This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.
I went to high school during a time when AIDS and HIV were just becoming something that we were talking about. It was a scary time and the fears that teens felt at the time hit my generation pretty hard.
When The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt was making the rounds of the United States I was in college and had come home to Chicago to visit my family. It was a quilt started in 1987 by a group led by Cleve Jones in San Francisco with 3-by-6-foot memorial panels commemorating the life, with words and pictures, on a quilt of someone who had died from complications from AIDS. Sewn lovingly by family members and friends of the deceased, it was my first introduction to art as activism. My mother had tickets to go and we went, taking my young toddler daughter with us, at the McCormick Center near Lake Michigan. It’s a place I’d been to a hundred times for various events but this one had all the moveable walls down and the quilts were arranged on the floor with space to walk among them. There were volunteers there walking around quietly and carrying tissues.
Prior to walking in that space I had given my daughter several warnings about appropriate behavior. There would be no screaming or loud talking and we were going to use inside voices, no running and definitely no stepping on the quilts or lying down and taking a nap. She was far too young to understand the gravity of the situation or even of HIV and AIDS at the time, but she knew there was a tone and respectful nature when we walked in that space. I didn’t have to remind her at all.
I remember a special moment I had with a stranger in that space. She was a volunteer who walked around with a box of tissues and I had stopped in front of a quilt that really struck me. The descriptions of this young man who died in his 20s really grabbed me in that moment. Learning about his life and how much he was loved made me start to cry and stare at the quilt for much longer than I should have. The volunteer stopped and offered a tissue and asked, very sweetly, "Anyone in particular?"
Do you know those moments when you wish you'd say exactly what you're thinking but are afraid it will come out wrong and you do it anyway? I had that with her.
I looked around at all the quilts and made a sweeping motion with my hand and replied, "Everyone in particular."
She nodded and put a hand on my shoulder and we stood crying for a good while together.
At that time, in 1990, I had yet to know of someone personally who would be affected by the disease and it would take less than a few years for that to happen. Every one of them has been young and one of my cousins would live for another 20 years with HIV before succumbing to it. Though, at the time, it didn’t have a name in the 1970s when he got sick. Losing other family members to this has been devastating and yet we’re not where we should be which brings me to this place of helping spread the word along with the CDC for the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign.
I get on a lot of bandwagons for political and personal reasons but this one is extremely personal to me and I’m happy to share any information to promote awareness and help for a very specific crowd. Today is National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day which is targeted at the 50+ crowd. You can get involved here if you'd like to do something.
Here are some fast facts for you since I know people look for the bullet points (as if you’re asking yourself, What exactly does Kelly want us to know?):
- People aged 55 and older accounted for 26% of all Americans living with diagnosed or undiagnosed HIV infection in 2013.
- People aged 50 and older have the same HIV risk factors as younger people, but may be less aware of their HIV risk factors.
- Older Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV infection later in the course of their disease.
The one I want to focus on is that last one: if diagnosed with HIV later in the course of the disease it becomes more problematic health-wise. I can’t help, right now, to think of all those commercials for erectile dysfunction that focus on older couples but then fail to mention anything about safe sex. Sure, you're thinking, I'm older and don't have to worry about getting pregnant.
Yeah, but diseases don't really have an age range so take some precautions, friends. If I can sit through the dozens of erectile dysfunction commercials when I'm just trying to watch some football then I think it's okay that we make sure we talk about safe sex at every age. ALL THE COOL KIDS ARE DOING IT.
Here's a few other places to follow today that will use the hashtags #StopHIVTogether and #StopHIVStigma:
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/talkHIV
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ActAgainstAIDS
- Instagram: http://Instagram.com/ActAgainstAIDS