Eight years after losing his life partner to HIV, Eric Aoki choked up during an emotional testimony about his relationship with his lover, Steve, saying that, despite progress, much must done to move past the stereotype of the disease being just a “gay man’s issue.”
During an annual candle light vigil held by CSU in honor of World AIDS Day, Aoki told a crowd of about 80 students and Fort Collins community members that, while there is better understanding of AIDS now than in the past, awareness of the disease’s complexities remains thin in society.
Since 2005, CSU has hosted the vigil in honor of patients of the disease who have been newly affected with it or have died from the disease.
Aoki, a CSU communications professor who has participated in the event multiple times, said it is important for people who are directly or indirectly affected by AIDS to share testimonies and put human faces to the issue.
“It used to be that AIDS was just a gay man’s issue. More and more people are starting to realize that people from all walks of life can contract this disease, which is a step in the right direction,” Aoki said.
Colorado is home to 10,000 of the world’s 33 million people who are living with the disease.
Rhesa Melvin, a junior communication studies major, said the different stories from the speakers really struck a cord in her heart.
“This really gave me a new perspective of different people who are often ostracized from society because of this illness. They talked about the unfair stigmas that have been drawn of different people, and it was really sad to here the things they have been through,” Melvin said.
Melvin went on to say the event made her realize that anyone can contract the disease and that it instilled a fear in her that she will not soon forget, especially that one in five college students nationwide have the disease.
The Northern Colorado AIDS Project, which sponsored the event, was active not only at the vigil but was on campus earlier in the day administering free AIDS tests.
Jeff Basinger, a coordinator for NCAP who has been involved with AIDS service organizations for the past 13 years, was satisfied with the number of students who were tested.
“We tested 26 students today, meaning that for our efforts, we spent a little over $100 per test here at the university. That, to us, is a success for the amount of resources we have,” Basinger said, adding that if the organization had more resources, it would be able to serve a much larger population.
In his time working for AIDS service projects, Basinger said he has seen progress, but is not ready to wave the victory flag any time soon.
“In terms of services available to people in my time, our society has made a complete 180 degree turn. However we have seen a tremendous drop in awareness of the disease since the classification has been downgraded,” Bassinger said.
AIDS has been downgraded to a chronic disease from a terminal disease, meaning that with effective treatment, patients can go on living a somewhat normal life with a somewhat normal life expectancy.
But, Bassinger said, the most disappointing thing is the lack of progress in terms of patients facing discrimination from society.
“We constantly hear stories of people being discriminated against because of the fact that they have contracted the disease. This is where we need to make more strides because, as of right now, we have not made any,” he said.
Aoki, who had numerous people approach him after the event to applaud his compelling testimony, said that if there were one thing that he wanted the attendees to leave the vigil with, it would be a sense of connection.
“I want people to find a connection to the victims of this disease. The human connection is the key that will lead us to the transformation that the subject needs,” Aoki said.
Staff writer Vince Crespin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the Numbers
1 out of 5
-students in the United States have the disease
25 years or younger
-the demographic that makes up half of HIV cases
-Coloradans with the disease
-people worldwide with AIDS