Then the stories started coming out of the woodworks. It was like an awakening for me. I found out one of my high school friends had a brother who died of AIDS in 1995. And my very own childhood neighbor died in 1986. I had no idea.
You all know I'm down to support a good cause. Some people also know I was brought up in the Mormon religion (and half of my family still attends church), which is an adversary of gay rights. This should probably create a conflict in my brain, but it doesn't. I don't want to debate whether it is morally right or wrong for gay people to be gay. I don't care if they were born that way or if they chose to be that way. I see people who are suffering and need help. They are people. Just like you and me. Besides, HIV and AIDS isn't a gay disease. It affects everyone. Gay, straight, male, female, black, white... HIV and AIDS does not discriminate.
I decided to write this blog to support my friend Lety's brother, Dan, as he rides in the AIDS LifeCycle Ride to End AIDS. Dan needs to raise $3,000 and is asking everyone to send him only $1. I already put my dollar in an envelope today and plan to donate more on the website. I ask that you watch the video (and prepare to cry) and please send a dollar. It's only a dollar.
If you'd like to donate through the website, please do:
I recently attended a Christmas party at the Rainbow Community Center in Concord. What an amazingly nice and warm group of people. I've decided to start volunteering some time there when I can. If you have time or money to contribute, please consider the RCC!
As you know, my favorite drag queen is Stephanie Nicole Le Dream. Check out her Facebook page. She is a HUGE advocate of safe sex, HIV prevention and awareness. Just call her Safe Sex Stephanie -- the Triple S (Love + Lipstick)!
Here is Jimmy's speech from World AIDS Day 2010:
Nearly two and a half years ago, five words changed my life.
“Your test came back positive”
At that moment, I could barely breathe… barely function. At that moment, my life was over.
But I was wrong. Being diagnosed with HIV didn’t mean that my life was over, but it did give me a new purpose. For all of my adult life, I have been involved with the fight against HIV. I have done my best to educate my friends and loved ones. I have fundraised to help fund HIV prevention and outreach. I have done whatever I could to remind people about the Red Ribbon… which is why, I am still here today.
Two weeks after my diagnosis, a friend took me to the Rainbow Community Center to get help. As I walked into that support group, I was scared out of my mind. Everything I had ever learned about HIV was forgotten the instant I got my results back… but luckily, there were dozens of men willing to share their strength and their stories with me. There were men who had lived with this disease for decades… it hadn’t been easy for them, but they were still here, willing to share their knowledge with someone they had just met… a total stranger. And it because of these men that I realized that I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon… and that I had a responsibility to educate others
Every 9.5 minutes, someone in the United States is diagnosed with HIV. Even after all of the deaths, the memorials and public outcry… people continue to get HIV. During the 80’s and 90’s, people were very aware of the dangers of unprotected sex and sharing needles… but at some point, people forgot. Perhaps it was the vigils, perhaps it was memorials that made them close their minds and try to forget everything that the thousands of lives we lost to HIV meant. Maybe it’s this new generation of young people that don’t realize or remember what we went through… they didn’t grow up in a world where the red ribbon meant something. They simply forgot.
The statistics are staggering. Young people between the ages of 13 and 24 make up the largest percentage of people being diagnosed. Being young, we sometimes feel that we are invincible… that nothing can hurt us. We all know that smoking is bad for us… we know that drinking and driving is a really bad idea… and we know that we should always wear a condom… but, being young isn’t an excuse for stupidity.
The fact is, that HIV doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care the color of your skin. It doesn’t care who you love, who you sleep with, who you marry. How many friends you have on Facebook. HIV isn’t particular… it’s a real danger to everyone.
Here in Contra Costa, the numbers of people being diagnosed with HIV are on the rise… and unfortunately, funding is very limited. So programs get cut drastically, outreach is stopped due to budget cuts, people can’t get tested because their isn’t a place available for them… and eventually, we end up with more people living with this disease. The little money we do have, is focused on helping only select groups of people… but isn’t everyone at risk?
I was lucky to find a place like the Rainbow Community Center. It gave me the support when I needed it most… and now I have the strength to continue to educate and protest. There are so many resources available to those of you living with HIV… and there are still resources available to those of you who need to get tested. The important thing to remember, is that you are never alone… there are people that care about you and your health. The Rainbow Community Center cares… We all care… I care.
It’s would be really easy to just shut down and stop caring… to keep this disease a secret, a dirty little secret that nobody wants to hear about. But the fact is, that if people like you didn’t show up here tonight… didn’t remember what the Red Ribbon stands for… the cycle would never be broken. It is my personal mission to help fight this disease, to educate people about safe sex, to get as many people tested as possible… in fact, it’s my job now. As hard as it is to stand up here in front of all of you and speak of hope and strength, it has to happen. We need to continue to fight. We need to continue to remind people about the red ribbon. We have lost So many lives… We lost people that we care about… people like Chad. And we have to do it for them.
Will you join me in this fight? A fight to get people tested, regardless of their sexuality or the color of their skin? A fight to help those young people who are out their this very minute, making all the wrong choices? It’s never easy. But it has to be done. And I know that somewhere up there, everyone we have lost to this disease is listening and they are smiling down on all of you for being a part of this night.
Never forget the Red Ribbon. Never forget the lives we have lost. Never forget the people still here fighting for this cause, fighting this disease. Together, we can make every day World AIDS Day. And I will be here with you every December 1st until we find a cure… and even then, I will be here. My name is Jimmy Gale… I’m 26 years old… and I have been living with HIV for 2 years… and I’m not going anywhere. I’m still here.
This is a note posted on Facebook by my childhood neighbor, Mike. I am posting this with his permission (although it was published previously already).
Struggle with Death
Struggle with Death by Mike McClelland
As we walk back into the hospital, my sister Gaylene walks down the hall toward us and tells us that he is gone. My heart sinks and anger strikes my chest. As I enter the room, a scent of death is in the air and all I hear is weeping. I walk over to his limp body and kneel beside him. I forget that others are there in the room as I hold his hand and begin to cry. I feel my father’s hand on my shoulder as he tells me, “I love you, Michael.” I reply, “I love you too, Dad.”
I was 13 years old when my brother Stephen was shot and killed at the age of 26. Now at 14, I find out that my 22 year old brother, Robert, is moving back from Miami because he is going to die. I learned this in March of 1984 and at the end of May, he came home. It was a good day for me because I hadn’t seen him for almost a year, yet it was also a sad day because it was the day that my brother came home to die.
I helped Robert unpack and move things into his room, and after we were done, we sat around and talked as we set up his VCR and stereo. I had realized that he was going to die, but I didn’t want to think about it until I had to. In school I never talked about him dying, and at home I didn’t think about what the words meant. When I said the words it was as if they were the names of food, or people. I didn’t think about what I was saying.
My brother had a lot on his mind, as did we, but he had a lot of things that he intended to do before he left this world. He needed to get his relationship with God back together and make things right with his friends and family. Robert and I became much closer than we ever had been during this time. Closer, because before, our age difference of eight years had been a barrier in our relationship. He wanted to be good to everyone and he tried to make friends in any way that he could with the time that he had.
The disease that Robert had was incurable, but he tried to use drugs that would fight it. Three times a week, our father would take Robert to San Francisco to get shots. Over time the drugs didn’t help much and sores showed up on his skin, which he tried to cover with make-up.
As time went on and we all got closer and relied upon God and each other, Robert would do things for me and take me places so that we would become closer than ever before. Eventually Robert became very close to God, and I would pray at night for that to continue.
I remember many things about Robert during that time, mostly trips to the mall, but most of all I remember the hospital. A few times when he would get really sick, we would take him to the county hospital in Martinez where he would be treated. More trips would come as time went on, and by November, 1985, he was put in for a couple of weeks.
Things went bad on Christmas Eve of 1985. He had chest gas, so someone told him to drink beer to get the gas up, but the medication that he was taking wasn’t supposed to mix with alcohol and he had a bad reaction. On Christmas he went into the hospital for the last time.
On January 14, 1986, he lost his ability to speak, but he still communicated with us using his hands and eyes. My brother-in-law and our pastor took me to dinner, but all I could think about was Robert and getting back to him. When we returned, my sister told us he had died. When I entered the room, all I saw was pain and mourning and I began to cry as I knelt beside him.
On Friday, January 17, 1986, we buried him. I think that day will be clear in my mind forever. The pain and suffering that we experienced will probably dim in time, but I think that Robert would have wanted us to think about the good times, not the bad.
Now at eighteen, as I look back on the events that happened then, I realize that God decided how I would face my brother’s dying and maybe I wasn’t supposed to be there. To this day, I always think about Robert and how his face had lit up in the sunshine just before I left him. I believe that he saw heaven then and still believe it now.
I struggled with the fact that my brother died of AIDS and it was a struggle for everyone involved. I’m getting over it now, but I still have had to call on God’s help to do it.
Addendum: This was written during my freshman year in college in the Spring of 1988. Since then I have also lost my sister Diane in 1993, my father Wesley in 1995, and both of my grandmother’s since. My grandfather’s both passed before I knew them.
Facing the death of a loved one is a very difficult thing to do. Hold to those friends and family that are there with you, facing it as well.
HIV and AIDS affects us all so I hope that you will consider contributing to the LifeCycle link I provided above. If not, I hope you at least walk away with a new understanding of the disease and appreciation for what people living with the disease and their families are going through.