A reflection on Worlds AIDS Day by Bill Manning
Last Sunday was “World AIDS Day” and I was asked to write about the volunteer work I do. I do HIV testing and counseling in my hometown. So pull up a chair, give me a soapbox and relax because I have a few things to say.
So here we are, in the Holiday Season, a time that can be tough for anyone. Now add to it an extra twist and it can be unbearable, especially for people who have fond memories of their childhood holidays. This season can be excruciating for people who were kicked out of their homes when they “came out” to their parents or when their parents figured out that they were gay and confronted them.
As an aside - I have never understood how any parent can do that to one of their children, under any circumstance. (And some parents wonder why their kids don’t talk to them?) I say this as someone who has no biological children but as a person who has a LOT of "kids!" We may not be blood but we share love and commitment no matter what.
I was reading an article recently about people who have tested positive for HIV. This quote jumped out at me - “It is better to die then to live with the curse of being socially ostracized.”
It’s easy for me to say that this statement isn’t true, but I’m not living with HIV. Unfortunately, I do have friends living with HIV, some who might counter this statement but too many who would agree with it, especially those who have been ostracized by their biological families and “friends.”
What would you do if your child tells you she has tested positive for HIV? I ask this because I have friends in that very situation. I have friends whose parents couldn’t tolerate their “gay”, let alone their “HIV.” But what these parents seem to ignore is the fact that HIV does not have an agenda and it does not discriminate; anyone can catch it, gay, straight, young, old, married, single, white, black, Hispanic, Native, and on and on and on.
The HIV/AIDS Pandemic is not over and there is still a real and lasting stigma that people with this disease suffer. I believe there needs to be a real education in our schools about HIV/AIDS and real education for those past school age, too. Homophobia, racism, and stigmas have no place in HIV prevention and education. We need to get real and talk honestly about ending AIDS now! Even though we are in the fourth decade of HIV/AIDS awareness and treatment I believe we can “Get to Zero.”
Zero new infections.
Zero AIDS-related deaths.
On Wednesdays I volunteer to do HIV testing in my hometown. While waiting for the test results I talk with my clients about their behavior in an attempt to reduce the risk of contracting HIV. On more than one occasion I’ve had to stop the questions because of the emotions the conversation has raised in the person waiting for their results.
Waiting is scary but their fear should not be from the way they might be treated by family and “friends.” I remind them that if their test results make a difference to their “friends” they are not their true “friends.” The same holds true with their “family.” If their status makes a difference to their “family” then they need to find a new “family.”
In this Holiday season, remember that there are people out there who are struggling to find a family, who need their true "friends." Be a part of "Getting to Zero" and remember that there is always room at my table! Is there room at yours?
Bill Manning is a retired Chief of Police for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police force. When he decided to take that brave step and come out his truth was not received well and ultimately he decided to leave a career that had been a big part of his life. For many this would be a traumatizing experience, leavings a person reeling from loss and a sense of abandonment, but not Bill. Instead he took this experience and funneled his emotions into making his offices at the local university and at home places of guidance, friendship, and acceptance. JR