Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Stamp out stigma!

It's here - AIDS Walk Week, that is. The walk is Saturday, and registration opens at 9am in the Union . The opening ceremonies kick off at 11am, including our keynote speaker Secretary of State Max Maxfield. Drag Queen Bingo is back again too; this year we're out at the HoJo and the doors open at 6pm - the show starts at 7pm.

This means it's time to shave my...everything...again. You don't fully appreciate the social stigma against women and hair until you find yourself shaving your toes and the tops of your feet. I've been making new jewely all week too. Raising pledges. Collecting prizes. Meeting after meeting. Hanging dresses. Learning new numbers and developing a choreography plan. Charging walkie talkies. So much to do, and so little time to do it!

There is a huge amount of time and energy that goes into making something like AIDS Walk happen. And truth be told, it's an honor to go through the extra work and stress. It feels good to make a difference in the lives of people I know and total strangers. There's a definite thrill that comes from seeing the final tally at the end of the walk and knowing that it was all worth while.

This is something important, not only to me but to those I care about. It's something I've been connected to and affected by for a long time. I remember the first paper I wrote about AIDS, back in 9th grade. (First person to do the math and mention the year gets their head shaved!) I remember being trained as a peer educator and counselor when I was a senior. My mom had to sign a special permission slip, because we were going to talk about condoms. That's where I met someone who was HIV positive for the first time.

Today I have several folks in my life who are HIV positive. Heidi and Isaac - our keynote speakers for the walk, times 2. Bob - my drag mother and hero. Robert - one of my favorite bartenders in Denver. Walt - a former coworker. Jason - one of the founders of AIDS Walk. The two Mary's - amazing women I met through AIDS Walk. The list goes on, and these are the people who are open about their sero-status.

There are also a whole host of people I know and care about who are not or cannot be open about their HIV or AIDS. Some of them are newly diagnosed. Some of them have known for a few years. Some of them contracted it because a partner cheated on them and brought it home. Some of them had unsafe sex knowingly, while others had a condom break. The bottom line is that it doesn't matter how, when, or why they were infected - they were, and there's some serious stigma out there that goes with a positive test.

Some worry about losing their job, though it's illegal to fire someone because they're positive. It would still mean a lengthy, costly, and public fight to try to keep it. Some worry about losing family and friends, though some already have. The looks, the stares, the whispers...that's all stigma. You'd think that in 2008, knowing what we do about the disease and how it's transmitted, that we wouldn't have to deal with bias like this. But we do, and that's the theme of this year's walk: "Be a friend, not afraid. Stamp out stigma."

Please join me on campus for the walk. Please come to bingo, or the "There's Got to be a Morning After" Drag Brunch at the Cavalryman on Sunday from 11am to 2pm. If you're already booked, that's okay. Perhaps you could sponsor me by pledging a donation to the walk. If nothing else, please take a moment to examine your own hearts and minds. People who are HIV+ aren't bad people, and they don't deserve scorn, ridicule, or harassment.

To learn more about HIV in Wyoming and around the world, watch this video I put together for last year's walk. It's about 13 minutes long and will probably make you cry, but it's far too important that we learn to respect ourselves and protect ourselves...and help those in need. (

Today's lesson: People are people. Period. Treat them as such. Period.

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