January 8, 2014

Guilty: HIV/AIDS Stigma

In the mid-90's my family and I lived in a neighborhood that was within walking distance of several fast food restaurants. During that time, fast food was more of a special occassion trip since my mom was June Cleaver-esque and cooked a three course meal everyday for us and my dad. We would only eat out as a treat for being well behaved or having good grades and sometimes (yet rarely) when my mom didn't feel like going through the motions of cooking. My brother and I loved Burger King and McDonald's the most. The Burger King was closest to our house so we went there more than McDonald's.

I remember when I was around 5 or 6 my uncle came over to visit. I was terrified of my uncle at that time, he was very tall (especially from my viewpoint) and always wore these big cowboy hats and boots but he was kind of like the family messenger. He would come over and inform my mom of all the happenings with our extended family and with updates about their childhood neighbors and friends. He was my mom's oldest brother so I think she looked up to him, and even though I was scared of him he was still very much revered. After talking about mundane family affairs my uncle said "You know there's a girl around there at that Burger King with AIDS." I remember hearing him say it but it did not catch my attention. I didn't know what AIDS was really, I just knew it was always said with a negative connotation and a frowny face. My mom said something along the lines of "Oh ok, I didn't know that" and my uncle continued with "Yeah I'm not eating there anymore." 

Report cards were sent home some time after that and my brother and I had made good grades. Burger King here we come! I was super excited that I would experience the luxury of fries, a burger, and a cheap toy enscribed with the words "Made In China". So many of my toys were engraved with the phrase, I began to think Santa Claus was Chinese but I digress. We all hopped in the car and as usual my mom gave us some options and of course we squealed "Burger King!!!". She agreed but instead of going to the location that was 30 seconds away from our house, she made the trek to the other nearest Burger King which was about 5 minutes away. I didn't ask at the time why we went to a different Burger king, I didn't really care as long as I got a Kid's Meal.

We lived in the neighborhood another couple years then moved across town. Over those few years we never returned to that Burger King. What triggered this memory was Sunday morning I took a different route home from church and passed up the infamous Burger King. Even now as I look at it, it has a perminent stain, I don't think I could eat there if I really tried. The building is run down and unkempt but also it will always have that stigma. Back in the 90's there was A LOT of miseducation about HIV/AIDS and most discrimination was out of pure ignorance. Nowadays, there is a lot more factual information about the illness and we know that it has no face. It could be anyone. Your barber, the cashier at Taco Bell, the waiter at Chili's, the nurse at your doctor's office (Your doctor, too), your co-worker, anyone! 
I love my fellow man, regardless of their illness and I believe they should be treated with the same respect as anyone else.

Lastly, I know for a fact that lots of people my age are having unprotected sex and that's scary. I think lots of people still think they're immune to HIV/AIDS or that love will somehow overpower the disease. I am a celibacy/abstinence advocate but most people are the total opposite. Please use protection whenever you have sex and no matter who your partner is. Even condoms don't totally protect you from STDs. Also, know your partner! If that person is really into you waiting for a few months should be ok. Don't become another statistic. Even though medical advances have improved quality of life and prolonged the lifespan for HIV and AIDS patients, thousands of people die daily due to the disease. If you know someone having unprotected sex, please have a serious talk with them. Provide them with condoms if you must but help them in any way you can. 

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