Submitted by Nori Hubert
I volunteered to take photographs of the 2016 AIDS Walk and festival for ASA’s website. This year, the festival was based in Palm Park, with the Walk route heading up Brazos Street across East Sixth, up Congress Avenue, looping around the Capital Building and back. Even though it was blistering hot out for an October Sunday (but hey, it’s Texas) it was a very rewarding and fun experience to take photos, chat with walkers, vendors, ASA staff and volunteers, and pet all the dogs. The Mobile Testing Van was in attendance, as were rockin’ community partners such as Walgreens, Planned Parenthood, Pink & Silver Fashion, and Texas Chili Queens (side note: try the vegan chili). Austin Prime Timers led the Walk as the top fundraising organization. Senator Lloyd Doggett eloquently delivered the kick-off address. And, in true Austin fashion, there was plenty of live music to keep the spirits high. There was also a Ribbon Memory Tree in the middle of the park, where folks could tie sparkling tulle ribbons in red, white, or silver to honor loved ones, and chalkboard where participants could write their reasons for walking.
I wrote: “For survivors, like me.”
I came very close to a positive diagnosis when I was eighteen years old. I’m still not entirely sure how I managed to escape a three-year period of sexual abuse free of disease, especially since at that time I had no access to quality sexual health care. I was so afraid coming out of that, it took me another three years before I worked up the courage to get tested. I know I am lucky – I am old enough to remember the AIDS crisis of the early 1990s, when there were still images on TV and in the newspapers of dying people. It could have been me. Every day, I express gratitude that all my tests came back negative.
But I am still afraid. Not for myself, because now I am empowered and in control of my health, but because so many people even just a few years younger than myself don’t realize that AIDS is not a thing of the past. We have come so very far in prevention, treatment, and life expectancy since that fateful summer in 1981, but 15,000 new infections occur in the United States alone each year (last year, there were 300 new cases in Austin) in young people age 15-25, with queer youth and youth of color at highest risk.
That’s why I am proud to contribute time to and organization like AIDS Services of Austin – it is an honor and privilege to be a small part of work that literally saves lives.
I saw the Prime Timers carry the AIDS Walk banner high. I saw multiple groups and individuals in the crowd with signs and banners baring photos of friends and family claimed by the virus. I saw too many ribbons tired to the Memory Tree and In Loving Memory Of’s written on the chalkboard. One walker wore a handmade shirt that read “32 Years Positive, Still Very Strong.” Senator Lloyd Doggett gave a moving speech urging each of us to fight for our health with our vote.
I am afraid for my community. But I am also proud: we have survived (and thrived) despite this disease and the stigma that comes with it. I am proud to walk beside so many courageous people because we are walking in the footsteps of those who have walked on from here – and forging the trail for those who come after. The media badge is just a perk!