For the past few months, I have been preparing to do something I’ve never done before. I am riding in my first AIDS/LifeCycle to raise funds to support critical HIV and AIDS services that the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and San Francisco AIDS Foundation provide to men, women, and children. I’m somewhere between terrified and elated in the palette of emotions.
In just a few days, thousands of people will arrive in San Francisco to begin a 545-mile bike ride to fight HIV and AIDS — 545 miles on a bike that has already left Los Angeles to “meet” us at the start of the ride. I have friends who ask my clumsy self, why are you doing this? You know it’s going to be hard, right?
I’m doing this because sometimes you have to fight back, intentionally, against a disease that has robbed us of bright lights and kind souls. I’m doing this with the thousands of other riders and roadies because we can make a difference.
As a gay kid growing up in Fresno, pre-GLAAD, pre-HRC, pre-Mom and Dad understanding and accepting, homophobia attacked me every day. Being bullied in the schoolyard started young and continued all the way through high school graduation. On my first day of high school, I showed up in my new Lacoste, ironed 501 Levis and penny loafers ready to show the world who I was!
Somewhere between terrified and elated, I walked to the bus stop with my misfit friends. Arriving almost simultaneously was the bully of the neighborhood, who had a rope tied into a noose and proceeded to tie it around my neck and drag me through the street in front of my peers until the bus arrived. My new outfit, now soiled, was turned from a badge of honor to an ensemble that was more of a scarlet letter. And through that shame I managed to get up, and I got onto that bus.
I didn’t realize it then, but every time we get up after taking a beating we are fighting back. Our LGBT community has been intentionally or unintentionally fighting back for years, by standing up and demanding that our battered voices be heard. So many of the people I’ve met during our training time share similar stories of learning how to fight back and still live a life in which they embrace the most basic principles of being loving, kind people.
The AIDS/LifeCycle is the embodiment of fighting back against the devastation that HIV and AIDS have wrought humanity by channelling our anger into a loving, proactive reaction. We will eventually stop the noose of HIV and AIDS from attaching itself to the lives of our loved ones.
For those who weren’t able to untie themselves from the grip of that rope, we will stand up for you and board that bus, ride that bike, and find a way to eliminate the bullying of this relentless disease. My clumsy self is going to be steadied on that bike because of activists like Larry Kramer, because of the donors and staffers who have supported us, and because of the bright lights who blazed our trail and died fighting back. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
STEPHEN MACIAS is executive vice president and general manager for Here Media, which is The Advocate’s parent company.