Eric Brown
Op-ed: I Ride Because of What the Hill Represents

By Eric Brown

Originally published on Advocate.com May 12 2012 4:45 PM ET

Since I began training for the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I’ve felt challenged on every one of my training rides. The pace can be fast and the climbs can be steep.

On a particularly tough climb in Palos Verdes, California during the AIDS/LifeCycle “Day on the Ride” event, I feared I would not be able to make the intense seven-mile ascent. I saw people of all ages from different backgrounds trying hard. But I worried I might never make it up that hill. I thought then to myself about the LifeCycle representative who thanked all of us riders at the start of the day, because he is 19 years positive and relies upon some of the services that the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center provides.

With that thought and the realization that it was only a hill, my perspective recalibrated, and I realized that I am fighting much more than a hill with a long climb. It’s so much bigger than that.

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center are amazing nonprofit organizations that provide care not only to the gay community but that also provide public services to everyone. Through their HIV/AIDS testing, counseling, prescription drug assistance, and medical care programs, these organizations offer services that often are left unsupported in the broader context, whether it is filling in where insurance companies refuse to cover HIV-positive people or providing support to address the societal stigma attached to fearing or being positive.

As someone who has a number of positive friends, I can say that there is a stunning amount of social stigma that exists not only in the gay community but also in the community at large.

My hope is that the funds I raise for these organizations will not only continue to expand the services they provide to our communities but also to facilitate a better understanding of the disease and the effects of the stigma on people in all communities who may or may not be positive.

As a child from a small town in Illinois as well as a product of a Midwest boarding school and a small private liberal arts college in New England, I barely understood what it meant to be an openly gay man let alone someone who lives with HIV or AIDS.

After I graduated from Trinity College and moved to New York City, I introduced myself to the gay community, made many friends, and grew to love my life as a part of a “subculture.” Throughout my development as a man who is comfortable with my sexuality, I met many people who tested positive for HIV, who have been affected by it through their friends or family, and who suffered from the social stigma associated with it. So I ask for your support of my ride to help raise awareness and discussion of the overt and sometimes subconscious discrimination against HIV-positive people.

I made it up that hill, and I will make it to Los Angeles, and, hopefully, my ride will advance our front in this battle against HIV/AIDS.

I’m riding not only to challenge myself, but I ride for my community. I ride for my friends who are positive.  I ride for the hope that someday the stigma will fade. I ride to end HIV/AIDS.

I hope I can count on your support.