As do so many people, I make the bulk of my charitable giving during November and December of each year. Like for so many, the holidays remind me about both what I have and the lack that so many endure all year round. But lack is a funny thing. Sometimes it is easy to see, but so often lack hides behind a neighbor's smile, or the closed eyes of the person next to you on the bus, or the wave from a colleague at work. Sometimes we even fool ourselves into thinking that lack doesn't exist if we can't see it. For example, there are people who mistakenly believe that the fight against HIV and AIDS in the United States is over, and that AIDS is a manageable disease where lack no longer exists.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are a few sobering statistics about HIV in the United States:
- 1 in 5 people is infected with HIV and does not know his or her status.
- Over 1.17 million people aged 13 and over are living with HIV/AIDS.
- Approximately 50,000 people are infected with HIV each year.
- By 2015 a full 50 percent of those living with HIV and AIDS will be over 50 years old.
I live on the bleeding edge of a generation that never knew a world without AIDS. Born in 1974, I never had a health education class that didn't talk about safer sex, HIV transmission, and the fact that sex could kill. Coming of age in the Reagan/Bush America, while living in New York City, I have no memory of life before HIV. I don't remember the first reported cases, or a creeping fear, or a growing outrage. I have only known AIDS as a global pandemic -- omnipresent, destroying lives, quite literally, with a silent touch.
But AIDS has also shown me strength beyond comprehension, determination for change that continues unmatched, and a ferocious empathy and love that leaves me in awe. As the new Managing Director of Development at Gay Men's Health Crisis, I am privileged to lead a team that raises funds to feed, educate, heal, protect, nurture, and counsel the over 11,000 people affected by HIV/AIDS who walk through our doors every year. GMHC is not only the world's first and leading provider of HIV/AIDS care, prevention, and advocacy, but it is a refuge for many with no other place to turn as the continuing stigma of HIV leaves them afraid to tell a single person that they are HIV-positive.
With the help of thousands of supporters, GMHC fills the lack caused by HIV. We are the hot meal to the hungry and the job training to the person ready to climb. We are the educator to the person committed to staying safe, and the kind word and helping hand to the newly diagnosed. We are where your neighbor, friend, son, daughter, mother, and father turn when they can't tell you about their lack.
My husband and I have been planning our end-of-year giving, and I will be writing a check to Gay Men's Health Crisis. Every day I am moved by what GMHC does for its clients, and the bravery and courage of these clients is a constant inspiration. I work here, and support GMHC, because the services we provide are transformative, and filling, in every sense of the word. I hope you will consider giving to a charity that addresses the lack that can be hard to see but, trust me, is there all the same.