December 13, 2006
It's Not Over Yet
December 1 marked another World AIDS Day, and here in the Hamptons it was thoughtfully observed at Southampton's Parrish Hall.
Who's getting AIDS these days? The answer is obvious to most: the young, the poor and the uninformed. That's the story here in the white, wealthy western world. In Third World nations, it's devastating entire generations, leaving tens of thousands of orphans to fend for themselves. What is largely a manageable, chronic condition for some is still a death sentence for others. Thankfully, a time is set aside each year, in the midst of our holiday bounty, to take a look at where we've been, where we are, and where we're going with the pandemic that shattered the lives of so many gay people.
It's a formidable challenge to conceive, orchestrate and execute such an undertaking. And it's with great admiration we express gratitude to our own David E. Rodgers Center for HIV/AIDS Care and its supporters who rise to the task every year. Twenty-five years into the scourge, many think it's a done deal. That, in a very real way, only makes the disease more dangerous.
It was quite a full day, divided into four interesting (and diverse) parts with a complimentary lunch in the middle. First up was "Saving Lives, Saving Souls" with local churches discussing how their religious institutions fight the good fight against a virus that, contrary to what the holier-than-thou types in the Religious Right say, doesn't care whether it attacks the immune system of the evil or the saintly. Five theologians took the time and effort to share how the disease has affected their lives as advocates for forgiveness and nurturing without judgment.
We live in a time when it's much too easy to be sarcastic, to believe that persons of the cloth are hiding behind a collar and looking down on the rest of us. That's one of the most serious grievances thinking persons in this country have against those who would blur the lines separating religion and politics. These folks have real callings.
Next came the topic "Growing up Healthy" in which professionals from local school systems discussed topics like: 'What Do Your Kids Know About HIV?' and 'What Do You Think They Should Know About HIV?' (and should it be taught in the public schools?) If, as parents, you're leery of that, 'What Can You Teach Your Kids at Home?,' sadly, young people have the highest rate of new infections in this country and most of us know why. The young think they're invincible. They are ruled more by their raging hormones than by their limited systems of intellectual checks and balances. They are subject to peer pressure in a time when oral sex isn't even considered to be "real" sex!
(Many parents are in a form of denial about the active sex lives of their teens and even 'tweens.) Most frightening of all, many kids believe that HIV is like other STDs of the past: even if you get it, you can take some meds to cure it. A really B-I-G mistake.
After lunch "Drugs, Alcohol, and Mental Health" (and how they increase the likelihood of high-risk behavior) was discussed by hands-on practitioners in psychiatric counseling, addiction & dependency, social services and outreach to challenged youths. Again, what an impressive panel was assembled for this day of increased awareness.
Finally, local LGBT activists, an HIV counselor and the Program Coordinator at The David Rogers Center openly debated "What's Sex Got to Do With It." Dr. John Oppenheimer confirmed the disturbing fact that roughly 25% of infected people don't know they carry the disease, and early detection is best for both victim and the community at large.
If you're asking yourselves what's new in all of this, I'll tell you: now you can have an HIV screening test done by oral swab, and the results take about twenty minutes. So, give yourself or someone you love an AIDS test for Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or the New Year. Because it's getting better, but it's not over yet.