Michael Emanuel Rajner

Is HIV Conversation on the Menu?

Filed By Michael Emanuel Rajner | February 21, 2011 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: ABC News, Daniel Logan, HIV+, HIV/AIDS

Over the past 30 years, a tremendous amount of effort has been made to transform HIV/AIDS into a chronic disease, provided that an individual has access to care, treatment and support programs. Despite these advances, people living with HIV/AIDS continue to struggle to live a life free of discrimination related to their HIV-illness.

Earlier this week a few fellow AIDS advocates forwarded a link to a video of ABC's What Would You Do If You Witnessed AIDS Discrimination? The video captured the reaction of an everyday real life American, not an actor, who is uneducated about the realities of how HIV is transmitted when two actors interact with one another. The male HIV+ actor Daniel Logan is HIV+ in real life and to be commended for living his life as an example to end AIDS-related stigma.

ABC filmed the encounter at the Colonial Diner in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, an establishment I frequented for lunch in the early 1990's, while still HIV- and closeted about my sexual orientation. I worked in the underwriting department for a major commercial property insurance company with an office in East Rutherford at the time.

The video and more are after the jump.

Watching the video made me reflect on how I now live my life openly as a gay man living with AIDS and my own struggle to overcome HIV-related stigma and disclosing not only my health status, but also my sexual orientation with family and friends.

I recalled a time in June 2006 when I visited with my younger brother in Boston and with painful tears in his eyes asked how could I joke and laugh about having AIDS and live each day not knowing if I'm going to live 5 years or 50 years. It was the first time in 22 years, we had a chance to laugh and cry and share the blessing and gift to heal from life's injustices and share the pain we hid for years when our grandmother, mother and cousin all died a month and a half apart in 1984 from cancer. I told him that it does not matter the ailment, we never know when it is our time to go, but we must embrace the gift of life each day and must share that gift, our energy and passion with others.

In my more youthful years, I was taught there are topics of discussion that are just not acceptable in open society no matter how helpful and healthful these conversations may be. HIV/AIDS is one of those topics that most of society continues to be squeamish and avoid. As an activist and person living with AIDS, I often accept that challenge recognizing that boundaries need to be pushed. Thankfully, there are times I'm pleasantly surprised and discovered individuals who engage willingly in the conversation.

My brother had dropped me off at Boston's Logan Airport so I could fly home to Fort Lauderdale, and while waiting in the security check point line, I met some of life's most beautiful people. I met a lady by the name of Lisa whose angelical bright smile was proof that God indeed place angels among us.

At the time she was employed by an HIV pharmaceutical company and was traveling to Orlando for a conference. She had this amazing and wondrous calming energy of reassurance. We spoke of AIDS and how activism has changed the face of AIDS and delivered many from hell and helped people grapple onto and celebrate life and bring aide to others.

For us, discussion of HIV/AIDS was within the acceptable norm. It was the source of our passion to help others to live and breathe while others would prefer it to be silenced and shunned. People began to overhear us and started to chime in. Shortly after, we became this instant community of individuals who were created by a higher power and recognized the need to alter the face of fear and hate, not just the face of AIDS.

Our simple and inviting conversation helped open the minds of many that would have otherwise never thought of how we can effect positive change had we not violated what many consider to be an unacceptable topic for casual conversation.

How do we teach one another if we refuse to have the conversation where it needs to be, in the open with one another to share, grow and learn?


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Thank you for sharing your powerful story, Michael!

Michael,

As always, I enjoy your writing.

How do you feel about the effort to transform AIDS into a chronic disease? It always come with that caveat "provided that an individual has access to care, treatment and support programs", doesn't it?

I suppose I am somewhat of a cynic in that I wonder why on earth is HIV/AIDS being made to sound so manageable (as that adjective often comes first: manageable chronic disease). After all, those that say manageable chronic illness often say "and, all you need to do is take a pill."

I hope those at risk don't believe it's manageable and as easy as taking one pill a day. As you and I both know, the struggles are chronic and the disease is not curable.

Kim, life with HIV/AIDS is absolutely not as simple as taking a pill. I'm right there with you bring a cynic in that respect. Whenever I term HIV/AIDS as chronic, I always make certain to make it conditional on access to care, treatment and support.

As we both know, HIV-medications play a huge role in improving and saving lives, however, without access to care and supportive services, for many, its a living hell.

We need HIV/AIDS education. It's very important!! CDC has granted CSU $1.9M for HIV/AIDS education. The number of members on the largest HIV dating&support site STDslove. com (if I spell the site correctly) has reached 650,000. OMG! Why so many guys and girls on the site are very sexy? Why so many sexy people are infected by HIV? There is no doubt that we need SEX-ED