Beautiful September day! Sun shining, temperatures warm but merciful thanks to a gentle ocean breeze. Perfect day for a walk in Stanley Park. This walk is more special, more than just an extension of summer. This is AIDS Walk Vancouver. It’s a far cry from the chilly, rainy day last year when I walked alone along with a threadbare entourage dedicated to the cause. This time I have a good friend with me and the larger group, while nothing the size of the hordes from twenty years ago, is boosted by a human injection as well.
If you are a teenager now, it is unlikely that you knew us well. We are your shadow uncles, your angel godfathers, your mother’s or your grandmother’s best friend from college, the author of that book you found in the gay section of the library. We are characters in a Tony Kushner play, or names on a quilt that rarely gets taken out anymore.
--David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing
AIDS Walk numbers will never match the masses from a generation ago. That’s a good thing. Great strides have been made in terms of research, treatment and other care issues. Still, I feel that those of us who lost and feared the most back then have to recommit to the cause. Without the urgency, the front-page headlines and the sensational letters to the editor, people less impacted by AIDS are no longer stirred to action. They have moved on to bike rides for cancer and opportunities to garner several dozen YouTube views from getting cold water poured on their heads.
I am one who believes each person’s charitable priorities should be private—only you, the organization and the taxman need to know. I will, however, continue to post about my renewed commitment to supporting AIDS charities to encourage you to consider whether there might be something in your wallet that can go to a local AIDS entity. The competition among charities nowadays is fierce. All the more reason why we must keep AIDS in focus.
It was an exquisite irony: Just when we stopped wanting to kill ourselves, we started to die. Just when we were feeling strength, it was taken from us.
–David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing
This year I walk in honor of my friends Farrell and José. Farrell was a guy I befriended in a tennis class in Dallas in the late 1980s. We formed a tennis connection that evolved into a friendship, albeit one that was limited by our reserved dispositions. Only after he visited me in L.A. did he come out to me in a letter, the self-hate as a lifelong Bible Belt native pouring out on the page. By telling you I’m gay, I know you must detest me. I wrote back to say that what I truly detested was the fact both of us felt so compelled to live(?) in the closet. The friendship became stronger but not enough for him to tell me he was sick with complications from AIDS. I only found out in late 1994 when a letter I mailed was Returned to Sender with “Deceased” stamped on the front. There was no funeral service.
José was a friend I met in Malibu while I was going to law school. He owned an independent clothing store in a large space that is now a Banana Republic. José was a jovial individual, the guy whom everyone in my group of club-going gay friends kidded, sometimes mercilessly. He played into it, soaking up any kind of attention. He was generous to a fault, sweetness to the core. In 1995, after I’d moved to Vancouver, a friend called to say José had died suddenly. A brain aneurism. Two summers ago, as I had dinner with that friend, the real story came forth. He’d died of AIDS, but the shame was too great. None of us knew. He retreated and died alone.
For both Farrell and José, the shame was too great. It saddens me to think they couldn’t reach out. I know that each died completely alone.
This is part of the past devastation from AIDS. This is what I cannot forget. This is why walking remains imperative. Circumstances are drastically different, but I need persons with HIV or AIDS to know they will continue to be supported. I know that shame remains. I read it in the dating profiles of men who are HIV+ and I occasionally see it manifested as anger on Twitter.
This is not over. AIDS still matters.