How old were you at the start of the AIDS epidemic?
I was 28 when I first heard about GRID. I am now 65. The AIDS pandemic has been in my life one way or another for well over half of my life. In 1982 the first article about GRID appeared in the NYT, although the AIDS epidemic officially began on June 5, 1981.
How did you first learn about HIV?
There was talk in the bars in those days about a Gay disease. You must remember that the bars were our community centers in those days. It truly was by word of mouth and shortly after the seeds of activism was sown. Little by little, flyers appeared like in the window of Star Pharmacy on Castro posted by Cleve Jones. Then sometime in 1981 my roommate came home and said he had heard about Gays getting sick. It was reminiscent of the poignant scene in the movie Philadelphia.
Where were you when you first learned about the AIDS epidemic?
I was in San Francisco. I had moved to San Francisco in 1976. Specifically, I heard talk on the street about Grid, as I mentioned earlier.
What does the 25th year of riding to end AIDS mean to you personally?
This will be my 21st consecutive participation. I was a cyclist the first nine years, then a roadie for the next 10 and last year a virtual cyclist fundraising over the minimum. I had decided my 20th would be my last year of participation then I decided to be part of the 25th anniversary and once again run Bus Divalicious. Sometimes, we need a break, we need to step away to boost our passion and when ready return in full force. In my situation, it took only one Ride of not actually being on the event to get my passion back. I think it is important for our youth to know that it is OK to take a break, to evaluate their purpose and to renew their energy and passion.
What effect has the AIDS epidemic had on you or someone you know?
The AIDS pandemic completely changed the direction of my life. You see, when more information came out most people I knew developed what we called “fuck fear”. We did not have sex or practice the usual sexual acts. We did not go out; we stayed home in fear that we might put ourselves into a situation that could compromise our health. Bars closed and community centers opened. I speak not of just physical health, but mental health.
Friends left because of death, other friends left because they needed to focus on their health. Most telling of my generation is whilst being bombarded with grief we found it difficult to make new friends in fear that they too would go away.
For me personally, I was good ole happy, funny Larry, but for fifteen years I was living with a barely functioning emotional spirit so I sought out therapy. If you know me then you will understand when I say that I fell to the floor sobbing and said to myself “Girl, you are fucked up! You need help”. I went to grief counseling every week for four years. At one point, I was able to come home after a session and tear down all of the photos of dead people I had hanging in my hallway. My home had become a living memorial in the saddest sense.
The fear of infection never goes away. It has, sadly and most likely prevented some things in my life. Yet, I have done what all of us do and that is the best that we can do.
Here’s the irony of AIDS and the Ride. The one thing that made my community devastatingly unhealthy is the same thing that made me and many others the healthiest we have ever been by way of our training to ride a bicycle from SF to LA. Who does that?! Oh, I guess we do. The Ride has also forged friendships.
Have you personally experienced stigma related to HIV/AIDS?
Yes, during the 80’s when I was in my hometown of Duluth, MN and I leaned in to hug my favorite Aunt she backed away and said something to the effect of “I don’t know if I should hug you”. Well, I schooled her right then and there and we had a long hug. Again, fear of the unknown was affecting my life. This experience and many others like it have occurred because I am a Gay man. Let’s remember, that at one point all Gay men were considered untouchable.
What would the end of the AIDS epidemic mean to you?
I just don’t know for sure. I have longed for an end to AIDS. I do know this, IF my own country, the United States government had not ignored GRID/AIDS for the first decade we would be further along than we are now. I am still very angry about this so I use my anger to fuel my passion to do the good work.
I have longed for the day when we hear “the news” and there is a cure, not only maintenance, but a real cure. I hope I see it in my life. If not, I will know I have done what I could to help. However, if I do see it, I will be the first person at Castro and Market in San Francisco popping champagne, cheering, crying and again fallen to the ground with joy instead of heartache.