Stop HIV in its tracks — December 10, 2013
On December 5, 2013 the Minnesota AIDS Project held their 30th Anniversary Benefit. I was asked to speak at the event as one of MAP’s Positive Leaders. This is my story.
My Name is Xander Lilly, and I was 5 years old when MAP opened its doors and started the fight against the epidemic of HIV and AIDS here in Minnesota. And I am grateful that they did, because I would not be here otherwise.
I have had a long history with MAP, first as a client, later as an employee and now as a Positive Leader. And I am here today telling you my story because this epidemic is far from over and it is time to put the anger back into the equation of fighting HIV and AIDS.
I was infected with HIV when I was 21 years old. I was young gay man, and I thought I was invincible. I thought: It could never happen to me. I can have bareback sex and not get infected. I was wrong. Then I got scared, because I realized that HIV is not just a disease that infects the blood in your body. It is a disease of the spirit and the soul. It breaks you down. It makes you worry. It keeps you up at night, it makes your cry and it makes you angry. Angry at yourself, angry at others and angry at it. HIV will try to get the best of you. And its purpose is to do one thing. And that is Kill you.
Well, I am not ready to die. And I am not ready to stop being angry at this disease. As Larry Kramer wrote in his 1983 article “Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get… Unless we fight for our lives we shall die.”
So many people struggle before they decide to get tested, like I did. They struggle with the stigma of HIV and the shame that comes along with the possibility of testing positive, they don’t know what to do with their anger, and fear dives their decision making not facts. And HIV wins.
I have never known a world without HIV and AIDS. I don’t know that I ever will. But I do know that my story is repeating itself each day here in Minnesota and across the U.S. as we see the number of new infections in the Gay community once again sky rocket. I believe the numbers are sky rocketing because we have lost our focus on HIV as a community, we have stopped fighting for our lives, and we are no longer angry that this disease is killing us. This is exactly how the virus thrives.
This is reason the work of the Minnesota AIDS Project, and many other agencies here in the Twin Cities, to end this disease, the stigma and fear that comes along with it, is so important. When MAP is demanding an end to stigma and discrimination at community events like AIDS ACTION DAY, Twin Cities Pride Festival, and our event here tonight, we stop HIV in its tracks. When we educate health care providers about HIV and Hepatitis C, we stop HIV in its tracks. When we provide prevention outreach or we advocate for critical services and support for those of us living with HIV and AIDS, we stop HIV in is tracks.
This is the work that puts the fight and the anger back into fighting HIV and AIDS here in Minnesota. As we leave this event tonight reflecting on the future of HIV in Minnesota I urge you to consider how we can stop HIV in it tracks together. What can you do to fight this disease? What can you do to end the stigma? What can we all do with the anger we all have? How can that anger be put to good use to envision a Minnesota free of HIV and AIDS.
Xander Lilly has been a staff member at Clare Housing since 2006.