World Aids Day today, and in commemoration tonight I will be attending the BMA-Planned Parenthood's screening of the Keith Haring documentary.
The year I turned sixteen was the year AIDS first appeared on my radar. Initially, it was due to the very kind and still-appreciated gift my grandparents gave me for my birthday: tickets to see RENT on Broadway. At the time, it was still the original cast. I was addicted to the soundtrack that year, and played it over and over on my portable Disc man. I was all about gunmetal gray nail polish and gay men that year. (Really, what has changed? Except now I'm on an endless quest for matte gray nail polish. Which is next to impossible to find. Honestly.) It was also the year that I saw the AIDS quilt on display at my mother's college when we went to an alumni event. I think it was the first time in my life that I felt connected to some cause. I didn't know anyone with AIDS, but I was old enough to start parsing out the social implications of a disease that brought stigma. And it was 1998, nearly ten years after AIDS was incorporated into the mainstream and was no longer relegated to being the "gay disease" sequestered away to certain pockets of New York City and San Francisco.
AIDS has become so...well, widely-accepted isn't the appropriate wording, but...I suppose a better way to put it would be to mention that medical breakthroughs have made it a much more manageable disease which has, in turn, somewhat reduced the stigma of it. I've even heard through various interviews that diabetes can be a far more crippling disease in terms of lifestyle and symptoms. Regardless, AIDS might no longer be the "gay disease" but neither should it be written off as some third-world country affliction like cholera that feels too distant to connect. It's still a huge threat, it's still rampant, and it's still debilitating. The stigma is not- and possibly will never be- wholly gone, and even in third-world countries the best defense is still education.
Looking forward to the documentary tonight. Keith Haring's artwork is ubiquitous- even if you don't know his name, I can guarantee you're familiar with his work, which dominated the 1980's and 90's pop art world.
And, of course, let's not forget the focus of today: act aware, reduce prejudice, and practice protection.