I knew I wanted to write something for World AIDS Day but I was actually stuck about what to write. Every year my job hosts an awards ceremony honoring people who have made strides locally to impact HIV/AIDS research, community development, and policy. This year was no different. Part of my role in this event involves assisting with the logistics of it all and rarely do I get a chance to fully engage in the ceremony. But this year I was especially excited about the event considering the tremendous strides in research that have occurred in 2011 and some of the still challenging issues that arose in particular for women. But mostly, I was excited because we were honoring people who were instrumental in my career and/or who indirectly shaped how I have fashioned my belief system and desire to incorporate social justice in HIV policy and research. As the event was happening with a room of over hundred AIDS advocates, a women approached me whom I've known for about 3 years approached me and says, "I want to get involved;" and then she turned to see that no one was around, leaned in and whispered, "because I have HIV." What struck me about this scene is we are at an event about HIV, presumably surrounded by allies and yet she checked to see if anyone was listening, leaned in and then whispered. What struck me was outrage as the theme of this year's World AIDS Day is: "Getting to Zero. Zero New Infections. ZERO DISCRIMINATION. Zero AIDS related deaths." And yet even in that place, that hollowed space, there was fear to disclose 30 years into the epidemic. I was outraged because I knew that such concerns were not unfounded as just the day before we were hearing on the news that a young child, a fellow Philadelphian, was being denied admission into school because of his HIV status. I immediately was transported to a time in 1985 when the same irrational theories of these youth posing a threat to the safety of others were happening to Ryan White and many children like him. Truly getting to zero discrimination has never seemed so more relevant.
I did not get a chance to thank the woman who approached me. But I surely will because in that complex act of disclosing her status even in what was hollowed space; she renewed my resolve to ensure that the fear conveyed in a look, a lean, and a whisper be no more for her or others still trying to find a safe place to tell their story.