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    Gaining a Better Understanding of an HIV+ Uncle’s Life

    By Lyndsey Schlax

    (Editor’s Note: Teacher Lyndsey Schlax of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts launched the nation’s first on-site high school LGBT course in 2015. She has resumed teaching that groundbreaking class. In this column, her students share their thoughts about LGBT-related matters, including their concerns, what they have learned in class and more. The below two pieces were written by students in Grade 12.)


    Class was rough recently. We addressed the HIV/AIDS crisis and the horrific death tolls that ravaged the gay community. It was hard to process such heavy content. I am, however, immensely grateful for this lesson. It gave me invaluable insights into the life of my great uncle who is currently living with HIV/AIDS.

    He has never been a completely out gay man, but my family has met many of his “friends” over the years, and could connect the dots. His closeted status is understandable, given that he was raised in Virginia and served in the Navy for the majority of his life. A message of acceptance for the gay community was never directly expressed to him.

    While I have never grown close to him, his distance and rigid pessimism makes more sense to me now than ever before. He has had to live with a challenging condition for a large portion of his life, and the infection stemmed from his acts of love toward another—an act of love already painted by the media as an immoral act.

    Then, to top it off, his partner of many, many years passed away due to AIDS. What a life of confusion, contradiction, and pain he has led. That could, in even the best-case scenario, result in a pessimistic disposition. While I have often expressed sympathy for his story, I never fully understood his journey until this week. 


    A Long Road

    When I was a kid, I went to a very liberal elementary school near the Haight. Once a year, for a few years, whichever teacher I had would take me and the rest of the class to the same play, which was about HIV/AIDS. Every year was the same. The play would tell us about how AIDS was a disease that could be transmitted sexually or through blood and, while I had no idea what sex was at the time, it still gave me a basic understanding of the condition. It has also shown how far we have come in terms of education, awareness, and understanding regarding HIV/AIDS.

    When AIDS first became an issue, no one had any idea what it was. While many of the people suffering from the disease had gotten infected with HIV years earlier (leading to AIDS), symptoms didn’t really show for most of them until the 80s. Because this “mystery illness” largely affected the gay community, it wasn’t really discussed, and some even thought of it as a punishment for those affected. Even the president kept his mouth shut.


    It eventually became hard to ignore, however, when it began affecting public figures and when gay and lesbian activists pushed for it to be recognized. Eventually, we learned about the disease and were able to figure out how to prevent it and to come up with ways to treat it. We have thankfully come very far since the days when, as a child, I went yearly to that play.

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