by: Erich B.Coppersmith
Tomorrow is World AIDS day and I sit here with so many thoughts and emotions swirling around in my brain like a tornado. Trying to organize my thoughts so that they are coherent is proving rather difficult.
The issue of HIV/AIDS is very close to home for me. Being born in the 1960's made my coming of age coincide exactly with the discovery of HIV/AIDS. Just as I was beginning to come to terms with my own sexuality, despite viscious verbal and physical attacks at school and at home ; I remember watching in horror the stories on the television news about the "gay cancer" and with the little information there was available I became absolutely terrified. No one knew for sure how you got "it" but it seemed that if you were gay you were going to get it.
The images splashed all over the television and the papers of people, mostly gay men, completely stripped of their dignity lying in their death beds covered in sores some weighing in at only 80 pounds; will forever be burned into my mind. The vehemence with which the religious right-wing and the conservatives attacked the dying was absolutely disgusting. Even the President of The United States of America, Ronald Reagan, was in denial regarding the epidemic. People , hundreds, thousands were getting sick and dying and our government officials did not seem to care.
Looking back now it seemed almost as soon as I found out about HIV/AIDS I got a very grave phone call from a friend of a friend. Immediately I knew by the tone of his voice what the nature of this call was. He said it was Ricky, I gasped and dropped the phone. With tears welling up in my eyes and choking on my every word I asked if I could see one of the first friends I made as an adult. We went to visit Ricky where he lived in a very fashionable part of town. We entered his beautifully decorated apartment now dark and lifeless with all the curtains drawn and in silence , slowly walked to the living room where he was laid out like some silent film star on a giant red velvet chaise lounge. The bed in his bedroom was too high off the ground for him to safely get in and out. Looking like a withered caricature of his once handsome and vibrant self, I knelt beside him a little afraid to touch him at first and after a moment I could no longer hold back the flood of emotion I burst into tears as I held his hand. He pulled me close and told me that he had lived a wonderful life and that his dying wish was for his "gay family" to do the same and not be sad for him. Two weeks later Ricky died. The first adult gay friend I ever had also became the first person I knew to die of AIDS. Very sadly Ricky was not the last person in my life I was to lose, there were many more.
I soon became determined to not die in a box from this disease or be sequestered in the closet. I got involved in ACT UP,PFLAG, The Youth Attic and a few other oranizations dedicated to the survival of PWA's and the education of those who were not infected. I marched on Washington, D.C. three times with hunreds of thousands of other like mined people. I delivered food with MANNA. I tried to make a difference, to make it easier for someone else to live with or die from AIDS.
Being involved with HIV/AIDS from the very beginning has given me a long range perspective on the epidemic. I feel that HIV/AIDS has not been given the amount of focus in the last 10 years that it truly needs, this is a GLOBAL EPIDEMIC!! This disease is still here! It is not over yet!We can NEVER do enough to help those afflicted and stigmatized. We MUST do all we can to educate those in our lives and around the world. Get tested, know your status. Be safe, educate others.
As long as anyone has AIDS.... we all do.
In Loving Memory of Ricky Mercado (1956-1987)