By Kristoffer Cusick
Originally published on Advocate.com May 21 2012 6:15 PM ET
My first big job in theater was being cast as the understudy for Mark and Angel on the first national tour of Rent. Had it not been for the love and acceptance of my family when I came out to them at the age of 22, who knows whether or not this amazing, life-changing show would have happened for me. Thanks to my friends' and family's unconditional support and love, I have the strength to be who I am, the courage to follow my dreams, and the desire to help those in need.
Rent opened my eyes to how HIV and AIDS affects not only people living with the virus, but also their families and friends. It forever changed who I was as a person and my understanding of this tragic virus. Night after night, show after show, living out this powerful story of a group of friends struggling through the effects of HIV and AIDS was emotionally difficult and at the same time incredibly inspiring. Spending time speaking to people involved with AIDS organizations in the different cities Rent toured through, I was shocked at how many people were ignorant, uneducated, and uninformed about HIV and AIDS. These wonderful organizations were doing their best to carefully spread information while so many people suffered from inability to access treatment because of financial limitations or lack of knowledge.
While sitting in a pizza shop in New York City's West Village, a dancer who was a good friend of mine told me that he was positive. I will never forget how sad it made me to hear him explain how unsupportive his family was and how awful he felt as these powerful medicines wrecked havoc on his body. He told me how lucky he was to be working in a Broadway show and to have insurance and money to cover the cost of his medicines...but that even with insurance and a great job his out-of-pocket expenses were insanely high and made his daily life a constant struggle. Feeling the depths of his frustration and anger only made me wonder about those who weren't as fortunate to be working or insured...and it was then that I decided to become involved in programs and benefits to raise money for HIV and AIDS awareness and research.
The first time I heard about the AIDS Lifecycle ride was during my time with the Broadway production of Wicked, but it wasn't until moving to San Francisco to work on the new musical, Tales of the City, that my roommate mentioned he was going to be participating in the ride and that I should sign up. Without even a moment of hesitation I went straight online and filled out my forms and I was officially a part of this amazing event. A few days later a friend from Los Angeles, David Rae, contacted me as he had heard I was doing the ride and asked if I would like to join his team, Team Popular—it seemed perfectly fitting considering my past with Wicked.
Since my registration for AIDS Lifecycle 2012, I have met so many people in San Francisco and across the country who participate every year and plan their vacations and years around this amazing event. Riders living with HIV, friends of people who are infected or who have passed, mothers, brothers, grandmothers, nieces and children, all riding together in a common bond and goal: to raise money in the hopes of finding a cure for HIV/AIDS. This ride is already something so important to me...and we haven't even begun. I dedicate my ride to the spirit of my friends who are HIV-positive, those I have lost, and their friends and families. Together we can all make a huge difference and provide both awareness and funding necessary to find a cure for this disease. No day but today!