On Sunday, June 29, 2014, I got to March with HIV= in the NYC Pride March. It was amazing to say the least; I had never Marched before. I was really nervous for some reason when I arrived at the location where our group would meet; after a few members introduced themselves and I as given a tank-top to wear I quickly became a wallflower; speaking to anyone was difficult so I hid behind my camera or my mobile phone. Isn’t it amazing how certain technological advances are meant ‘connect’ us really just help us more with isolating?
A few more introductions and small talk with members and listening to instructions from our group leader didn’t really loosen me up at all; I wanted to run. Then something happened…
A man, an older gentleman with white hair, dressed in white and bejeweled with various pins feature rainbow colors. This Sage asked me directly about HIV=. I do not work for the organization however, I gave him this answer, ”…HIV does not discrimination and neither should we…” By the way, from moment he stepped up to me he had been using his point and shoot digital camera to record video of our conversation. He was excited from my answer and expressed how he thought what we were doing was wonderful. He then began to tell me that his best friend had died at the age of 32. His friend had contracted HIV at 28 years and did not seek treatment; “He let himself go,” is how he explained. Still pointing his camera directly at me he proceeded to tell me how his lover had also died from complications due to AIDS. He began cry and his voice cracked and he wasn’t able to finish what he was saying. I put my hand on his arm to comfort him. He lowered his camera and began to step back and away. I thanked him for sharing his story. In that moment I realized that this was not about me.
It’s about We. You and me, You and I, Us. It would be some hours later that our group would be Marching down Fifth Avenue following that lavender line, and I, with my camera, looking through the lens at so many of us living. Living with pain, sorrow, heartache, happiness, illness, love, joy, hope. Living with HIV.
This epidemic changed the way we love; it made some of us afraid to love. HIV itself does not tell you who you can love; it does not tell you to hate either; it will not tell you not to build a home or what neighborhood you can live in; it cannot tell you that you are less than or great than the person next to you; it does not know the color of your skin or how much money you have; it does not care about who you love. Society may try to impose some of these limitations on individual groups but HIV is all inclusive. This disease has touched so many lives; regardless of race, creed, religion, profession, gender identity, social standing, sexual preference, or HIV status we are all living with HIV.
What do we do? Stand together, regardless of status. Fight the stigma; educate our youth and all those who are misinformed about HIV and on how to prevent the spread of the virus; if you don’t know your HIV status, then get tested. Don’t be afraid to ask a question. Protect yourself!
Together with compassion, education, perseverance, tolerance and love the sum of us equals LIFE. A life where HIV/AIDS has been eradicated.
PS: I stopped being so nervous… HIV= leaders are an amazing bunch of men and women trying to bring on change for the lives of those living with HIV… that means All of Us [a global scale]. Through my lens I could so many people living with something and that’s OK… I don’t have to run and they don’t have to run from me. Thank you Sage for showing me your heart and helping me see that we are all equal.