November 15, 2012
Rev. Andrena Ingram
Here we go again: World AIDS Day 2012, coming right up! Time to dig those ribbons out of your drawers and closets and jewelry boxes! Don't have one? Not to worry, wherever you decide to celebrate WAD, I'm sure they'll have some ribbons. Just make sure you save them this time ... so this time next year, you'll be ready!
I've lived through 23 years of World AIDS Days! I was diagnosed that many years ago, and yes, I am still here. It took a few years to get comfortable with the diagnosis, a few years to get past the stigma I initially placed upon myself, a few years to get past the stigma placed upon me by others.
As you can see from this picture taken in Toronto, Canada, in 2006 at the International AIDS Conference, it was at this event that I began coming out, yelling and making noise, where I confronted my own stigma, and found support in the 20-some-odd thousand other positive people at the event. It was monumental!
I am past the stigma, when it comes to my own personal HIV.
However, I am NOT past the stigma others are going through. I am NOT past the stigma which keeps people living in shame, secrecy and fear.
I made a promise at this conference that I would begin speaking out, and do everything I could to raise awareness about this disease, particularly when it comes to breaking down the walls of stigma.
I break down the walls of stigma, shame and silence, one face at a time. My face particularly "affects" some persons, because I am a religious leader.
I am an ordained Lutheran pastor, living openly, unashamedly and POSITIVELY with HIV. I am an activist in the HIV arena, and "God's change agent" ... putting my face in the mix, to humanize this disease, so that others who are living in fear, shame and secrecy may come to know that you can live with this disease!
Are you still keeping the promise???
Many have traveled this road before us, many have ACTed UP in the streets, have taken their fight to the lawns of the White House. Have DIED, fighting to the very end. It has been 30 years, and while major medicinal breakthroughs have been made ... there is still much work to be done. Like a cure!
I am grateful for my life. I look good and most days I feel good. But you are looking at me from the outside. Inside, I don't always feel that great. Fatigue takes its toll on me. I talk, and I talk. I share and I share. But there are a few things that still bother me:
The church bothers me. I am not talking about the churches that are doing what they need to do for their congregants, but for the community at large, especially for those who are NOT churched in the traditional manner.
"Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone" -- John 8:7 (I know I can't cast that stone. I am not without sin.)
And so, here we are 30 years later. Getting ready to go into another World AIDS Day. This one is themed "Getting to Zero."
I pray the faith leaders* can get to zero, when it comes to how we are being treated. I pray the faith leaders can get to zero, when it comes to placing blame and shame. I pray the faith leaders can get to zero, when it comes to pontificating and throwing theology around.
We who are living with HIV and "advanced" HIV have our own HIV-ology: We are tired of being nailed to the cross, we are tired of being "poked in the side," we are tired of the crowd screaming at us ... It's time for our resurrection back into society as whole people.
And another thing: I'm tired of the ribbons. We see them every couple of months, depending upon the demographic we are praying for. The ribbons come out from wherever they have been put away the previous year, they are pinned on our lapels or robes, we attend an HIV service, bow our heads and "feel for the HIV community" ... When they get home they take their ribbons off ... and put them away for next year.
Don't get me wrong, World AIDS Day has its place, but dang! Isn't 24 years of World AIDS Day Services long enough? Isn't 30 years of this disease long enough?
With the advent of new medications, I feel the passion has gone out of the fight against HIV. People feel like it is a manageable disease these days, and it may well be so. I know I am managing. I am living. What I don't know, and what people who are not living with this disease do not know or understand, is the havoc the medications wreak on our insides. Medication is keeping us alive. But you know what? I am tired of taking pills ... and I am tired of wearing ribbons ... and I am tired of World AIDS Day!
So ... what will you be doing, this World AIDS Day?
I am sure I'll be speaking somewhere. Again.
... Gotta find my ribbon. I know it's here somewhere. ... Wait a minute. I AM the ribbon!
*I do hope it is understood that I am not talking about ALL faith leaders. If it don't apply, let it fly.
Rev. Andrena Ingram (also known as "Pastor Andrena" or "Pastor Ingram") is a strong advocate for those living in the margins, as she once was. She is the pastor of St. Michael's Lutheran Church on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia, Pa.
Read Andrena's blog, Is the Ribbon Enough?