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December 1, 2013

Fight the Ignorance: World AIDS Day 2013

Filed under: New Broads — by maggiec @ 10:17 am
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Nothing drives me crazier than willful ignorance, and one social issue I hear more willful ignorance about than just about any other area is AIDS and AIDS awareness.  I teach the very groups that are disproportionately impacted in the US–young Black and Hispanic men. To hear what they have to say about HIV status, AIDS and homosexuality boils my brain. Ignorance in this instance is not bliss. It can kill.

Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism. I’ve had too many students lose a parent or other close relative to AIDS (though one parent lost to AIDS is too many). It’s not like many don’t see the effects first hand in their neighborhoods. But while seeing my friends and loved ones ravished by the disease spurred me on to action, it seems to take them more into denial than anything else.

They aren’t the only ones I hear ignorance from, but they are the groups I spend the most time with day to day. They are the ones I’m invested in on so many levels.  But I say the same to all groups.

So we need to continue to educate, continue to have the uncomfortable conversations.  Maybe people will start to listen if only to shut us up.

And AIDS is not just a health problem here in the US. In fact, we get off relatively lightly due to our wealth and public health education. But worldwide, 700 babies are born HIV+ a day, mostly in developing nations where this status is too often a death sentence. For me, this is unacceptable.  Through efforts, this number is going down every year, but not quickly enough.

While I support the fight of organizations like (RED), I also continue to educate folks here.  It wasn’t easy the first time I talked about protection with a group of students.

The first time I did it, World AIDS Day 1989, I closed my classroom door, told the students what day it was, said, “Whatever you say stays in the room. Any questions?” I was overwhelmed by questions, fears, ignorance. But it was one of the best classes I ever had, and I still remember that class as clearly as if it were yesterday.  I would do the same thing in every class, eventually using Magic Johnson’s film Time Out, every year until 1998. By then, there was plenty of information available to students elsewhere, so I would just announce the day at the beginning of class and see if anything grew out of that.

And what do I still tell people?

  1. Know your status. It’s a simple test. Don’t be afraid or ashamed. Knowing is always better than not knowing. Early detection can change your outcome.
  2. Limit your number of sexual partners.  The more is not at all the merrier in some instances.
  3. Know your partner’s status and sexual history (discussion is key–if you can’t have an open discussion with someone, it’s probably best not to be having sex yet)
  4. Use latex condoms to help fight the spread of the HIV virus (and all the other nasty STDs that are rampant, as well) Use them for every contact, and learn how to use them correctly. Use only water based lubricant.
  5. Avoid having sex while drunk or high (you can see where this one is problematic)
  6. Don’t share needles or other drug equipment
  7. And don’t judge people for their HIV status, their lifestyle, their choices.  People make poor choices sometimes (like sharing needles or having sex with strangers), but that doesn’t make them bad people.

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