World AIDS Day In Hartford Unites Community
Rain fell without remorse and thundered into darkness as we entered the Community Health Services in the North End of Hartford, a few building away from a street corner with one of the two highest intravenous drug user hotspots in the city. The other was two blocks away from my ivory institution, Trinity College. We had come to CHS to volunteer but found ourselves un-needed for too many volunteers had shown up, so strong was the will to celebrate this day.
Indeed, World AIDS Day was an occasion to remember the promises made to those lost to this disease of fear and ignorance, a day to remember and celebrate the bravery of those lost to AIDS, and a day to recommit to the war against this disease.
At CHS, there was free HIV counseling and testing, an un-vanishing reality of this community. But, the practical purposes were superseded by the willpower and morale-raising intentions of the event. As Shawn Lang (Director of Policy for CT AIDS Coalition) said, “Today we pray for the dead. Fight for the living.”
The effect that HIV/AIDS has had on Hartford and continues to have on Hartford is not trivial. In the 1980’s, at the start of the epidemic, thousands died from the disease, an outcome of fear and ignorance. Little was being done at that time, and the US government despised AIDS (GRID, gay-related immunodeficiency disease) as a condition of the homosexual and the poor; the conservative government thought it was better for them to die, perhaps, than to help them in their time of need.
Tremendous gains have been made since those troubled times. In 2009, there were only 54 deaths, even though each death is one death too much. The warriors against HIV/AIDS fought a battle to help the homeless people, those most underserved, and to fight the state for human rights, for the disease infected but it was heartlessness and prejudice that killed.
“We promise to stay the course,” said Shawn as we all took a moment to remember those who were gone; anyone who had lost someone said their name, and for many minutes, there was no silence.
The associations of HIV/AIDS throughout the years are numerous. Homophobia. Sexism. Poverty. Racism. Ethnic disparities. Homelessness. Sex work. Drug Abuse. Gender Identity Issues. Shawn reflected, “ Light the light. End the epidemic.” AIDS must no longer be cloaked in darkness.
Michael Hawkins, a poet and AIDS activist, repeated the same in his poem, “Ignorance and fear/are what steal lives/and human smiles.” Infected after sharing a needle in 1986, AIDS has not become a dark cloud in his life but has taught him to empathize. “I have a friend called HIV/HIV has taught me/to life again.”
The stories of hope and humanity in the face of AIDS astound. Infected in 1993 by her husband who would not tell her of AIDS, Betsy Correa leaves us with a powerful message, “Whether you’re positive or not, speak up, speak out.” In the war against HIV/AIDS, we must stand together and raise the torch to end the disease which plagues not only human flesh and blood but also our souls.