OpEd: HIV - Part of Our Past Still Inflicting Pain on the Present

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As we approach World AIDS Day this weekend, SFGN features our annual SPIRIT issue. I know that discussions of HIV and AIDS are not the most popular features in the world, but my job as publisher is to share truth not fiction, reality not illusion. 

For the LGBT community, HIV is very real. You might be able to manage it with one pill in 2017, but it was not always that way.  Ask Greg Louganis, who was on the cover of SFGN last week, celebrated and honored by Equality Florida this past month.

Who is Greg Louganis, you might ask. Well, unsurprisingly, many of you did. Last week, I went bar hopping through the Manors, determined to show off SFGN’s cover to young people I guessed were under the age of 25.  I showed them a picture of the silver haired 57-year-old on the cover and asked if they knew who he was. 

My unscientific survey netted 20 inquiries. 13 young men had no clue that SFGN last week featured an HIV positive gay man who was an Olympic Gold Medalist platform diver in the 1970’s and 1980’s. They were unsure of who Greg Louganis was.

In 1995, Greg Louganis was not getting any awards. He was as popular as Roy Moore. He came out of the closet in a national HBO video ‘Back on Board,’ admitting to the world that he was HIV positive back in 1988 when he hit his head on a diving board during a meet and bled into the Olympic swimming pool. He did not even reveal to the doctor treating him that he was HIV positive at the time.

You know, after a five-year legal battle, the Florida Supreme Court just ruled that if you fail to disclose your HIV status to your same sex partner, or otherwise, and you have intercourse, you can go to jail. It is a crime.

Of course, this is Broward County, where years ago, in a lifetime far away, in 1982, our library once fired an HIV positive librarian because they did not want him handing out books. None of the kids I talked to knew about that either, but I would not expect them to. However, it is all part of our history, which SFGN proudly celebrates with special features each October. 

As a matter of fact, my business partner at the newspaper, Piero Angelo, even does an interesting random column illuminating and showcasing our LGBT history. Hell, that’s why we keep publishing this paper, to make sure that our lives are legitimately recorded by a press that protects us and does not persecute us. 

That’s why we are proud to share another issue of The Spirit with you this week, our annual AIDS issue. It’s not going to come your way through the Sun Sentinel or the Herald. They are not niche publications focusing on your concerns. We are.

Meanwhile, many of the young people I talked to outside bars this past Thanksgiving weekend did know who Sheila E, Yandel, and Becky G were. And they were therefore delighted to hear that the trio will be performing a free concert in Bayfront Park this Friday night on World AIDS Day, December 1. Doors open at 6 p.m. 

Once again, thank the AIDS Health Care Foundation for being cutting edge, and going outside the playbook to draw attention to HIV. Already sponsors of the Florida AIDS Walk and Music Festival, which will be returning to the Fort Lauderdale Beach on March 18, 2018, AHF knows how to reach the multitudes. 

The ‘Righteous Rebels,’ as their book is labeled, have no qualms about pushing buttons. Just look at their ad campaigns, like their most recent billboards, posted from South Florida to Hollywood and Vine, in the heart of LA’s movie district.

The billboards call attention to the millions of people around the globe still impacted by HIV/AIDS. Inspired by vintage fuel pump counters, the numbers illuminated are staggering, including recognition of ‘1,800,000 New HIV Cases in 2016’ and another reading “20,000,000 Untreated HIV Cases in 2016.” What the message says is that the numbers are still growing higher each year.

The reality is HIV is something I think is important enough to still write about. Look, there are still people drowning. We can’t just all be celebrating on the shore. We need agencies like AHF and to speak out and be heard, to make waves. Thankfully, we live in a community where many souls, many agencies, and many good people do their part, from pet projects to smart rides.

SFGN will continue to do its part. We will showcase your good work and be honest about our failures. The truth is we must do better if we are going to end this pandemic. Jesse Monteagudo’s column in the Spirit this week acknowledges some of our local real life losses. It can’t go on. It just can’t go on. Help make it come to an end. Start with an HIV test. It is never too late.

Let’s celebrate a day when there will be no more World AIDS Days. Let's be able to have a concert on the beach because they are fun and celebratory, not necessary and memorial. We have made it safe for anyone and everyone, Olympic swimmer or not, to dive into the water with HIV. 

One final word. Please let’s not forget that while AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 48 percent since their peak in 2005, in 2016 over 19 million people globally were accessing antiretroviral therapy to prolong their lives and stop the spread of the virus. Many of those are and have been part of our LGBT community. That is why we must never forget, and while saying a prayer for those who are gone, we must continue to fight for hell for the living.


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