From Aaron Duke:
If you or someone you know has ever felt ashamed of being gay or HIV Positive, please read this and pass it on.
Sunday, December 1st is World AIDS Day. World AIDS Day is held on 1 December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day and the first one was held in 1988.
With Thanksgiving quickly approaching and most of us sharing what we are grateful for, let's not forget the tireless work of David J Watt and the Mr. Friendly Campaign.
Mr Friendly is an international, yet grassroots movement to reduce stigma of HIV, encourage testing for HIV, and improve quality of life for those living with HIV.
*Disclaimer: This is my personal experience. Please do not judge my parents. It was a different time and many people were uneducated about HIV/AIDS and scared.
I remember it was 1986. A distant relative of my mother had passed away, and we made the trek to San Diego for her funeral. My mother had a cousin. I don't even remember his name. I just remember him. He was, well, you know - gay. I remember within three to five years, he died of "cancer". It was what they called it back then. Their was this unspoken shame of knowing someone who died of AIDS. Years later, I remember my mother confessing that it was probably AIDS, but no one wanted to say it.
My grandmother had a charming home in the White Rock Lake area of Dallas, which has become a popular location for gay and lesbian couples over the years. I remember a poly-triad "family" of gay men moving in next door. These three men had a beautiful home and yard. From time-to-time, they would even mow my grandmothers lawn for her. I remember one of the men died of "cancer". At least that is what we were told. Of course, my mother always said, "It was probably AIDS. They are gay."
These experiences taught me attitudes and beliefs about gay men, HIV/AIDS, and myself. I was taught being gay is something shameful. It should never be talked about. If people found out you were gay, what would they think? I was taught that HIV/AIDS are a gay disease. I was taught HIV/AIDS was something to be ashamed of. Don't ever tell anyone you have it. Just tell them you have "cancer". It was these beliefs based on ignorance and fear that taught me as a young, gay, man to be ashamed of being gay. IT TAUGHT ME TO HATE MYSELF.
People like, Mike Harrell identified this internalized homophobia and self-hatred. Mike helped me walk through it to the other side of freedom. I have learned to surround myself with people who support and love me.
I dream, that programs like Mr. Friendly will end the stigma associated with HIV, so others don't have to have these experience. If you are in one of those dark places, reach out and ask for help. Remember, The Best is Yet to Come.
Duane Cramer: My Dad Died Of AIDS, But Here's Why We Told People He Died Of Cancer