How old were you at the start of the AIDS epidemic?
My first recollections of the AIDS epidemic were in the mid 80’s. I was a closeted young gay man in high school in the small conservative town of Roswell, NM.
How did you first learn about HIV?
I remember hearing people in my home town talking about how there was a “gay cancer” that had no cure. I remember hearing people say it came from Africa where homosexual men were having sex with monkeys and that’s how the disease got started. This is how I first learned about this epidemic and I was a closeted, confused young man too scared to say anything about being gay to ANYONE.
Where were you when you first learned about the AIDS epidemic?
I remember really connecting with the message of the AIDS epidemic when I was finishing college and the musical RENT was this fringe new show taking Broadway by storm with a focus on HIV and AIDS. I quickly fell in love with the musical and remember finally getting to see it when it toured a few years later when I lived in Tucson, AZ.
What does the 25th year of riding to end AIDS mean to you personally?
To me this ride represents PERSEVERENCE in the face of extreme ADVERSITY. That incredible progress and a change can be made when we come together with a common, impassioned and heartfelt purpose. It means that an END to AIDS is very possibly something I will see in my lifetime and I can proudly say that I, along with hundreds of amazing donors who have supported me along the way throughout my 4 ALC rides – have all been a part of the cure! THEY are the real heroes.
What effect has the AIDS epidemic had on you or someone you know?
I have been incredibly blessed to know some amazing men who have struggled and not only survived but are continuing to THRIVE as a result of the many amazing advances that have been made in battling this disease. I have lived through harrowing, near death moments and faced the fear that arose from the ignorance that surrounded (and sadly continues to surround) this disease. Through my own personal journey as an out, gay man I have faced the fear around potential HIV infection and the stigma and ongoing burden that accompanies it. I believe knowledge is power and compassion is the key. I am fiercely dedicated to removing the stigma around HIV/AIDS and unapologetically focused on raising awareness and compassion.
Have you personally experienced stigma related to HIV/AIDS?
Yes, in the mid 90’s I faced the fear and stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS when a very dear friend was near death on more than one occassion. The ignorance and lack of compassion/stigmatizing exercised towards this amazing man was heartbreaking. Back then this was viewed as an inevitable death sentence that was self induced due to the immoral behavior of abhorrent gay men – who were ALL stigmatized for merely loving each other. There was much that was unknown at that time and many men/women were grasping at traditional and non traditional “cures”. Looking back, it was less about the variety of approaches and more about the heartbreaking stigma we experienced by those who let FEAR and a LACK of COMPASSION influence how they chose to treat men who were struggling. My friend survived that dark time and now lives as a healthy, vibrant, testament to how this disease can be overcome and managed. While so much progress has been made, this is no longer a “death warrant” but instead a manageable disease, there is still much to do in terms of educating young gay men to keep them healthy and removing not only the stigma of HIV/AIDS but also being GAY or TRANSGENDERED. There is still so much to do.
What would the end of the AIDS epidemic mean to you?
It would mean a world without FEAR of loving who you love and expressing that love openly with pride. It would mean a dream had come true and I was fortunate to help, in some small way, with making that dream a REALITY! Let’s END AIDS in this lifetime.