I originally started doing the Minnesota AIDS walk because I was looking to be involved in my college’s GSA, GLOW! (Gay, Lesbian, Or Whatever), and they promised it was fun and I would get a popsicle at the end.
Don’t get me wrong, it is a pretty phenomenal popsicle, and there’s also a playground with a real jungle gym, so the perks are nice, but that’s no longer why I do the MN AIDS Walk every year.
When I started walking, I knew HIV and AIDS played into my community — that being the queer one — as a sort of historical happening. Tragic, but something that happened before I was born, like the Cold War. So the first change that happened was an understanding that history matters and still matters today. I read more, learning the extreme fear the initial outbreak created, the simultaneous outrage both towards the gay community (viewed as guilty) and within the gay community (feeling wrongly blamed and abandoned). I talked to people that lived through the 80’s as part of the GLBT community, something I couldn’t do before college because I knew no openly queer adults. I will probably never forget the night that our faculty advisor for GLOW told us, “Just about everybody I dated or wanted to date when I was your age is dead now.” That really hit me. I learned more about how HIV/AIDS impacted the gay rights movement; I am still learning about this, and I think it’s fascinating.
The next thing that happened was that I really grasped that this was not a gay disease. I don’t think I ever formally held that belief, since it was 2000 by the time I really knew anything about STDs, and HIV was included alongside chlamydia — you know, abstinence is the only thing that will save you. Which also means anybody can be a target. Furthering this were new statistics, about new HIV cases being on the rise, especially in young folks – overall, not just gay. Young folks are also my community.
The final thing that happened was that HIV showed up in my actual, people-I-know community. Put simply, that was frightening, because it was the last straw and final understanding I needed in order to get that This is Real. This is Now. This Matters.
So in May, I will be walking, yet again, alongside many strangers, to whom this is also real. For some of them, it is much more real to them than it is to me. And ironically, we’re all walking so that maybe someday, this can be less real.
And then we will eat our popsicles, because the simplest pleasures in life still reign, despite all.
If you’d like to donate, you can do that here. If you’d like to join me, shoot me a note.