Today is World AIDS Day. HIV/AIDS has moved from being a disease primarily of white, affluent gay men in the US to a global pandemic, with millions infected in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe. In the U.S. it has become more and more a disease of heterosexual African American women, often infected unknowingly by their partners. Almost more disturbingly, the rate of infection among young gay men is again increasing. It is as if AIDS has become “not a big deal” for them.
At Thwing Center at Case for the last couple of days there has been an exhibition of several panels of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. The display was monitored by a young woman, a student, who is far too young to remember the beginnings of the epidemic, when there were no treatments and people just died. In fact, for most of her young adult life there have been effective antiviral drugs–the so-called “cocktail”–that have effectively controlled the virus in many people.
I was quite astonished and saddened to find that one of the panels on display was my friend Robin Nelson (aka “Jasmine Baker”, his stage persona name). He was one who hid his illness, got sick and died even before I knew it. It’s now more than ten years ago.
How many of those friends did we have to lose. We must still be vigilant. A vaccine appears to be long and far away. Only prevention can keep people safe.