World AIDS Day is upon us again. For me, World AIDS Day has always been a time of reflection and remembrance. A time for me to remember those individuals lost along this journey and to reflect on the ways in which HIV has changed the course of my life.
However, this World AIDS Day feels different. This year has felt a bit like we have been under siege. We have been bombarded with efforts to deprive people of healthcare and attacks on programs that people living with HIV have come to depend. We have felt the tide of racism, xenophobia and misogyny rising. And it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the negativity and fear.
That’s why on this World AIDS Day I am focusing on the ways in which my own life has been enriched. For nearly 14 years I have been living with HIV. As a 34-year-old, gay, HIV positive man of color, I have faced my share of stigma and fear. But I’ve also come to understand the tremendous courage, strength, and compassion that many people have shown in the face of this disease. Personally, becoming positive was a transformation for which I will always be profoundly grateful as it gave me a perspective that was bigger than myself. It catapulted me from a career in the arts to working in HIV policy and activism and it gave me the opportunity to work with and for people most impacted by the epidemic.
So, this morning, I am thinking of how we can build on our progress and reimagine a new path forward to end the epidemic. We have traveled a long way from the dark beginnings of this disease and have come so far in the fight. The rate of new infections is decreasing and we are diagnosing people earlier. We have a pill, commonly known as PrEP, that when taken consistently can help prevent HIV infection. Once diagnosed and connected to care, people living with HIV can lead long and vibrant lives. And science now confirms that individuals living with HIV who have an undetectable viral load are no longer able to transmit the virus to others.
In short, there is much to be joyful about even as we grapple with the challenges of our time. As Dr. Maya Angelou famously said “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
As we celebrate and remember on this World AIDS Day, we must take her words to heart. We will encounter these challenges, learn how to rise from them, and come out of this stronger together.