After over twenty years of HIV/AIDS activism, I have been asked over and over why have I remained committed to speaking up and out about HIV/AIDS. Why? There are many reasons, each one of them connected to a lost friend, but here is the latest. For the past three years I have been turned down by just about every major TV talk show of A, B and C guests lists, in my effort to get people to remember and talk about World AIDS Day, Dec. 1st. Every year and every show: a NO! But the last straw for me was when a producer told my publicist last week, "Look, its [AIDS] just not sexy anymore." That brutally honest comment blew me away! Because after all these years I am shocked at how little we in America talk about "it" and how the silence surrounding "it" is killing us quicker than the disease!
"It is just not sexy?!" Well, here are some very unsexy facts. Swine flu has killed 1000 people to date and that's bad, HIV and AIDS killed more than 3,000,000 last year, and every year, it kills more than the year before. About 1 in every 300 Americans is HIV positive. 35,000 Americans are infected with HIV and don't know it because they haven't been tested. By the time they do get tested, HIV has already compromised their immune system and had become AIDS. AIDS and HIV infection takes 8,200 lives per day. 1,000,000 Americans are infected with HIV/AIDS. And I'm not finished! When the CDC can announce that one in four young women of all races and colors is already infected with some sort of sexual transmitted disease (STD)and we do nothing about it, something is very wrong here at home! As a mother, I am not about to bury America's children because of a disease that is 100% preventable.
I know HIV/AIDS is a difficult subject, I know it's not "sexy." I know it's hard to remember a time in America when people died in numbers too great to imagine and families turned their backs on loved ones dying of AIDS under an umbrella of silence, stigma and shame. It's hard to remember but I will never forget. As an original company member of Dreamgirls on Broadway, I stood witness as men, gay men up and down Broadway, just started dropping dead. It was frightening. They got sick and died. They were sick today and dead tomorrow. They got sick, some of them developed those strange purple marks and they died. There was no dying process like the one we have become accustomed to nowadays. They just got sick and they died.
People found it easy to disown and abandoned their sick and dying children. It has been over twenty-five years since the debut of Dreamgirls on Broadway and now as it opens at the Apollo just in time for World AIDS Day, every time the show is performed the Dreamgirls cast represents two of the fastest growing groups of people in America to become infected with HIV, young men and young women and that is not sexy!
HIV/AIDS awareness and education will take the involvement and assistance of people around the world, small nations and world powers, talk shows, newspapers, organizations, state and local governments, elementary, high school and college administrations, churches, mosques, synagogues and many others for us all to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. We must all encourage people to speak up, get informed, Get TESTED! Knowing your positive or negative status is to be armed with powerful information. Get the facts and talk to your children, age appropriately. You would be surprised the choices children will make if you talk to them openly and honestly. And of course, use condoms each and every time you have sex. Hey, this isn't a talk show but maybe after you read this you'll talk and make it sexy.