This week it was announced that a second HIV patient was cured of the virus that can eventually lead to AIDS. To date, over 70 million people have been infected with the virus and close to 40 million have died. A staggering statistic by any measure.
When I first heard the news of a possible cure, I was immediately taken back to when I was 16. I had just started my first part time job busing tables at Red Lobster. There were several gay employees employed on the wait staff, but I remember one in particular. His name was Grant and at the time, there was a mysterious virus just starting to gain attention in the media as a potential global epidemic. The disease was so new it had yet to receive an official name.
Over a fairly short period of time I remember Grant’s appearance started to change. It was almost impossible to miss. He lost a considerable amount of weight, his face became sunken and his cheeks hollow, and he had several noticeable marks on his face. One thing I knew for sure was something was horribly wrong. Unfortunately, none of this escaped the notice of the other employees who started to put 2 and 2 together.
What I’ll never forget, even all these years later, is how harshly he was treated as a result of his condition and appearance. It was a much different time in the 80s and there was a lot of fear and misunderstanding surrounding the disease. Could you catch it by touching someone infected? By breathing the same air? By kissing? Eating with the same utensils? Some of this fear was certainly understandable given the lack of information at the time but what I found to be unacceptable was the way so many others chose to humiliate and condemn him as a result. He went from being a human being to a shunned freak, a punching bag of sorts, not worthy of even the smallest amount of compassion or respect. I remember on numerous occasions his coworkers walking past him with a look of pure disgust and hate on their faces; the ugly side of humanity.
Eventually Grant stopped coming to work. I never knew if he got fired, just became too sick to show up and perform his job, or if he could no longer deal with the personal attacks directed at him on an almost daily basis.
Whatever the reason, shortly after he stopped showing up, I learned he had died. I don’t know if he died at home or in a hospital, but I remember thinking to myself, this man had a family; a mother and father had just lost a son and before he could finally rest in peace, removed from the pain and suffering, the humiliation and mocking, they had to watch helplessly as their son wasted away, no longer recognizable to those who knew him best.
Looking back, it still saddens and sickens me to remember how someone who obviously had to be scared beyond words and in a tremendous amount of physical and emotional pain could be treated so horribly, many times directly to his face. A face I still remember to this day.
Things have changed for the better since he passed away. We now know what the real risks are and not only that, with this week’s news we appear to be on the verge of a cure. A truly remarkable feat in such a short period of time.
But there are still those who feel the disease was and continues to be some form of punishment for gay men; never mind the fact that many of those infected picked up the disease from blood transfusions or even as babies from an infected mother.
This treatment of those who suffer, many times from the religious community or homophobes, or both, is incomprehensible in my opinion. It strikes me as somewhat hypocritical, as well. Then again, many things the church and its members do strike me as hypocritical.
Luckily most of us do have compassion and understanding. We know that Grant, and all those like him, didn’t choose to be gay any more than the rest of us choose the color of our eyes or the color of our skin. These are the same people who vehemently deny scientific facts and instead put their blind faith in a fictional book referring to a man in the sky.
But enough about them. They deserve no attention. The focus all along and especially today should be on the victims and their families and friends. With each death, all 40 million of them, those around them suffered, too. So today let’s hope that these recent findings do in fact lead to a cure so we can once and for all rid the world of one more deadly disease.