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Rev. Rebecca Voelkel Headshot

LGBT People of Faith at the International AIDS Conference

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Many days, I am faced with so many possible things to do that I get overwhelmed. What is the right thing to do? What is the just thing to do? What is the faithful thing to do?

Right now, there is a clear answer to all of these questions -- I, as a Christian, lesbian pastor who cares about God's extravagant love and justice, am called to be at the International AIDS Conference being held July 22 to 27 in Washington, D.C.

It is the right thing to do, because it is smart and strategic to be with 20,000 people from around the world -- from nearly every country, every ethnic group, every religious practice, every sexual orientation and gender identity -- to celebrate, to worship, to learn, to plan and to pledge to keep fighting this global pandemic. It is also the right thing to do because it is the first time in nearly 20 years that the International AIDS Conference has been hosted in the U.S. This change occurred because Congress repealed, and the Obama administration lifted, the ban on travel to the U.S. for HIV-positive persons.

It is the just thing to do because HIV/AIDS offers a particular blessing and a particular curse. HIV/AIDS exploits the systems of hatred and domination that have already wrought untold suffering. It uses homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism to keep men who have sex with men and transgender people and sex workers as the scourge of society and, therefore, unworthy of prevention and treatment. HIV/AIDS festers in the wounds brought by colonization to keep two-thirds of the world's people from education and resources. HIV/AIDS batters women and children.

But even as HIV/AIDS is a particular curse that exploits systems of domination and hatred, colonization and battering, it offers us the opportunity to work together across lines of difference. Our response can take seriously the ways in which justice is never for some, but must be for all. Our strategies and relationships can give honor to all of God's creation -- in every part of the globe.

Being at the International AIDS Conference is the faithful response, because this vision of God's extravagant welcome in the midst of systemic evil and death; Tikkun Olam (repair of the world) in the face of HIV/AIDS destruction; joyous interconnection in response to tearing apart -- this is what our religious traditions call us to -- at AIDS 2012 in Washington, D.C., and every day.