Note: I wrote the bulk of this article for Gaywheels earlier today, but since most of you probably don’t keep up with that site, maybe it’ll be new.
Scientists first became aware of AIDS 30 years ago. At the time, I was too young to fully understand what was going on, but as a kid who knew he was attracted to other boys, it was a terrifying development. There was so much uncertainty surrounding the disease, so much finger-pointing, so much name-calling and blame and moral outrage that it was impossible to see the facts.
Thankfully, we’re in a different place now. Scientists have a much better understanding of the disease, and today’s medicines have dramatically increased life expectancies for people living with HIV — as much as 53 years (or more) from the time of infection. Advances in technology also mean that many researchers are once again talking about a cure for HIV — something they haven’t done in decades. The battle isn’t over, but slowly, HIV is becoming a chronic condition rather than a fatal disease. And yet, there’s still a huge stigma surrounding HIV-positive people. That has to change.
I bring this up because today, like every December 1, is World AIDS Day. It’s an opportunity to remind people about how far humankind has come in its fight against HIV and AIDS and how far we still have to go. It’s also a time for many of us to remember friends and family who’ve died from AIDS and to think about the many, many HIV-positive folks in our circles who are living happy, healthy, normal lives.
Take a few minutes out of your day and to contribute to the cause — financially or in other ways. Here are five things you can do to make a difference.
There are hundreds if not thousands of organizations that offer services to people living with HIV and AIDS. Some, like amfAR, are huge. Others, like the community organizations found in your own neighborhoods, work on much smaller scales. All of them need your help in providing education, testing, counseling, and drugs to people living with HIV and AIDS. If you can, consider setting up a monthly donation with these organizations to provide support throughout the year.
2. Donate on behalf of your family members this holiday season
The children in your family might be dead-set on a new Xbox 360 or a Barbie dream car or whatever plastic thingamajig is hot this year. But chances are good that many of the adults on your shopping list already have more than enough stuff cluttering up their lives. Consider making a donation in their names — or perhaps in memory of a late loved one — instead of purchasing yet another Snuggie or Bumpit.
3. Volunteer throughout the year
Have you got an extra couple of hours that you can offer to a local HIV/AIDS service organization? You might lend time in the kitchen at a local hospice, or if you have a special set of skills — say, accounting or legal knowledge — you can put those to use, too. If you’re particularly enthusiastic, ask about serving on a board of directors. Whatever you do, though, be sure to offer help throughout the year. Many charities have an influx of help during the holidays — which is great — but they struggle at other times, like during the summer months.
4. Get tested — and bring a friend
There’s nothing quite as stressful as getting an HIV test. Even when you know that you’ve been safe, even when you have no rational cause for concern, the whole process is deeply unnerving. But obviously, it’s important to go through with it: as many as 20% of people carrying HIV in the U.S. don’t know they have it. And as crushing as a positive diagnosis might be, it’s better to know than not. Getting on treatment can result in a relatively normal lifespan and prevent HIV-positive individuals from passing the virus to others.
5. Get educated and share your knowledge with friends and family
For many of us, the facts about HIV and AIDS were drilled into our heads in high school. But how long has it been since you took a refresher course? Just as importantly, how long has it been since your friends and family familiarized themselves with the facts? Re-educate yourself, and find time to share that knowledge with loved ones — especially anyone who’s sexually active, no matter what their age.