Talking It Over – Some of the Sweetest People Have AIDS

Some of the sweetest people I know and have known have, or had, AIDS.

One who shall remain anonymous is especially dear to me. He treats me with love and respects my writing and my interest in the GLBT community. His emails and his greeting cards make my heart melt. Even though he knows that his life may be shorter than most, he doesn’t dwell on what may be. He gladdens people’s lives. He is one human being that should be allowed to live on and on. It is for him and for others like him that I hope and pray for a cure.
I remember in the early 80s when Rock Hudson died. Suddenly, we all heard about a disease that affected gay men. It was actually called GAIDS, but not for long, thank God. I was working in an alcohol and drug treatment program when we were hastily thrust into learning all about gay sex (or as much as the squeamish could stand to teach us at that time) and were told to counsel our clients. Yeah, sure! The closest we came to talking about sex was to advise inventory and amends.

Well, maybe we weren’t that callous, but I do know we believed none of our clients were gay, and so were safe. We were so naive. I hate admitting this, but my first thought, when I heard about AIDS, was that my sons were safe since they weren’t gay. Little did I know!

It wasn’t long before Steve came out to me. I was scared for him. When his husband Garrett came down with an AIDS-like disease, which was only confirmed after he died, our two families went through a lot trying to keep him alive and keep his hope up. I loved Garrett, too. After he died, I went into a hospice grief program. When I told some people about the process, they looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. “It isn’t as if he were a relative” was the gist of the message I got. Homophobia knows no bounds.

AIDS began to bring the community together. Lesbian women were among the first to reach out to gay men and take care of them. I thought these women brave and compassionate. They won my respect. I had already decided that gays and lesbians should have a life with acceptance and without harassment, but I wasn’t ready to care for sick people. I did try to counter the ignorance building in those early days by educating people about the fact that AIDS could not be contracted by simply touching people.

I didn’t know Mark, the organist in our church, was gay and infected. Mark’s mother traveled to her airport but couldn’t get on a plane to come to him. She couldn’t resolve her mixed feelings about him. Mark was bitter. He indiscriminately had oral sex with others in a movie theater. As his illness progressed, church members stepped in to comfort and nurse him and when he died, they gave him a loving funeral. Mark was a good man. It was AIDS and anger that compromised his ethics.

Once a hopeless disease that claimed a whole generation of talented people, AIDS is now manageable, if one can afford the right medications and if those medications don’t cause side effects that kill. Americans with AIDS now live an average of 24 years; the cost of their health care is a cumulative $600,000, a new study has found. New guidelines from the Center for Disease Control call for HIV testing of all Americans, 13 to 64, in routine doctor visits.

A vaccine called Aidsvac failed clinical trials overall but lowered the infection rate in Afro-Americans and other non-Hispanic minorities by 66.8%. This is good news, a step in the right direction. Since Afro-Americans don’t normally carry a particular gene mutation (Delta 32-), it’s nice to know a vaccine may make the difference in that ethnic group. Delta 32 matters because about 700 years ago, when the Black Death swept Europe and killed millions, it appears to have increased the genetic frequency of CCR5-delta 32 in the Caucasian gene pool. People with this gene mutation didn’t die of the plague, and today, it seems they don’t die of AIDS either. Naturally the link that is being studied with great interest.
The AIDS epidemic began with five deaths in Los Angeles in 1981. Twenty-five years later some 25 million people around the world have died, and 40 million more are infected.

All of us know more now. Most of us no longer make pariahs out of people who are ill. We rejoice at good news that researchers bring us and are dismayed by bad news. We know or have known many people infected by the virus, Most of us are aware of the grave consequences to the world if we are unsuccessful in stopping AIDS. All most of us can do is raise funds for research or help people who are ill by volunteering and supporting agencies that provide help.

We can also hope. We shall overcome. We shall. Believe it.

©2006 Kay Mehl Miller. Kay is the author of Talking It Over: Understanding Sexual Diversity, Email her:kaymill@aol.com.

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