Many people no longer view AIDS as a crisis. During the past few years, I have heard statements such as “It doesn’t kill people like it used to…” and “The medications are so much better now…” from friends, family, and peers in San Francisco, L.A., Texas, and New York. The general consensus is that the topic of AIDS is not as relevant as it was fifteen years ago.
My dad died from pneumocystis carinii (AIDS related pneumonia) on October 8, 2002. Nobody knew he was positive because he did not seem sick. He died on his bathroom floor and had been diligently working everyday throughout his secret illness to ensure posthumous financial security for his loving partner and me. I believe that my dad actually died from the shame associated with STDs— he never received treatment.
I was 21 years old and my dad was only 47. I felt like my heart was missing. I went through the motions of making funeral arrangements, moved to California, and slept on my couch for months. One of the strongest sensibilities my dad helped to instill in me grew as my depression lingered. I realized the only way to grieve for my dad with the remembrance he deserved and heal from the most devastating experience in my life would be to reach out to others affected by HIV and AIDS.
I am an artist, and for a long time after my father’s death, did not see the importance of making things anymore. I began creating again by making an AIDS awareness poster that depicted my dad’s life and the circumstances surrounding his death. On my dad’s first birthday after his death I dressed up, bought hundreds of condoms, and printed 50 copies of my poster. I went to West Hollywood and gave out the condoms and posters while telling patrons at the local gay establishments my dad’s story. I was surprised when much of the younger crowd didn’t want to have anything to do with me, saying things like, “You just ruined my night” or “I was planning to hook up.” I did find solace in the leather and bear crowds. Most of them were contemporaries of my dad’s generation and gave me the support I needed to continue my journey.
While I was out that night, I saw an advertisement for AIDS Walk Los Angeles and jotted the date in my calendar. I was still overwhelmed with sadness and didn’t do much to prepare in the months preceding the event. I didn’t sleep at all the night before and could only think of my dad. I may have gone to the Walk by myself, but I was carrying my dad in my heart. The only person I spoke to was at the Sign-In Area where I made a donation of $25 toward my personal fundraising. Thousands of participants caused me to no longer feel alone in my grief as I sobbed behind big sunglasses, and dozens of partnering organizations set up at the finish line catalyzed the healing spirit of service inside me. I picked up a pamphlet for every volunteer opportunity I could find.
These volunteer opportunities have merged with my artistic nature and have sparked a passionate flame for HIV and AIDS social justice. Now I create media and PR opportunities at AIDS Walk New York. I help to circulate the very type of advertisements that began my journey. By partnering with organizations such as Kinsey Institute, the distribution of these messages will cause HIV/AIDS awareness to grow. These actions we take together fight shame and complacency while building dignity and awareness for all human sexuality. I am proud that Kinsey Confidential and The Kinsey Institute are media partners with AIDS Walk New York (the world’s biggest AIDS fundraiser), now in its 24th consecutive year. The reality of personal experience is the strongest tool we can use to build a community around the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Dictionary.com defines crisis as, “the point in the course of a serious disease at which a decisive change occurs, leading either to recovery or to death.” Together, we are a point in the course of HIV/AIDS leading to recovery. If one child who has lost his or her parent to AIDS or even one HIV+ parent who is afraid to seek treatment sees an AIDS Walk advertisement or reads this story, we are succeeding in helping to eradicate indifference. One day we will live in a world without shame. We will walk side-by-side, en masse, caring for each other.
– Amanda Mullis, AIDS Walk NY