June 1, 2013
Am I proud to have HIV? No. Am I proud to have spoken up in the U.S. Army and chosen to get kicked out? No. Am I proud just simply to be gay? NO. I am proud mainly of being a human being who happens to be a gay, HIV-positive U.S. Army veteran. Yes, my struggles and life story have some significant hardships, but they are nothing to what my predecessors had to go through. These leaders in our GLBT community are who I am VERY proud of.
These men and women who stood up against the chaos and the prejudices and life threats. These men and women who fought against bigotry and hate for being gay while living with HIV/AIDS. These people are who I am extremely proud of and who I want us, the next generation of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, to hear and learn from. So, I am writing to you all not of MY pride, but of the men and women whom I appreciate, respect and emulate.
Men like Peter Staley who got infected with HIV when it was a deadly thing and there were NO medications on hand to either effectively fight or stop the virus. Peter Staley was a bold member of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in New York and later became an outspoken leader. He stood up and fought for HIV/AIDS research. He fought for medications and their distribution, for his friends and many more who kept on getting infected. He fought even though he knew he was dying. His friends around him were dying. The movement was at times at a standstill. And Peter Staley never quit.
Men like Mark Harrington who was a daring, gay, HIV-positive man looking for the answer. Mark stood up and spoke up. He worked his way through the Republican political sewage that was deliberately halting any sort of HIV/AIDS research and medication discoveries. Mark stood up and made his presence known for his sake, his friends' sake, and countless other infected people.
Women like Sarah Schulman who took the initiative to write about what was going on by openly writing about the AIDS crisis. Sarah stood up and fought for her fellow lesbians when it came to rights and anti-gay ballot initiatives. She continues to shine as an advocate of woman's rights, abortion rights and lesbian rights. She is a pillar of strength and pride. Sarah continues to use her activist brilliance through her words by writing powerful articles and books on many serious subjects like HIV/AIDS.
These people did significant things in a time when just being openly gay was a scary thing. They believed in action. They are STILL committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis. We younger members of the GLBT community cannot empathize with their hardships, because we did not live back then during those dark times in America.
American people were scared of us, because we were different. They could not believe or comprehend that men were genuinely capable of loving other men or women could genuinely love other women. The American people were frightened of AIDS and HIV. They did not understand the virus just as much as they did not understand gays and lesbians. But, thanks to the Peter Staleys and the Mark Harringtons and the Sarah Schulmans, that all changed.
And the greatest thing about their stories is ... they stood up and fought and did ALL OF THIS for US. They saved our generation. They opened gateways to where now we can celebrate many states legalizing and celebrating gay marriage. They saved us by getting the government to bend and put money into the HIV/AIDS fight. They saved us by getting physicians to knuckle down and discover protease inhibitors and medications like Atripla. THEY SAVED ME. And for this, I say thank you. I am VERY, VERY proud of my gay and lesbian predecessors. I am proud of what they did and how they fought. I am proud that they simply refused to accept death or to remain silent.
And as we look toward the future, on how we define Pride, I will keep people like the ones I just mentioned close to my mind and spirit. I am so very proud to know we have great role models and leaders within our GLBT community. I am very proud to conduct myself appropriately when I am challenged with MY own personal hardships. And, I am extremely proud to be who I am, with what I have and with all of the experiences I have witnessed and been a part of. I am proud to be a gay man living with HIV.