"I'm a young African-American male, and I have AIDS." So quoted my priest, who is really a middle-aged white guy, straight and married with grown children.
The script, which my priest read from, was all part of a service recognizing World AIDS Day last Dec. 1. The prepared program, held every year, included a handful of well-intentioned faith leaders in the community all playing the roles of someone with AIDS. Following my priest, an older lady, who reminded me of one of those sensible-shoe-wearing substitutes we used to get in junior high school, spoke about contracting AIDS through unprotected sex with multiple partners. Maybe it's because I just couldn't get past my priest telling us all that he was really a black man in disguise, but the whole scene was lacking in any kind of credibility for it to be taken too seriously. The only meaningful testimony was when a mother of a young man who died of AIDS came to the podium.
"What did he do wrong?" she asked. "All he did was go looking for love. He just found it in all the wrong places."
Of course, I have heard this woman speak for the last several years, and every time I hear her talk about her son, I am touched by her honesty and confusion as to why her son died so young. Her talk was brief, though, and she said the same thing that she has been saying every year. It seems like she would have gained some insights. Although she was moving, it felt a little like the auntie who repeats the same stories over and over again during reunions just to get some attention.
What was missing in this whole service was someone who is actually living with HIV/AIDS. I live in a metropolitan area with an HIV/AIDS support center. Why wasn't someone with HIV/AIDS speaking at an HIV/AIDS event? Now, I know it takes a good amount of courage to bare your soul in public, and I understand why those with HIV/AIDS might want to stay in the closet. They have been stigmatized and hurt, especially by the LGBT community. Friends, jobs and families can be lost. However, had it not been for all those brave souls in ACT UP, many of whom had HIV/AIDS, we never would have made the progress in treating those with HIV/AIDS. All those people put their jobs, relationships and personal health on the line to fight for the common good so that others' lives could be saved.
Come forward. We are with you. Don't be afraid. Without PWA (people with AIDS) participating in all levels of HIV/AIDS awareness, education, research and support programs, there is no passion and therefore no motivation to move forward. Even if you work behind the scenes, it makes a difference. I really don't want to go to another World AIDS Day event and have a healthy priest play the role of someone with HIV/AIDS. I want PWA to come out of the closet.
A version of this blog post was originally published on PositiveLite.com.