A few weeks ago, network television joined forces to raise awareness and money for cancer--and to no surprise, America paid attention. Stand Up To Cancer clocked in a record 18.3 million viewers and raised a whopping 80 million dollars. And while I watched dozens of celebrities talk about the importance of finding a cure, a thought hit me.
Where's the Stand Up To AIDS in America special?
An AIDS telethon to this degree could be monumental, especially in these hard financial times. With so many agencies closing down their doors, workers being laid off, and crucial services being cut, eighty-million dollars could go a long way for AIDS.
But the impact could be even deeper than that. How powerful would it be to see an HIV-positive person nestled in between Julia Roberts and Jay-Z answering phones and talking to people calling in? How destigmatizing could it be to have the life stories of people living with HIV reach millions of living rooms in America?
A special like this could only not shed more light on the Obama administration's new National HIV/AIDS Strategy--the first ever in U.S. history--but celebrate the tireless work that AIDS service organizations have been doing around the country for decades. Most importantly, it could catapult this epidemic, which has been 30 years in the making, back onto people's radars.
But before you accuse me of channeling my inner Pollyanna, let me be clear: I don't think an AIDS telethon is going to happen anytime soon. First, the networks are not interested in tackling HIV and everything that comes with it. And secondly, while Americans can open their hearts and wallets for AIDS in Africa, when it comes to the domestic crisis, we lack compassion.
And it's complicated. Some have and will always be complacent about this disease. Some gave to AIDS in the early days when it was the "in-thing" to do and they have now moved on to the disease de jour. Some people are under the impression that AIDS only kills people in the developing world. Little do they know that an estimated 17,000-18,000 Americans die from complications of AIDS each year.
Some suffer from "innocent victim syndrome." These folks believe that people living with HIV did this to themselves or they believe that because of the most common modes of HIV transmission--unprotected sex and IV drug use--HIV is a consequence of being immoral.
And then finally, there is the red elephant in the room: Too many people in positions of power and privilege don't care about the people who are impacted by this epidemic. Let's keep it real. If this disease were killing straight rich white men at the same rates that it's killing women of color and gay men, HIV PSAs and antiretroviral ads would saturate Sunday Night Football the same way that beer and erectile function commercials do.
So what will it take?
In the documentary, The Other City, the film's co-producer Jose Antonio Vargas reminds us that "AIDS represents humanity's greatest failure." And he's right. While George Clooney swooning us to give a damn would be a great start, it will never be enough. The change must begin with us, because this is about who we are as a nation. And honestly, we cannot afford to continue to turn our backs on the HIV community, because if we do, this epidemic will eventually devour us all.
Note: The "The Other City" opens in theaters in New York City and Washington, D.C. on Sept. 17th and Los Angeles on Sept. 24th. TheBody.com will be taking part in a panel on the film's closing night in NYC on Thursday, Sep. 23rd. Find more information on Facebook and Twitter.