OpEd: Let’s Put an End to World AIDS Days

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Twenty-five years ago, I guess when I was relevant—I was asked by Center One to deliver an address on World AIDS Day at the Esplanade in Fort Lauderdale. I delivered a talk about young people carelessly contracting HIV.

I found that speech this week. Sadly, there is not much I would change. I pointed out that young adults were becoming more comfortable with their sexual identity; more accepting of homosexuality. Unfortunately, I said, with all the knowledge of the world at our fingertips, the AIDS virus was still spreading too rapidly amongst young people.

At the time, reports from the Center for Disease Control indicated that adolescent AIDS cases represented about 20 percent of all reported cases in Miami. Today, South Florida is still one of the national epicenters of the HIV virus, notwithstanding facts, funding and foundations like AHF, Care Resource, the late Center One, Latinos Salud, Broward House, Poverello, and how many more- reminding us daily we have to be safer?

Gabriel Rotello is an author who explained years ago, when he wrote a book entitled Sexual Ecology. He said correctly "Sex drives our politics and erotics, gives us our modern identity, provides the mortar of much of our community, and animates our lives. Witness the White Party last week. When will we need a White Party no more?

We have learned so much, but the Pride Center is today running programs about meth abuse and sexual carelessness. We have heard of sex parties on South Beach. We know of bare backing cults. We know of ‘bug chasers.’ We know of complacency and comfort with cocktails. We know young people think they are invincible, whether driving cars or their anatomy. But whether you are 16 or 60, you gotta’ wake up. It can happen to you. It doesn’t take a bathhouse to become positive. It can happen in your bedroom, after one cocktail too many. You have to think with the right head.

The new gay growth hormone in South Beach is a self-indulgent Calvin Klein cocktail—a combination of GHB, Special K, a touch of crystal, and some ecstasy. Reckless, rocking and sweating to house music at all hours of the day and night, with bottled water in hand, at least alcohol is out and fitness is in. But so is free, unprotected sex. When did "condoms" become a dirty word? Oh, I wrote those words 25 years ago. So what is different today?

I get that many young people don’t read papers anymore, but this column will be online. Don’t make a mistake tonight you will have to live with tomorrow. Be more careful, act more cautiously, and avoid the consequences. Stay somewhat sober. Outside of getting a guaranteed prescription for medical marijuana, there are not too many advantages in acquiring HIV.

If I were to give a speech this year, 25 years after being on the Esplanade in Fort Lauderdale, I know I would say this. AIDS is no longer a death sentence. In fact, with a greater worldwide commitment from governments across this world, our researchers and scientists can sentence AIDS to death. We have made enormous progress, and at times it seems as if we are on the cusp of a cure. There is hope on the horizon.

In the meantime, we are now living in a world where we are actually fighting AIDS instead of people with AIDS. When I stood on that platform in Fort Lauderdale 25 long years ago, we were firing librarians with HIV because we were afraid they could transmit the virus by handing books to others. That’s the way it was.  It should not surprise you. 35 years before that, America was ‘curing homosexuality’ with electro shock therapy. The rainbow culture has never been America’s favorite.

I get that there is sex education in the schools, and homosexuality is more acceptable in our community. But unfortunately, so too are we ‘normalizing’ the HIV virus. No, let’s not become comfortable with a condition which causes you to live on meds, with doctors, and in treatment.  It’s an unfair price to pay for making love. Let’s make making love safe again.

As young gay men and women are learning, there is a social acceptance of your sexuality today as never before in American history. You have the ability to be open without public censure, honest without becoming a social outcast. Take advantage of it in a healthy way. Make your presence heard and felt. Be open about safe sex. Force people to deal with you up front before you have sex. Do not be afraid to shake the boat. It will be sturdier for it.

We should never have been the targets of legal discrimination because of a medical condition. We should never have had to fight for our rights politically so we were treated medicinally. But we have moved from those days.

We don’t need to make the HIV virus a permanent fixture in our evolving landscape. Let’s remember those who have passed by fighting like hell for those who are still here.

Let’s get to the day when we can celebrate the cure, and say goodbye to the crisis.

Let’s get to the day when we look back on World AIDS Days, and not look forward. 25 years later, that’s what I would say today.


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