Vail Daily letter: Spirit of understanding
Ryan Summerlin November 29, 2012
I did not understand what it truly meant to love wholeheartedly until I had children of my own. Now, of course, this does not mean that I do not love my husband to death. In fact, I love him more now that we have children. This is the quote that sums it up for me: “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body” – Elizabeth Stone.
Now, what if one of these children that I love so much became aware that he-she was transgender, bisexual, gay, lesbian … need I go on? How would I react? Would I still love them as I do now? Of course I would.
According to Gary Gates, of the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, it is estimated that there are about 4 million adults who identify as being gay or lesbian, representing 1.7 percent of the 18-and-over population. For obvious reasons, Gates is the first to admit his figures are not precise because so few national population surveys have asked about sexual orientation.
As you probably know, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender population is not only at risk for HIV/AIDS, they are at risk for stigma and discrimination. In fact, some of the most painful symptoms of HIV and AIDS are fear, shame, ignorance and injustice.
Stigma against LBGT people increases health risks. When people must hide who they are due to fear of stigma, lack of acceptance, discrimination, abandonment by loved ones and even physical violence, they are more at risk for HIV/AIDS and other health risks such as depression, substance abuse and even suicide. Of course, we all know that it is important to model and show respect. So, why as a culture is it acceptable to discriminate based on HIV status or sexual orientation?
On paper, the national HIV/AIDS strategy sounds great. Here it is: The United States will become a place where new HIV infections are rare, and when they do occur, every person regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic circumstance will have unfettered access to high-quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination.
This year, organizations in Colorado will be commemorating World AIDS Day (Dec. 1) by focusing on a “Compassion Campaign: Ending HIV Stigma in Colorado.” This campaign will attempt to start conversations about stigma and its direct chilling effect on testing and care services.
Once again, Red Ribbon Project will be celebrating World AIDS Day this year with our annual awareness fundraiser at the Main Street Grill on Saturday evening, Dec. 1. It is our hope to build awareness in our community about behaviors that can put you at risk for HIV.
One of our programs, jCUÍDATE! (Take Care of Yourself), is an evidence-based, nationally recognized and culturally appropriate program focused on HIV and teen-pregnancy prevention. We strive to empower youth with knowledge that will keep them safe from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
Together, as a community, can we strive for acceptance and steer away from judgment? Doesn’t it feel better to love and support than to hate? Stigma not only makes it more difficult for people with HIV, but it also interferes with attempts to fight the epidemic as a whole.
On a personal level, stigma can make individuals reluctant to access HIV testing, treatment and care.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon says “stigma remains the single most important barrier to public action. It is the main reason why too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have the disease, or to seek treatment if so. It helps make AIDS the silent killer, because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions. Stigma is the chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world.”
Red Ribbon Project is partnering with HIV/AIDS organizations in an effort to spread the message “Compassion Campaign: Ending HIV Stigma in Colorado.”
In honor of this campaign, and World AIDS Day, Red Ribbon Project will be offering free HIV testing from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. today at the Eagle Care Clinic in Edwards and Saturday, Dec. 1, at Colorado Mountain Medical in the Vail Valley Medical Center.
No appointments are necessary, walk-ins are welcome and results are rapid in 10 minutes via finger prick. Encourage family and friends to “Take Control and Take the Test” and help support the community by eliminating stigma.
Red Ribbon Project