My decision to take part in the Lifecycle for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation brings me back to my first encounter with the painful reality of social stigma.
A couple of years ago, a friend told me he was HIV positive. He was incredibly nervous, shaking as he said the words. We were standing in the smoking area of The Bernard Shaw pub in Dublin, and he looked away as soon as he said it, fearful of how I might react. Those brief moments of anguish, and fear at how even a close friend might react to something – that remains for too many self-defining – taught me that stigma weighs heavily. I loved this man, and nothing was ever going to change that.
This condition impacts my community, which is something I knew well; but what hadn’t hit me, until the moment I found myself standing across from this dear friend, was just how persistent the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS is.
To feel separate; to feel alone in a group of peers, and to feel like no one will understand, is something all queer people have felt. But to feel like you have to come out of yet another closet, and within your own community, really made me think.
We still don’t want to talk about HIV.
This June, as part of the AIDS LifeCycle initiative, I’m riding my bike some 545 miles, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, over seven days. I’m determined to raise €10,000 for the AIDS Foundation – and to do that, I need your help.
The foundation works tirelessly to create a future where there are zero new infections. Programmes like this facilitate the provision of free PrEP and sexual testing. Their work has led to a 50% decrease in new infections, over 10 years. It’s pioneering work, and it could just be the way we’ll make HIV a stigma-free condition, and end AIDS. Their programmes are being replicated all over the world – hopefully, Ireland will follow suit soon.
For more information and a chance to donate, check out my fundraising page. Every donation counts.
If you can’t donate, send me sunblock. There’s no chance of rain or clouds once June rolls around – and this Irish boy is going to need it.
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