By Toni Harrison
On July 30, 1985, I remember watching the news and seeing a dark, dismal and scary airport scene where Rock Hudson was wheeled from a plane, having just returned from Paris, where he was seeking medical treatment. Not long after, his AIDS diagnosis was made public. Hudson died three months later. I remember the furor about his kissing Linda Evans while they were filming Dynasty. I thought how sad for everyone and how demeaning for a once adored movie star to be considered a pariah.
I followed the news and information about this new disease that was finally named HIV/AIDS. I remember being horrified when Ryan White, a 15-year-old hemophiliac, was denied entrance to school because he had HIV/AIDS due to infected blood he received during a transfusion.
Somehow through all of this, I became more involved with those who had HIV/AIDS. I became a monitor for an HIV-specific chat room sponsored by an Internet provider. I met incredible people online and a few jerks that would condemn and curse those who had the virus. In this tiny Internet room, I also met two gay men who would forever change my life. Jules Mastro, founder of the Living Room, who I had pestered for months, offered me a job, which I accepted.
I also met James. James became my Will and I his Grace, good friends who could spend hours talking like two old ladies, ranting on about boyfriends. James had been positive for a long time, and he was tired and available medications were not working so he made the decision to just let nature take its course. A month later, I had begun working at the Living Room and James had died, I miss him every day.
Over the years, I have witnessed the changes in the lives of those infected. Medications have increased the quality of life and added years to HIV-infected individuals’ lives, healthier, happier people, who now have a future. I also have witnessed budget cuts that have had a direct impact on prevention education among those at risk in our community. I am seeing the numbers rise for young gay men of color, who have sex with men, at an alarming rate. New infections that tell me we still have a long way to go in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
When the Fresno AIDS Walk idea was discussed I thought what a great way to honor James and Jules, raise awareness again and help sustain the Living Room. The Fresno AIDS Walk will take place on Nov. 10 at Woodward Park. Registration begins at 9 a.m. and the walk at 10 a.m. We need volunteers, teams to walk and sponsors. Visit our Web site at www.fresnoaidswalk.org. We are also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FresnoAIDSWalk. For more information, call -559-486-1469.
Spend a moment and remember what it was like in 1985 and what it is like today. Join us to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, remember those who have died, celebrate those who are living with the virus and help sustain the Living Room. See you there!
Toni Harrison is the program coordinator for the Living Room and has been employed there for more than 11 years and involved in HIV/AIDS for about 20 years. Contact Toni at firstname.lastname@example.org.