Like many people, I like the sweet taste of a little Hersey's Kiss. I even have the T-shirt that says, "You never forget your first one." But the taste of that kiss has gone sour and I have thrown out the t-shirts.
December 1st we observed World AIDS Day. Two nights before that I wrote my annual letter, and in that letter I said, "Thirty years ago on Broadway, AIDS was killing my friends in silence and shame. Thirty years later AIDS is still killing people around the world in silence and shame with stigma still holding them hostage. Not to mention discrimination, homophobia, sexism, criminalization, deportation and bodily harm. It was gay men thirty years ago but it includes women and children now."
Imagine my surprise when towards the end of World AIDS Day I learned that the respected Milton Hersey School, founded in 1910 by the candy man himself for children who are marginalized and underprivileged, had refused a 13-year-old honor student admission because he is HIV positive. In a statement the school wrote of "their concern for the health and safety of their current students." They only wanted to "protect" the student body of 1,800 against this boy and his disease..
Does anybody remember Ryan White? Well it was discrimination then and it is discrimination now. Discrimination mixed with a lethal dose of ignorance! Has anyone at the Milton Hersey School ever heard of the American with Disabilities Act?! It prohibits discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS. This is not 1981 where you were within your rights of ignorance to deny care, love, and a seat in your school due to fear. It was okay thirty years ago to stand in judgment and point fingers saying we don't want your kind here. But after thirty years, we know more know or at least we should.
As I travel across these United States talking about the disease and writing about what I see, I am shocked at how little people know or don't want to know about AIDS. I shouldn't be surprised that the people at the Milton Hersey School look at HIV/AIDS as a hindrance and are not aware of the advances that have been made in the medical arena of HIV/AIDS. They probably don't know that with early testing and medication people are actually now living longer healthier lives with the virus under control. Somehow the folks at Milton Hershey School missed the lesson that explains that you do not catch HIV, the virus or AIDS, the disease, by casual contact. You don't get it by kissing, holding hands or even sitting on the same toilet. You've got to work at getting this disease!
Thirty years of AIDS in America and it seems we have a very long way to go. I have said it before and I will say it again, thirty years of AIDS in American and AIDS is still killing people in silence and shame with stigma still holding them hostage, not to mention discrimination, and ignorance! Get tested, Get involved, Get informed about HIV/AIDS because the end of AIDS begins with YOU!