The AIDS epidemic is over 30 years old. It’s hard for me to believe that there are generations of young adults who have never known a world without this horrible disease.
I remember where I was the first time I met someone who was diagnosed with AIDS. It was 1985 and I was attending San Francisco State University. I was a junior majoring in social work. One of my fellow students was this vibrant insightful and engaging man a few years older than me. He was hoping to change the world through public service.
I had no idea that he had AIDS. At the time no one really understood the disease or survived it. When he started missing class towards mid-semester, someone let it slip that he was “sick.” Being young and not particularly insightful, I did not grasp the magnitude of his illness or that he was dying.
As the year progressed and I spent time around the city, I learned about AIDS and how out of control the world felt about it. I also remember firsthand the discrimination that the gay community experienced through both violence and through being ostracized from society.
I know that generations since have read stories about how awful that time was, but as with any history it doesn’t set into your bones unless you were there. I am so grateful for the progress that has been made towards fighting HIV and AIDS. But, we must never forget that we still need a cure. And to the young generations who may believe that it could never happen to them, please be safe. HIV and AIDS is still an epidemic and precaution is your best protection.
I like to think that my fellow student back at SF State did change the world. He touched my life beyond measure and gave me the insight to pass on to new generations.