When I came out I was in my very early 20s and it was the late 1990s. I was terrified of drag queens, knew nothing of LGBT history and was convinced no one I knew had HIV. I’m not sure why I believed that, because I didn’t really know what it was or what the acronym stood for.
What I did know is that some gay men had it, it was transmitted sexually and it had something to do with blood. While I’m sure the information was out there, nothing really motivated me to go find it for myself.
That was until I attended my first HIV fundraiser and drag show. I expected a night of entertainment and heavy drinking. But in reality, it turned out to be a night of education.
During the show I learned some of the people near to me were battling a medical issue I had seen as completely foreign. It was an eye-opener that made HIV/AIDS very real.
The first HIV-positive person I ever knew happened to be a drag queen. I knew her casually through an ex-boyfriend and never thought much more about her outside of her fabulous persona. When she stood on the dance floor that night and told the crowd of her HIV status, I was stunned. In my mind, HIV suddenly had a face—a personality.
This disease was no longer a scare-tactic dreamed up by a church, school or awful made-for-television movie. It was a real-life health issue facing real people and it motivated me to not only protect myself, but to learn more about it and its history.
I came out at a time where it was rare to hear of AIDS-related deaths, and I have never lost someone close to me in that way. For that I am grateful, but it also made me less aware of HIV for a long time.
I look back and realize how naive I was then. I never could have imagined I’d have the vast library of LGBT knowledge—both useful and not-so-useful—filed away in my head like I do today. I’m fortunate with the journey on which my career has taken me.
I sometimes forget what it’s like to not have friends and colleagues directly involved in the fight against HIV. It’s easy to lose perception when you see HIV in some form every single day or chat with someone who is actively trying to defeat it once or twice a week.
These are the reasons events corresponding with World AIDS Day are so important and why fundraisers and candlelight vigils are needed in 2014. It’s the conversation that keeps the hope and the drive alive to help those living with HIV/AIDS and to ultimately send this disease the way of polio or smallpox.
Things don’t disappear simply because we stop talking about them. In fact, silence often makes things worse. If the dialogue sounds too familiar, or repetitive, remember that someone next to you may be hearing the message for the first time.
During a recent meeting with Watermark‘s editorial team, I found myself in a discussion about our year-end issue. Our topic of conversation: Who are the most remarkable people of 2014, and who should be on the cover of our last issue of 2014? It’s a conversation we have every November.
A number of names were tossed around. We discussed transgender advocates and activists, successful playwrights and people directly involved with Florida’s slow yet substantial marriage equality movement.
We finally came to one conclusion: This decision shouldn’t be made solely by a team of a few. We want our readers to help us out this year.
At the end of 2012, we came up with the idea to honor and highlight local heroes who are an inspiration to the LGBT community, whether it’s through philanthropy, the political process or a sheer willingness to survive despite all odds.
We’ve been pleased with our selections so far, but in 2014, there are simply too many candidates from which to choose. So this year, we’re seeking nominations.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know who you would like to see featured on the cover of Watermark‘s Dec. 18 issue, and we’ll make it happen.