November 15, 2012
As World AIDS Day approaches I start to think about what is, what could be, and what I dream of. To dream of an AIDS-free generation is something I once thought was completely out of the question. In fact, I remember right after I was diagnosed, I had several people tell me I'd live to see a cure. I also remember thinking that they were crazy or, more loosely, yeah friggin' right!
So to now be in a place where we actually have the tools needed to see this come to fruition is mind-blowing. I know I would personally do anything I can to make it happen -- and I've done many things, from picking up teens to take them for testing and being a mentor, to walking across campus and talking to people about HIV, to going to bars and raves and handing out condoms and lubes -- because this is all what I feel is a way to help, to lower infections. But I know it is going to take more than that: It is going to take some people standing up and being absolutely honest; it is going to take changing the politics in America concerning HIV/AIDS; it is going to take more medicine, more funding, more education, more open dialogue; it is going to take people stopping the judgment and giving a hand when and where they can; and it is going to take all of us.
We have to stop pretending that things are different than what they are; for instance, that positive people don't have sex, and if we do it can only be with other positive people. I personally know several people who date only negative partners, who only have unprotected sex with those negative partners. But guess what? When it is two consenting adults who make a choice to do so, it is not our place as a society to judge them or share our opinion with them.
We have to expect that people whose basic fundamental rights and needs are being undermined and trampled may not worry about taking medication or wearing a condom. We have to stop and think about the root causes for risky behaviors, or rapes, or drug use, or ignorance are and first educate about those. We have to stand up, take some accountability and do what needs to be and should be happening in this country to change the politics so that funding is where we need it, when we need it. So that people who are infected have undetectable viral loads, and we are using treatment as prevention since we now know that is a way to strongly curb the number of new infections.
We need to do our part as well in making sure that funding is available by advocating, by making sure we are involved in the process. I live in Nebraska and while I have sat on the board of directors for the ADAP Advocacy Association for over a year, I have been positive for over six years. At my first doctor's appointment I walked in and said "I have to talk about this to people; this isn't supposed to happen." However, I am just now finally getting connected with the state agencies, the Ryan White councils, the ADAP and funding allocation committees. That's because this is how long it took me to even find the councils and committees because no one in the state that should have been making sure an HIV-positive person was involved in the process did that job.
What does this mean for you? This means it is a painstaking process that is hard and takes dedication; but fortunately in most places people do the jobs they are supposed to do and there are a number of activists and advocates, which means that you reach out to them to make the journey a little easier, and then you fight. You don't shut up, you don't give up, and you do what needs to be done, whether it is popular or not. That is how we get to an AIDS-free generation; that is how this changes!
Stop being ashamed that you are living, LIVING, with an illness. I don't care what you did to get infected or how it happened because that can't change; but what can change are the coming generations and YOU can be a part of that change. I can't think if a better legacy than to be able to look back and say "Yeah; I did my part in that."
Talk about that at your dinner table!
Janine Brignola is an HIV-positive woman, mother, college student, activist and advocate. She works with Hope's Voice as a speaker for their Does HIV Look Like Me? lecture series. She lives in Nebraska.