Thirty years ago, the Center for Disease Control issued a brief reporting about five young men in Los Angeles — “all active homosexuals” — who were struck with the mysterious symptoms of what we now know as AIDS (initially, the disease was deceptively branded “Gay-Related Immune Disorder.”) While much progress has been made in the decades since, and testing positive for HIV is no longer a death sentence, the epidemic is far from over.
In the last year, three friends of mine tested positive for HIV. There were all younger than me; I’m 23. Statistics reveal that gay and bisexual men are the only group for whom infection rates are on the rise. As we reflect on three decades of HIV/AIDS, our community must recognize that we still have much work to do in educating and raising awareness among younger generations of gay men who have no memory of the horror of AIDS.
To support this effort, Erick and I traveled the beautiful California coastline with many other talented journalists documenting the 7-day, 545-mile AIDS/LifeCycle bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It is the world’s largest fundraising event to fight HIV/AIDS, and this year some 3,000 participants and 100,000 sponsors raised a record-setting $13-million.
We weren’t sure what to expect when we arrived, but what we’ve found is a community of people who have all been affected in one way or another by the disease, and who are determined to work together to see it end — as one rider’s shirt read, “No one is untouched by HIV/AIDS.”
Every nine and a half minutes, someone in the United States is infected with HIV. To put that in perspective: during the course of the 7-day ride, more than 1,000 people will be newly infected with the virus. Clearly, the battle against HIV/AIDS has not been won. While it will always be important to honor the memories of those lost to the disease, it is our hope that events like AIDS/LifeCycle will ensure that when we cross the 40 or 50 year anniversary of HIV/AIDS, it will be only that: a memory.