Last night I spoke at the annual Hearts and Humans fundraiser for the Lewis and Clark AIDS Project:
Many of you know me, I’m Greg Smith and I use to work in this building several years ago….
I’m here on behalf of LCAP and the people they serve. I’m here to tell you a few things that you probably already know, and some you may not. I’m here, because my life and my life’s work have been shaped by HIV/AIDS.
I am now a therapist, and I facilitate a support group for HIV+ people here in Helena which is sponsored by (paid for) by the LCAP. LCAP provides direct services and assistance to those living with HIV/AIDS in the greater Helena area. For all that they do, we applaud them.
I am also here as a human being who happens to find himself caring deeply for other human beings, even when it’s not convenient. I assume I am in the company of people who share that sentiment…. This caring that I can’t seem to shake has brought me here to talk to you about the disease we are here tonight to face.
I don’t say fight, because I don’t believe in fighting.
But I do believe in facing. Confronting ignorance with honesty, judgmentalism with compassion and hatred with caring and love- that’s mostly why I’m here.
But we’re all here for a reason- probably a person we love, or simply because we’re compassionate. Take a moment and remind yourself why you’re here, What’s your reason?
I’d like to take a moment to pause and remember:
For all those who have died with AIDS, especially those we love.
For all those who continue to live with HIV/AIDS, again, especially those we love.
For those infected and yet untested, undiagnosed- too scared and ashamed to take that step.
For those with HIV in their bodies, in their families, in their communities- and for all those who work to help, We Remember….
This is a time for heroes. The world seems to be unstable, the economy is a mess and we are at war- on several fronts. It is a difficult time, but heroes aren’t required in easy times.
But let’s forget about the economy, the wars, politics and even healthcare for a minute.
People are still dying of HIV/AIDS in the State of Montana. People are still being infected here. Families are being impacted, lives are being changed forever because of this disease. Today. Right here.
It’s not pleasant to think about, but it’s true.
That’s where you come in. After all, this is a time for heroes.
Right here, right now, we need you.
HIV will be slowed and maybe even stopped when the shame is stopped, when the stigma ends.
When a kid in Townsend or Belgrade or Opheim or Browning or Busby won’t fear being tested.
Won’t fear the reaction of his family, his friends, his church or his country if he tests positive.
When everyone at risk won’t fear being tested because they’ve tried to love in ways some find objectionable or even repugnant -Finding love repugnant- now there’s a problem…
When people aren’t afraid to disclose their status because of fear of recrimination or losing their jobs or being ostracized.
When information is allowed to be given freely in order to prevent HIV and educate others about risk and transmission.
When the human heart becomes big enough for all people, even those we do not yet understand.
When, when, when…
We’re not there yet, that’s why this is a time for heroes.
A time to end shame and stigma and fear and ignorance. A hero will stand immovably reasonable in the face of ignorance, a hero will speak out when she hears indifference, a hero will help when people feel helpless.
This you are doing. Thank you. But we can all do it better.
And don’t stop when you walk out this door.
Don’t put your Red Ribbon away when you get home. Confront ignorance with honesty, judgmentalism with compassion and hatred with caring and love.
We’re here to stand in the way of shame and ignorance and fear. We’re here to make it more difficult for them to get past us. We’re here to bear witness to the power of Life.
We do it with Art, with Food, with Friends, with Compassion, with Hope and with Confidence.
We won’t give in to fear.
That’s not why we’re here.
We’re not here to give in.
We’re here to be heroic.