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World AIDS Day: Three Decades On, It Still Matters

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, and LGBT advocacy.

Rock The Ribbon For World AIDS Day

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Still Learning About - And Learning To Live With - AIDS

I was a child of the 1980s. Though I was born in 1973, my formative years were very much spent in the years of Empire Strikes Back, Back To The Future, and ET. I knew nothing of the disease and war that so many other areas of the world had to deal with. I was a kid, for goodness' sake, so what did I know of sickness and armed conflict? My biggest concern back then was the acne that seemed to flare up every time I woke in the morning.

I did not know at the time that there was a war at home that was killing young men specifically. AIDS was discovered in 1983 by scientists looking to learn more about this illness that seemed somehow to target communities of gay men. I was blissfully unaware of the health crisis that was brewing in North America and while that makes sense, given I was so young, no one could have predicted this would have been a health issue that would grip the world for years to come.

Flash forward to 2019.

By this point in the war against AIDS that has transformed itself over time, basketball legend Magic Johnson had been diagnosed as having had HIV, tennis great Arthur Ashe had died of AIDS-related pneumonia, former 1950s and 1960s heartthrob Rock Hudson had died of AIDS, and so had Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. These are, of course, only a few of the litany of names of individuals who have succumbed to the disease. For me, it wasn't until news of a young man named Ryan White having contracted the disease that it hit home that this was not just a disease that was killing gay men. It was everyone, including kids my age.

Now, though, people are living longer, thanks to improved medications and therapies, and while people are not shouting from the rooftops that they have AIDS, there are more conversations about the illness. This is not to say talking about the illness is easy - it is not, due to the stigma still associated with the disease - but at the very least, there are conversations that are somewhat more open than they once were.

My youngest daughter probably first learned about the disease this year. She is a huge fan of RuPaul's Drag Race, and when season 6 competitor Trinity K Bonet - aka Joshua Jones - revealed on the show that he had been living with HIV, I think that was sort of a moment for her that even people she was sort of familiar with on TV could be sick. Granted, Bonet is thriving - there's no question of that, especially after her hugely successful appearance in the video for "You Need To Calm Down." She's also become an activist for those living with HIV/AIDS; my daughter and I recently saw her as part of the "Slay Stigma" tour to promote awareness of AIDS and HIV, and she was articulate, passionate and funny. She also slayed the lip sync, as she should - she's Trinity K Bonet, after all!

Then there was the revelation that Jonathan Van Ness of Queer Eye was also living with HIV. While I think it's fair to say that many of his fans were stunned by this news, the way he has started to spread awareness of the disease and of being HIV-positive, it's also important to realize he's still thriving, or at least, that's the side the media and those of us in social media land see. It's still a serious condition, and there's still a lot of stigma associated with it, but people such as Van Ness and Bonet are continuing to spread awareness by using their celebrity platform for good, and we are learning by example that an HIV diagnosis is not the death sentence it pretty much was back in the 1980s, when awareness of the disease began to grow.

I am inspired by those who continue to spread awareness of HIV/AIDS in spite of how badly such a diagnosis may have rocked them. Their genuine drive to help people understand that you can go beyond surviving with HIV and actually thrive while still living with it is truly incredible. The fact, however, that a disease such as AIDS is still in existence means there is still work to be done.

We need to keep learning about it, how to hopefully prevent it, and keep working on therapies to improve the quality of life for those who might be HIV-positive so that one day, we won't have to worry that AIDS is even a disease.