Tell their stories on World AIDS Day
December 1st is World AIDS Day. Who are you thinking of today?
I choose to think of my old friend, Simon. In my 20’s I lived next door to this wonderful, warm and kind man. Picture – if you will – Hank Azaria’s character, Agador, in The Birdcage. Simon hailed from West London, rather than Guatamala, but the penchant for denim hot pants and bare feet was identical.
As an aside, if you haven’t seen The Birdcage, get thee to a video store… or, since it’s 2016, iTunes – and purchase it forthwith.
Anyway, about Simon… in the early 2000’s, I travelled a lot for business, and inevitably as my cab would pull up to the front door after a long week away with work, Simon would pop out of his front door, wearing cut-off shorts and little else, ready for a chin-wag about the week’s events. Or else, he’d already be out front, polishing his black BMW. He liked to see the raindrops stand out on top of the wax (this was England, after all).
Through Simon’s stories, my eyes were opened to his echelon of the gay community in way I’d never imagined before. Back then Simon had already been living with HIV for 10 years. He’d suffered depression and bouts of serious illness, but never progressed to full-blown AIDS, thanks to the cocktail of drugs he took every day.
We shared a mutual love of the White Isle – Ibiza – and one summer, we caught up there for a magic weekend experiencing the gayer side of the incredible Ibiza nightlife. From a secret doorway that opened up to a bar hosted by a fantastically gorgeous transvestite; to a restaurant named Mama Pomelo in Eivissa, where the proprietress had cared for Simon when his lover was in hospital… Ibiza was a second home to Simon – and to me.
Sadly, I lost touch with Simon and I don’t know what happened to him – whether he beat HIV, or whether he succumbed. I truly hope that he’s alive and doing well (and still shining his BMW in the rain).
Perhaps on World AIDS Day we should raise a glass to those, from the gay community or not, who have been affected by this dreadful disease. With a cure ever closer, and AIDS no longer a death sentence; let’s remember the amazing stories of those who have battled the disease, raised its profile and furthered progress in the search for a cure.
Rock Hudson admitted in 1985 that he was suffering from AIDS, his publicist telling the media “it has been his desire that if he can do anything at all to help the rest of humanity by acknowledging that he has this disease, he will be happy to do that.”
As one of the first Hollywood actors to admit his homosexuality, as well as the fact that he was suffering with AIDS, we can only marvel at Rock Hudson’s bravery.
In 1991, Freddie Mercury’s struggle against AIDS ended when he passed away just over 24 hours after he had publicly announced he had the disease. Choosing not to be defined by his disease, Mercury maintained his privacy until the end, in the face of constant media speculation. However, his death from AIDS was not in vain. Besides the magic of his music, he left behind a legacy that did much to raise the profile of the disease.
One of my basketball-playing brother’s great heroes, Magic Johnson has survived more than 20 years with HIV. He shocked the world when he announced his retirement from the Lakers as a result of contracting the virus. The world was even more shocked when he continued to thrive long after diagnosis. This is no longer uncommon, but the perception when he announced his illness was that he had pronounced his own death sentence.
My own hero, Nelson Mandela, famous for achieving an end to apartheid; also campaigned tirelessly to end the spread of AIDS in Africa. After his son Makgatho died of AIDS-related illness, Nelson Mandela showed the way to South Africans struggling to break the stigma that still surrounded the disease in the country. He broke down barriers, as ever, by sharing his own story – and inspiring a movement that is still fighting HIV in Africa, where an estimated 7 million people still live with the disease.
HIV is still here, so on World AIDS Day, wear a red ribbon in recognition of the 20 people diagnosed with the disease in Australia every day – and the many millions still suffering from the disease around the world.