Monday, December 01, 2008

World AIDS Day 2008

I've probably given more than 2000 speeches in my career. And, I have to be honest, I don't remember the content of many of them. (I do remember venues...the House of Lords in London, the Chautauqua amphitheater, the President's Plenary at the American Psychological Association, the Old Executive Office Building to name a few...)

But, I still remember a speech I gave more than twenty years ago at a Centers for Disease Control conference on HIV/AIDS. My talk was to be on AIDS and adolescents, and I followed a number of scientific talks delivered without passion or urgency. I did something I've only rarely had the courage to do -- to put aside my carefully prepared talk and speak from my heart. I talked about how none of the previous speeches had talked about sexuality or homosexuality or sexual behaviors -- or the messy ways that people lived their lives. I talked about how a failure of political will would result in people becoming infected and that we had to start educating people where they were, not where we would like them to be. I talked about the people I knew who were already sick or dead, and I challenged that audience someplace in a hotel ballroom in Virginia to do everything in their power to start educating and stop this epidemic. And I told them we could not tell the young people of America to "just say no or die" and that it was up to us to stop new infections.
And when I sat down spent, the room stood up for what I remember as the first standing ovation I'd ever received.

And I think now, more than 20 years later, how many people have died and how many people have been many people are still infected every day, every year, because we still don't have the will to educate all people where they are, not where we want them to be. And my heart hurts remembering the faces of people I've known who died: Jim and Danny and Stuart and Lacey and Marjorie and Billy and Bill T. and...and I remember this World AIDS Day once again why it is so important to work to make the world a place that affirms the diversity of our sexualities and where every one has the ability to make responsible sexual choices.
May we never forget that it is up to us.

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