Fight AIDS. Love Life.

The title of this post is GMHC‘s motto.

I am HONORED to have been involved in important work that fills my soul. I have worked with a variety of organizations with many different goals — such as protecting the legal rights of widows and orphans in rural post-conflict Northern Uganda (IJM), clean water initiatives in various parts of India and Africa (RainCatcher), and supporting creative activism (Creative Visions). Common themes throughout these experiences include promoting access to healthcare and education, women’s empowerment, and fighting stigma.  Being around like-minded people is inspiring and encouraging. My current role is no different. I truly feel part of a team on this year’s 30th annual AIDS Walk New York campaign, as we all tirelessly work to raise funds to support GMHC’s services and clients. (Want to help me reach my fundraising goal? Click here.)

What about the not-so-encouraging parts in this fight?

Let’s talk about S-T-I-G-M-A.

  • Stigma is defined via my Google search as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.”
  • My informal definition is “the manifestation of fears of the unknown or unfamiliar or unlike-me-and-my-bubble.”

Of course, my status and privilege as an educated white American practicing a majorly accepted religion does not subject me to much stigmatization. However, I have been affected by what I’m dubbing stigmatization-by-association, due in great part to my work. For instance, I have had people* ask me if I was afraid I was going to “get AIDS” by moving to an African nation. To my face, in all earnestness. There are other questions I’m honestly too embarrassed to put in writing here or really ever further dwell on. I always have the prayer on my heart to be gentle and gracious towards people who may have good intentions (or even if they don’t), but act in ignorance, fear, selfishness and sometimes even hate when pursuing such reactions. These types of interactions motivate me to lovingly attempt to educate or spread some small dose of awareness, of human compassion, in those particular scenarios on a case-by-case basis. Often I’m simply at a loss for words and smiling/grimacing and making a nodding or shaking motion with my head is all I can do. But maybe this blog post is a start to a more articulate response when in the moment I’ve failed.

I don’t know the purpose in sharing these observations other than to maybe just acknowledge them here. At this stage I don’t have much interest in writing researched opinion pieces arguing a thesis on this blog. I believe in the inherent worth, potential, and value of everyone. I believe in giving the benefit of the doubt. I believe Jesus is the antithesis of stigma. Resources are distributed unfairly, environments are oppressive, uncontrollable circumstances or past choices (either made by an individual or community/family members) affect futures negatively. There are plenty of other issues I could touch on, but for now, we can start with HIV/AIDS.

Here are some parts of GMHC’s website if you have a desire to learn more about HIV/AIDS in NYC/USA.  And here is the link to the WHO’s information on HIV/AIDS worldwide. Maybe start by reading this as a general FYI: “There is absolutely no danger from casual contact with people with HIV. HIV cannot live outside of the human body, so you cannot be infected from toilet seats, phones, or water fountains. The virus cannot be transmitted in the air through sneezing or coughing. You cannot get it from mosquitoes or other insect or animal bites. Living with an HIV-infected person does not put you at risk, unless you have unprotected sex or share needles with him or her” (source).

I shared these sentiments in a Facebook status during the height of the Ebola crisis: “Use logic, common sense, compassion, & to those of my (many) friends that are Christian, pray & let God guide your hearts & minds to react in a Christlike way, to not be enslaved by fear.” Perhaps much of these also apply to fears related to HIV/AIDS.

I welcome thoughts in the comments… thanks for reading.

xo, LB

*people is a broad term. Yes, sometimes these types of questions are posed by strangers. But sometimes by people extremely dear to me. I have no desire to shame or alienate anyone, simply to process my experiences.

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