Why I Walk... 2011
On August 25th, 2008… three little words forever changed my life. “Your test came back positive.” It was like having a big rig run me over. There were no words, or thoughts that could have prepared me for that simple statement. But as we all know, HIV is not simple. Since that day I have thrown myself into this fight. I have always been involved with HIV education and fundraising, both as Jimmy and as my alter-ego “Stephanie Nicole le Dream” (or “Safe Sex Stephanie”.) But, everything changed for me that day.
It was like “coming out” all over again. But instead of declaring myself as a proud gay man, I had to tell my friends and loved ones that I was technically “terminally ill.” While I now know that I am going to live a long and happy life, death was definitely in the forefront of my thoughts for that first year.
It was shortly after being diagnosed that I found the Rainbow Community Center and the amazing men of the Monday Night Group. Many of these men have lived with HIV for up to 30 years, and their collective knowledge and experience helped remind me how far we have come. These guys showed me that I was going to be okay… they gave me the strength to stand up and helped me find my strength and my voice. I quickly got involved with the RCC and began my mission to educate as many people as possible, and eventually I began working here.
I now run our FREE HIV Testing Clinic twice a month, provide condoms to our community, and go out into the community and speak to people about my experiences living with HIV and talking about the importance of safer sex and getting tested. Through my outreach, I have met some of the most amazing people… my new family… “Team le Dream.”
HIV doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care what color your skin is. It doesn’t care who you sleep with, marry or love. HIV just doesn’t give a damn. But the RCC does. Club 1220 does. I do.
I walk in memory of Chad Droll Scalise. Chad was a kind and gentle man who loved with an open heart. He was surrounded by so many that loved him, and miss him to this day. He was a man of few words. But shortly after I was diagnosed, Chad pulled me aside at 1220 and told me that I was going to be alright. He had never said much to me over the years that I knew him… but when he hugged me that night, I really truly knew that I was going to be okay.
Chad left us on March 26th, 2010. He is left behind by a loving family, amazing friends, and a husband of 17 wonderful years. Chad has left a big hole in our hearts… and a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of him. And I will walk in his memory as long as I live.
But I walk for more.
I walk for my family. The ones that drive me crazy and make me yell… but somehow still love me. For my Mom, who is my biggest fan. Telling her that I had HIV nearly killed me… and even now as I write this letter, I’m crying remembering that day. For my brothers, Stephen and Nick. For my amazing new sister-in-law, Amanda, and her 2 beautiful children. I pray that someday those 2 kids do not have to grow up in a world with HIV.
I walk for my friends. The friends that were there for me the night I that I was shattered behind repair. The friends that hold my hand when I share my story with a newly diagnosed person. The friends that cheer my on at every fundraiser. The friends that stood by me all these years, when others were so afraid to be in the same room with me.
I walk for those who are HIV+, but can’t disclose for fear of losing their jobs and their family.
I walk for my boyfriend. My best friend. My love. He is HIV-… and I plan to keep him that way. We will be celebrating 2 years together on July 26th. Being in a sero-discordant relationship is never easy, something I didn’t think was even possible… but we are trying our hardest to make it work. I love you, more than you will ever know.
I walk for you.
Even if we have never met or will never meet, I want you to know that there are people out there that care about your health… people that want you to be safe and stay HIV-. Even if you are HIV+, there are people out there that want you to take care of yourself… to take your meds… to get on meds… to prepare you for what’s ahead. I care about you and want you to make it through this.
This will be my 6th year doing the San Francisco AIDS Walk. And even tho times are hard, It would mean so much if you could donate to this cause. 100% of the money that I raise comes to back to fund our free HIV Testing clinic and provide condoms and education to the community. HIV prevention and education funding is non-existent these days… so every donation will help save a life.
I hope to see you out at Golden Gate Park on Sunday, July 17th for the 25th Annual SF AIDS Walk.
3 years HIV+… and I’m still here.
Please visit www.aidswalk.net/sanfran and search for me... Every donation no matter how small, will help. If you would like to mail your donation, please send it to:
Rainbow Community Center
Attn: Jimmy Gale
3024 Willow Pass Rd, Suite 200
Concord, CA 94519
Checks can be made out to “AWSF” or “AIDS Walk San Francisco”.
For more information about the Rainbow Community Center, you can visit our website at www.rainbowcc.org.