I distinctly remember the homophobic bullying I experienced as young person, starting in the 3rd grade, being connected to a narrative that the only future I had in front of me was one in which I contracted HIV, died of AIDS, and burn in hell for all eternity. I was nine years old. When I was thirteen years, each week my fellow students and I were given an ongoing assignment to read the newspaper and write a short essay on an article we found interesting. In my small town of El Centro, we got the San Diego Union-Tribune, and I picked the article about a walk in San Diego that brought visibility to HIV/AIDS. I was inspired by the courage of the participants to be so open while I lived in so much fear. A teacher saw my news clipping in a different class while I searched for my homework assignment for him. He snapped and yelled at me in class, ripping the paper from my hand, “Don’t you ever let me catch you bringing this s**t into my class ever again.” I burst into tears.
The shame, stigma, and fear that many still associate with HIV/AIDS all too often prevents people from knowing their status and accessing competent, treatment, care, and prevention tools. In the months leading up to Pride every year, we contribute hundreds of Festival tickets to direct service providers such as UCSD’s AVRC and The Center to incentivize HIV testing. At the Festival itself, we typically have at least three mobile testing units on site where hundreds of people are tested over the two-day event; those who test positive are then given access to immediate services and care.
Whether it’s our direct trainings done throughout the year, partnering on public education programs, safer sex education and free HIV-testing for our LGBTQ youth, or awarding community grant funding for HIV/AIDS-related services, treatment, and prevention, San Diego Pride is committed to ending new transmissions, supporting those living with the virus, and fighting the fear, shame, stigma far too many associate with the virus.
You too can be a part of these efforts by participating in the largest fundraiser for HIV/AIDS- related work in the region: AIDS Walk San Diego. Our Pride volunteers will be out in force again this year helping our Center Family put on the event in addition to having a walking team and table. Our Entertainment Department’s Artist Liaison, Frankie Martinez, has been leading our AIDS Walk efforts and bravely shared his story with us this year. My heart and life are indebted to those brave enough to fight, to walk, and to share their raw and personal stories. It’s how we unchain ourselves from fear and shame. HIV/AIDS impacts all of us, but we are not solely defined by it. We walk to end not only AIDS and new HIV infections, we walk to end stigma so that together we can walk freely in our Legacy of Liberation.
Fernando Lopez is the Executive Director of San Diego Pride. Lopez’s years of LGBT advocacy, nonprofit management, public education, diversity consulting, media relations, guest lectures, and organizing have made him a consistent presence ensuring the struggles of the LGBT community are ever visible.