Light A Candle

My address at the AIDS Outreach Candlelight Vigil 2012:

You may have heard the saying, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”

For more than 30 years we have been struggling to support people with HIV. We have struggled with shame, anger, deep grief and injustice.

We have lost many good men, women and children.

Husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. Friends.

It was easy back then to just curse the darkness- blame it for not being light.

But there were people who refused to do that.

They raised their voices, they publicly shared their grief, their outrage, their compassion.

They refused to sit helplessly in the dark- they searched for light. And because they found it, we have come a long way from the darkness of 30 years ago.

In some ways, the story of AIDS is something of a human triumph.

In moving from shame to dignity, people began to live longer with medication breakthroughs. People acted out of love, not fear.

People lit candles.

We are just learning that treatment is prevention- HIV+ people on medication are much less likely to pass on the virus.

That means getting everyone at risk tested. And if they are positive, to get them on meds as soon as possible. If we did this, we could stem the tide.

But we know the people most at risk are not being tested. We also know why: Denial, fear and shame are holding that testing room door shut. Cursing the darkness rises once again.

It’s time once again to search for candles to light.

I know we have a difficult job to do. We have to push testing without stigmatizing those infected. We have to ask people to care for their health- and the health of their community, without creating a too-rosy picture of life with HIV.

How do you say “Don’t get HIV. But, if you do get it, it’s not the disaster your worst fears whisper to you”?

It’s hard. But we believe we’re making progress.

Because the most important thing we have learned in 30 years is compassion. It’s the common denominator in all that we do.

It’s what we bring tonight to remember the loved ones we have lost to HIV- what we use to dignify their memory.

I believe that we are witnessing the beginnings of the triumph of compassion over the fear and stigma and shame and ignorance of our past. We are witnessing the beginnings of the inevitable triumph of light over darkness- but only if everyone lights that candle….

People at risk are people- they are worthy of dignity, compassion and respect.

People with disease are still people- they are worthy of dignity, compassion and respect. 

It’s what I believe. I also think it’s what you believe- because you’re here.

“It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

As a symbol of that optimism, tonight we light candles.

We represent our hope, our loss, our pain, our shame, our dignity and our resolve with the light of some flickering candles.

Because we refuse to sit in darkness.

Because dignity is worthy of light.