E is for Empathy

Forgive me.

I will be blunt.

I will be uncensored.

I will kindly ask that young audiences turn away.

There’s this stigma in the world today–whether it’s as prevalent as it was ten, twenty, or thirty years ago or not, it’s still here–that to be gay is synonymous with having HIV, is the same as having AIDS.

It’s not true.

And yet, somewhere along the line, even in spite of this fallacy slowly becoming less and less imbued in society, HIV/AIDS is still a gay rights issue. Yes, half of HIV cases occur in gay men, but that does not say anything to the percentage of gay men who have HIV. They’re logically unrelated.

Almost half the HIV cases also occur in African Americans, yet no one flags them as carriers and bans them from donating blood just because their skin isn’t pearly and white. That would be racist. And anything else is homophobic.

I took an HIV test the Monday before last. We had a group come to my college to do free tests for anyone who came along. I designed fliers and posted them around campus. We had over fifty people come get tested. I was the last, number fifty-four, I think. The pinprick of a scab that the needle left behind stung for a few hours, but it was the bandaid that hurt the most. It tugged at the inside of my elbow uncomfortably. At first I wanted to wear it as a sign that I had blood drawn, that I could proudly show off the fact ]I was being brave and doing what a lot of people fear to do just for the stigma surrounding it. If I get tested for AIDS, they think, then everyone will think I’m gay. Well, newsflash: You can get HIV in more ways than one.

But the bandaid hurt. I took it off.

Later that night or maybe the next, I spoke with my ex (who knows things) and he asked, exasperated, why I got tested. On the surface it’s simple: I’m the president of our GSA and I was telling everyone to get tested. Who would I be if I didn’t follow my own advice? What kind of leader would it make me if I didn’t do just as much as I was asking my followers? Sure, I don’t think of my fellow club members as followers–more often I see us all as equals in the end, I just do the paperwork–but the point remains the same.

The deeper reason is that I’ve got an agenda to prove, but I’m not going into that here. If it involved only myself I’d have no issue mentioning it, but it does involve others, and for that fact, and also for the simple fact that some things really are just too personal to share online, I won’t be going into it here. I hope you understand.

So fast-forward to this past Monday. I watched the movie Philadelphia, and well, if you’ve ever seen the movie, I probably don’t need to say anything more about it than that. And if you’ve never seen it, you’re missing out on an amazing film and should find a copy–even if you just rent it from the library, you need to watch this film.

It teaches a lot about HIV/AIDS, about the people who live with it and the challenges they face. But more importantly it teaches empathy. It teaches compassion. It shows a life full of love that’s burdened by disease, but not ruled by it. It shows fear conquered, misconceptions mended, and in every breath, in every scene, it extols empathy.

I’m thankful for empathy. (It’s number 21 if you’re counting.)

And I’m thankful even more for the people who show empathy to others, who give of themselves to aid others who suffer from this disease, not only from its physiological ails, but also the sociological evils they face simply being associated with it.

So I end with a plea. This December is the Triad Health Project’s Winter Walk for AIDS, similar in effect to the Relay for Life for breast cancer, but here all the money raised from finding sponsors to donate on behalf of walkers goes to help the Triad Health Project to support over 1600 local HIV/AIDS patients throughout the year in more ways than I can name here, in more ways than I could ever hope to remember.

I understand purses are tight this time of year, and purses are only tighter given our current economic conditions. However, the Winter Walk is THP’s largest fundraiser, and every dollar counts. Even if you can only donate two or three dollars, it’s two or three dollars more than they started with. I’m not asking for much. I’m asking merely that you find a place of empathy inside you and do what you can do to help a worthy cause.

If you’re able to donate, I encourage you to follow this link to my donation page and make a donation on my behalf. I’m hoping to raise a hundred dollars by the fifth, when the Walk is, and every small donation helps me reach this goal, this gift to others. And if you don’t feel comfortable donating online, there’s a form that can be printed out from that page to make an offline donation.

In this season of giving, please give. In this season of joy, please bring joy to people who desperately need it. And in this season of love and kindness, show your love and kindness to those who deserve it.

Please make a donation today. For you, I will be thankful.

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