Several months ago, Waymon Hudson asked me to contribute to the Bilerico Project as a person living with AIDS. Over the past few months I have struggled immensely to find the time, but after losing my voice at a community event posted below in Pompano Beach where Florida State Representative Ellyn Bogdanoff and United States Senator Joe Lieberman spoke, I forced myself to make the time and share the experience.
U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the independent Democrat from Connecticut who supports John McCain, will appear with state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Telenovela actress Katie Barberi and flutist Nestor Torres Sunday...
I began today sleeping in, after running a low-grade fever and migraines, and then rushing to attend church services at Sunshine Cathedral to celebrate my being a person of Christian faith. After arriving home I found what has been a rare energy I have not had in sometime to launch my kayak and paddle about South Florida's infamous Intracoastal Waterway while the rain sprinkled down. While paddling, I began to reflect on the fate of the American people and the fate of almost 1.5 million American's living with HIV/AIDS in the United States; a population stigmatized and oppressed with the current leadership. It must be noted that approximately 25% of these same people are unaware of their HIV status! The future continued to look bleaker and bleaker as I paddled past yacht after yacht ranging in the millions of dollars.
With each paddle I grew increasingly anxious and angry to think of the countless Americans who not only struggle to gain access to employment, healthcare, housing, but are unable to retain it! My emotions were at a boiling point where I could not paddle any fast enough to get home and attend the rally to speak my mind and share the voice of so many Americans shamed into silenced by stigma.
Covered in salt and seawater, I toweled down, put on my tan Banana-Republic cargo shorts, my favorite blue polo shirt and a red baseball cap with "Got Quality?" on it. I grabbed two Campaign to End AIDS posters with "END AIDS" on it, my bullhorn I received as an early birthday gift last month while hospitalized, and off to the event I went! Not knowing what I would walk into, I quickly realized it was a Hispanic themed fair at the mall.
The irony to the entire thing is while I was preparing to head to the event, my housemate called saying that I need to get over to the shopping center immediately and put a stop to the nonsense! I quickly concurred with her and she remained at Panera's Bread to watch the spectacle to soon follow and come up with bail money if needed! LOL...
It didn't take long after my arrival that I would encounter a group of all white people flocking to Lieberman & Bogdanoff, McCain and Palin's surrogates, and a number of Broward Sheriff's Officers- one who attempted to intimidate me for choosing to exercise my constitutional right. Locally, and in some parts of the nation, I have a reputation for my style to express my outrage and intolerance of others intentionally blinding themselves to the many social injustices in the world. Sun-Sentinel has dubbed me "the articulate shouter". Today was one of those very days I found my voice and channeled the voice of countless others and could not remain silent!
With a Broward Sheriff Officer by my side and a dozen people standing between me and Senator Lieberman, I continued to tell Lieberman he should be ashamed to support a candidate who has no clue what the acronym HIV stands for. Within a matter of seconds, dozens of eyes turned on me and scowled. Lieberman turned, looked at the sign, than me and responded:
He's good on that issue.
Immediately I asked the Senator to share with me how good McCain is on AIDS. As I looked about the people who gathered to support Lieberman's endorsement of McCain, many leered their eyes at me in anger as I stood beside an African American woman in horror of what looked to be a candidate who does not speak to her and a campaign that does not include her community. One person in Lieberman's Klan yelled back, "He supported the millions that went to Global AIDS." I then asked what McCain has done for AIDS in America. There was no response other than disgust from the merry Klan that marched on while I yelled back:
McCain would need to use a life line to call Senator Coburn and the homophobia contributing to the national epidemic is what prevents us from ending AIDS at home.
As the group made its way to the staging area, I followed behind and ran into a dear friend, a vivacious Puerto Rican woman also living with AIDS. She was volunteering with Red Hispania to educate the Latino community on HIV/AIDS and the growing disparity in that community. Vivian quickly joined me at the staging area to ensure the disgust from the national AIDS community was made known to McCain's surrogates.
Florida State Representative Ellyn Bogdanoff took the stage and shared with the audience how important it is to vote and that the last election she barely retained her office with only 12 votes. I sharply responded that she should start packing and chanted "Chiari"- a dear friend and champion for the AIDS community who is running against her but lost last year by 12 votes. Chris Chiari is the very same friend who accompanied me and Commissioner Suzanne Boisvenue to advocate on my behalf when I was denied access to a pharmacy location to access my HIV medications.
Ellyn and people stained with McCain/Palin shirts glared at me. Ellyn quickly introduced Lieberman. As he made his way to the front of the stage a few dozen white people cheered while about the same number of Whites, African Americans, Latinos and a homosexual booed the self-proclaimed Democrat supporting a candidate who fails to address the needs of underserved communities and Americans we only dare speak of.
At one point during the rally a burly man bigger than me continued to poke me in the shoulder telling me I was in the wrong place and needed to go elsewhere. I told him to stop poking me before I have him charged with battery. Completely irate, that man stood behind me screaming into my ear.
The toxic level of hate, homophobia and racism expressed by the Klan of supporters provided me with proof that a culture of social injustice is at our front door. A culture expressed by the inequity of our laws and the failure for our society to truly embrace equality.
Find your voice!
Compassion without Action = DEATH