Students, faculty and community leaders gathered last night at the UMC for World AIDS Day for a candlelight vigil and to warn those in attendance against becoming complacent with the state of HIV/AIDS.
“We are at a crossroads,” said Laura, a 20-year-old CU student who has been HIV-positive her entire life and preferred anonymity. “We need to make a conscious decision to stand up and say this has to end.”
Laura told the audience about her experience of picking up her medications in Denver. Her health care provider gave her directions to where she needed to go by explaining the nearby landmarks: a liquor store, two sex shops and a police station.
As she sat in her car after the experience, Laura realized that “the most expensive thing on me (was the) pills.” That included her car, she pointed out. She told the audience how lucky she felt to be able to afford and have access to the medication.
“We need to remember those people who have paved the way and can’t be here to celebrate with us,” Laura said.
She ended by telling the audience, “we need to protect ourselves and those around us.”
Polly McLean, director of Women and Gender Studies at CU, recounted her HIV/AIDS efforts in Swaziland, where she said the infection rate is 37 percent, and life expectancy has plummeted from 51 years to 39 years in the past decade.
McLean pointed out the challenges of HIV/AIDS differ greatly across cultures.
“Girls can’t negotiate,” she said, adding that most of the students she has worked with in the past in Swaziland are now dead.
Eugene Pearson, of the Boulder County AIDS Project, said he thought the “AIDS epidemic pulled together the GLBT community,” and it is the job of this generation to combat all “isms” like racism, sexism and ageism.
Stephanie Wilenchek, director of the GLBT Resource Center at CU, said it is important to think of other countries, continents, states and organizations that one may not be familiar with “as our community.”
Wilenchek also mentioned a $1,500 scholarship the resource center offers to student affected by HIV/AIDS.
Junior integrative physiology major Gaddy Noy emphasized that HIV/AIDS “is not just a gay disease. and it’s not just in Africa.”
“Prevention and education are so important,” he said.
A question and answer session was held before those in attendance headed into the cold for the short candlelight vigil portion of the evening.
In response to a question about abstinence, McLean said “abstinence doesn’t even work in the United States.”
McLean praised Bill Gates and Bono for their work on HIV/AIDS and said that efforts independent of the governmental systems are often the most successful.
Andra Wilkinson, a junior integrative physiology major, stumped the crowd with her question: “Is an ability to help an obligation to help?”
McLean brought the question and answer session to a close with a challenge to the audience.
“What are you (going to) do tomorrow when the ribbons come off?” she said, alluding to the red ribbons audience members wore safety-pinned to their shirts.