Thursday, July 26, 2012

Whats the take away the International AIDS Conference?

Activists, Advocates and people from around the world converged on Washington, DC for the International AIDS conference. For those of us living with HIV it was a time to simply feel normal. Taking medication on a schedule, regular conversations regarding struggles with HIV were had and for all of us it was a time to refocus our efforts towards a cure.

With only a few days left of the conference we  all must ask ourselves what is the take away from this conference. Is the conference simply a time for us to travel or is it a time to reaffirm ourselves to fighting to reduce stigma and raise awareness surrounding HIV/AIDS? I would hope that the latter is the take away from this conference and for me it is!

I will forever hold this experience in a special place in my heart and the memories that I have made. Whether it be protesting and marching in front of the White House, special moments with Timothy Brown aka the "Berlin Patient" or living closely with a team of activists from around the world, this has been amazing. Many times this week I have compared this trip to that of civil rights activists who boarded buess and migrated to Washington, DC all in efforts to bring about social change.

I have marched this week; I have walked shoulder-to-shoulder with others who are as passionate about HIV/AIDS as I am and it was exactly what I needed. "ACT UP, FIGHT BACK, FIGHT AIDS" was the chant that could be heard by over thirteen thousand activists and I am proud to say that I was one of them. As I packed my car and made arrangements to come to DC the days prior to the conference I knew that this trip was going to be life changing however I could never have anticipated the utter importance of this trip. I knew that it was something that I had to do at all costs and though there were sacrifices, what I personally am taking away can never adequately be put into words.

Life long friendships were made and had that been the only thing that I achieved it would have been a success. The time that I got to spend with Timothy Brown has been priceless and I am so thankful for that. As I stood in a conference room awaiting the announcement of the Timothy Ray Brown Foundation that will focus on funding research for a cure, I knew that I was witnessing history. As I walked behind Tim as he walked into the conference room behind the line of sight of the media corp and in those moments we had a conversation and shared a hug. It was this interaction that a photographer from Reuters captured and would ultimately be spread across the Associated Press globally.

It was the shared moments that I had during this past week with activists who have fought the fight that I am now engaged in but when the HIV/AIDS movement was in its infancy. We are now thirty years and thirty-million dead globally into the movement now the demands from activists has evolved from treatment to a cure.

What was simply my desire to be who I am would also forever be documented by photographers and television stations around the world. The sign simply read "I am HIV+" and I stood in front of the Washington monuement and the White House with one desire... to let others know that I am here. Additionally I wanted to let others that are living with HIV/AIDS know that they do not have to hide who they are and that there is nothing to be ashamed of.

Protesting the Mayor of DC with Robert was another memory that was very spontaneous but ultimately is the shere definition of who we are. At the core of who we are we are wanting to change the world and the split minute decision to join our brother and sister activists was the right decision.

What can I say? The memories will forever remain in my heart and my mind as some of the best times of my life. It is not by chance that almost every photo of me taken during the conference show a huge grin on my face. Activism for me in not a romantic notion or simply something I do because I am bored, but rather because I know that I can be part of real change, not only within the United States but globally.

Aaron Laxton
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