How I Became An AIDS Activist
BY Steven Petrow
June 07 2011 1:45 PM ET
Were it possible to represent those times exactly to those that did not see them, and give the reader due ideas of the horror that everywhere presented itself, it must make just impressions upon their minds and fill them with surprise.
— Daniel Defoe, Journal of the Plague Year
When my first book about the AIDS epidemic, Dancing Against the Darkness: A Journey through America in the Age of AIDS, was published in 1990, few people — certainly not me — could have imagined that we’d still be wrestling with this monstrous plague decades later. Who would have thought that the “Age of AIDS” would define not one generation, but several; not one continent, but all; and that despite the good intentions of many (and partly because of the treacherous acts of others), this epidemic would color — no, would stain — our world to the extent it has?
This epidemic, actually a pandemic, consists of millions of individual stories: 60 million infected worldwide, 30 million dead. Five years ago, HIV-positive activist Mary Fisher wrote to me, “We have learned something in 25 years — not enough, but something. We’ve learned that the media cannot continue a story when people have heard enough of it. So, for example, 15,000,000 children orphaned by AIDS isn’t seen as 15,000,000 stories; it is one story told 15,000,000 times.” Alas, her words are just as true today as when she wrote them.
Anniversaries, especially sad ones like this, are for remembering. In this 30th year of the HIV epidemic, we need to remember our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, friends, lovers, and coworkers. This conscious act of remembrance is especially important as the epidemic continues to fade from the front page and from the day-to-day awareness of all too many young people taking unnecessary risks with their lives — and the lives of their sexual partners.