Nothing has informed my world and my place in this world more than the scourge and subsequent fight against AIDS. I lost my brother Michael and many other “brothers” – extraordinary people whose presence is missed dearly and deeply. My story is not unusual for gay men of my age, in fact it’s quite typical. My grief was channeled into the productive and cathartic fight for equality.
That’s a lesson that all of us can take from AIDS and from other tragic and seemingly senseless events: let’s embody and fight for the change we want to see.
Here’s mu story:
I came to California from Oklahoma twenty-five years ago for the same reason a lot of us came: to find acceptance.
I rented a room in a bungalow in West Hollywood. When the lady who shared the house left, I took over and needed to find a roommate.
At 29, I hadn’t known anyone in Oklahoma that had HIV or AIDS. At the Hollywood restaurant I worked at there was a guy named Bill who had HIV and he needed a place to stay.
He became the new roommate and unbeknownst to me, I had just become the caretaker for a dying man. Bill had little contact with his family–so I learned quickly how to care for someone dying from AIDS.
Then it started to steamroll for me. Friends from back home came down with HIV: David D., John, David W. and my brother. Finally the friends I had begun to make in WeHo: Ron, Wayne Karr.
The plague was mine. I owned it now.
For those of us who lived through this, my story is far from unique. I stifled my grief by marching, yelling, and raging at Pete Wilson when he vetoed AB 101. We protested a lot. We tried to get people to listen; to give a voice to our falling friends.
At the same time I went to Los Angeles City College, then Cal State L.A. During that time, I did publicity for Rick Zaldivar’s The Wall-Las Memorias Latino AIDS awareness project and served on the board. I volunteered at APLA under the legendary Jacques Chambers, in the public benefits department. I went on to do more non-profit public relations work after graduation, including the AIDS Service Center in Pasadena and the Braille Institute.
Like many others, my only response was to devote myself to the community. We gave, we volunteered, and we served.
How are you working to make the world better? Here’s some links to organizations working to make change: