OpEd: Hope is Forever

OpEd Photo Via SFGN

On June 5, 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published a report describing cases of a rare lung infection in five young, previously healthy, gay men in Los Angeles.

Within days, doctors from across the U.S. shared stories of seemingly similar reports within their own communities. 

By the end of the calendar year, a cumulative total of 270 cases had been reported. A total of 121 men had died, of a severe and unidentifiable immune deficiency.

America initially came to know the illness as a gay related immune deficiency. For many, gay men were paying a price for their lewd and licentious lifestyles. The powerful and the prosperous looked the other way.

From pulpits to political leaders, it was not unheard of to hear people say, ‘Fags are getting what they deserve.’ We were social pariahs, modern day lepers.

In South Florida, on January 16, 1981, the Ku Klux Klan was still meeting in Davie. Only whites need apply. It was a different world, then. Now, they can only meet in the White House.

How scared was America of homosexuals as they learned this virus was spreading? 

In Fort Lauderdale, an HIV positive gay librarian, Todd Shuttleworth, was fired from his job at the Main Library on East Broward Boulevard. 

Officials were so frightened of the emerging plague they thought he could possibly pass on the virus to others just by handing out books. 

In 1984, a small group of 8 gay community leaders would gather at its signature hospitality establishment, the Marlin Beach Hotel on A1A in Fort Lauderdale.  

These courageous pioneers would start the first group to raise the consciousness of our community, hoping to tame the spread of this disease. It did not work, not here or anywhere else. 

In the U.S. today, 1.2 million live with an HIV infection, and while, thank God, deaths have declined precipitously, gay and bisexual men, along with African Americans and Latinos, remain disproportionately affected and infected.

In greater Fort Lauderdale, according to recent data and statistics, nearly 20,000 persons are living in Fort Lauderdale with the virus. We must do better. It’s on us. The tools are at our disposal. 

Our communities are blessed with social service agencies, treatment facilities, prophylactic programs, and volunteers offering aid and assistance where and when required.

As we approach World AIDS Day in 2019, SFGN salutes all of you. 

Our pages are too limited to praise all those so deserving of honor. They are accomplishments probably more deserving of recognition than we give them. 

“There is too much apathy in the gay community about AIDS today, one comedian jokes, but who cares?” he said. We do. It is still a serious journey we cannot ignore, but must necessarily illuminate, and not just on Dec. 1, each year.

Most recently, we salute the Smart Riders who pedaled from Miami to Key West, raising with their teams over a million dollars in just three days to promote HIV advocacy programs.

The 21st century challenge to HIV requires innovative new undertakings, from funding and founding healthy housing programs to holistic healing centers.

We have learned that addressing HIV and AIDS over decades has required more than taking drug cocktails, protease inhibitors, or the current pill du jour, Truvada.  We must create newer remedies.

On Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors, you can see the Pride Center at Equality Park’s formula for a new future, creating housing for people in need. 

In Fort Lauderdale, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation has an even bolder and bigger project, a seven story 500-unit low cost, affordable housing facility for downtown. It has met obstacles in city circles.

In a September editorial, we asked city commissioners to create the conditions enabling the project to move forth expeditiously and open quickly. We stand by that hope today.

Last weekend, AHF initiated and paid for a visible and public media campaign to further their effort by re-publishing our editorial in Sun Sentinel advertisements and local community mailers. Like Ronald Reagan said, they paid for the microphone. Good for them, and better for all of us. Let their message be heard by many more than just our pages can reach.

AHF understands that ending AIDS tomorrow means creating conditions today where people can find a place to be healthy now. AHF has always been willing to buck the tide and tackle the titans. They are more likely to partner with the poor than the prosperous.

It was 25 years ago last month that we buried Pedro Zamora. Here in the real world, in South Florida, while deaths are diminishing, new infections still spiral in the wrong direction. We have lost too many for too long to the HIV. Let’s work towards celebrating a cure and not an anniversary.

To remember the legacy of those lost, we must still fight like hell for the living. Our duty is to find new ways to health and healing. Safe and affordable housing is a good start, don’t you think?

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