation”
A: I first learned of AIDS in the check-out line of our tiny grocery store, max’s IGA, in our tiny little town of Kutztown, PA. While my mom placed the items on the gummy, black conveyor belt, I tried to glean all I could from the cover of the “National Enquirer,” featuring a gaunt Rock Hudson stricken with the horrific new gay scourge known as AIDS. I was about ten or eleven, but I knew I was gay and immediately thought “Oh, no, I’m gonna get that and die, too.” Yes, I was a pretty maudlin adolescent.
B: As a gay man coming of age in the age of AIDS (when I graduated from college in 1991, drugs to manage the disease were primitive and people I knew were still dying), my urge to go out and sow my wild oats was tempered by a great fear for my own health and great sadness that friends were being lost. Having lived through that era, I am grateful that I understand how important safer sex is, that the disease is preventable, if not curable (some day!). I feel very strongly about getting the message out to young people—who, by the way, are still at risk, but seemingly less aware of the need for safer sex.
C: A cure would mean that people I love very much would no longer be living with this terrible and still potentially deadly disease. That’s my narrow view, I know, but the more personal an issue is to one, I think the more passionate they are about it.
Photo: Matt Albiani
Jeff McElhaney, Creative Partner at Brand-Aid, Washington, DC
A: I was in college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and had just had my very first sexual experience with a male, a guy eleven years my senior. We met in the check-out line at the Food Lion supermarket while I was on my weekly grocery run. Returning to the “scene of the crime” the following week, while in the very same check-out line, I looked down at the magazine rack, and to my horror, the words “The New Gay Cancer” rocketed out at me from the cover of a weekly news magazine. God was punishing me by punishing the whole world? It seemed every week for the next ten years brought us a new, horror-filled headline.
B: My blood does not bear the ravages of this disease but my heart certainly does. I lost one partner to AIDS, and another who was HIV-Positive took his own life. I, like most guys my age, have said permanent goodbyes to many friends, courtesy of this plague. Sadly, I also have a number of friends in their 40’s and 50’s who have contacted HIV in the past few years. A cautionary tale for us all, no matter what our age. No other demographics are taken into account. HIV is an equal opportunity enemy.
C: It would mean everything.