The new variant of Omicron for COVID was uncovered by South African immunologists because their country has some of the best research scientists in the world.

Sadly, AIDS has given them a lot of practice. AIDS has never taken a vacation. It is still with us, without a vaccine or a cure. It has been since the early days of the 1980s. Nothing has come to protect us at warp speed. 

A young Dr. Fauci working on AIDS 40 years ago warned us there was no cure, that it was deadly and highly transmissible. We have made magnificent inroads, but not without pain and loss along the way. Millions of lives; our friends, our partners, are gone. Over decades.

In the past year, we have seen what a pandemic can mean. But in the past year we have seen what can happen when the world works together. Vaccines. Boosters. Monoclonal Antibodies. Hope.

Years ago, we were alone, abandoned, and almost ignored. AZT was the only word we heard. Let’s not forget those who are no longer with us; who worked so hard for so long to reach the place we are today.  They are our heroes.

In fact, it was Michael Weinstein, the president of the AIDS Health Care Foundation, who, in February and March of 2020, pleaded with the United Nations and the World Health Organization to declare the coronavirus a worldwide pandemic. Too many died when world leaders refused to listen.

A gay newspaper can’t ignore the fact that HIV is a disease that has ravaged the LGBT community for 40 years. Next week, SFGN will cover in visually and in print the ceremonies held yesterday in our communities.

AIDS-related sickness in the United States has decreased dramatically since the development of antiretroviral drugs in the mid-1990s. Still, HIV infection and AIDS remain among the nation’s leading causes of death.

HIV has a disproportionate impact on certain populations. Gay and bisexual men are also at high risk for HIV. There is no shortage of clients at Latinos Salud, Broward House, Care Resources, or the AIDS Health Care Foundation.

There are still newly diagnosed cases walking into the Pride Center daily, seeking counseling and compassion. You may not realize it knocking down a Margarita poolside on a Sunday at Tropics, but South Florida is still ground zero for the virus in the USA.

Even with awareness programs from corner to corner in our community, AIDS is still an issue. COVID proved America is still Marlboro country. Too many of us don’t pay attention. We don’t listen. We don’t hear. With HIV, too many think with the wrong head.

So how do we stir people from apathy? It takes more than speeches on Dec. 1. HIV is not a once-a-year disease. It takes annual SMART Rides and AIDS Walks and so much more. Most of all, it takes you to be smarter at night so you are not kicking yourself in the morning. The mask goes over your mouth, not your eyes.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation remains a trendsetter in provocative, thoughtful, and memorable advertising that promotes condom use, open dialogue about sexual health, and getting tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

AHF is not afraid to speak out when called out, whether it is challenging presidents in America, Kings in Africa or mayors in Fort Lauderdale. They have bucked the tide and made their own waves.

No agency has stood up to unfair drug pricing as they have. AHF has both your person and pocketbook in mind. And they support so many of our nonprofits, backing their activism with financial support. But keep this in mind, for all aspects of your life, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”

Whether your community is flush with iPhones and gay beaches, or in the parched deserts of Africa, AIDS is real, and the consequences are not pleasant. But it is within our ability to lessen the spread by our own actions and deeds. It’s obvious the world has so much more to fight. Let’s help ease the burden.

Today, on World AIDS Day, as I write this, the first confirmed U.S. case of the Omicron coronavirus variant has been detected in California. May we continue to fight HIV with the tenacity and drive we have fought COVID. If only we had way back when…

May we find a common bond that unites us against everything from COVID to Cancer. May we use our lives to promote harmony and healing and hope. There is enough hurt and hate to go around. Don’t be part of it. Be apart from it.

Be a force for goodness, a voice for life, and an advocate for the day when we celebrate an end to World AIDS days, not an anniversary for them.

What did Little Richard once sing: “You’ve got the whole world in your hands.” Mold it with light. Live it with love. Now go get tested and don’t forget to play safe.

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