One of my favorite holiday songs is “My Grown-Up Christmas List.” In the song, penned by David Foster and Linda Thompson-Jenner, an adult recounts their wishes for humanity. Rather than asking for material presents the singer rattles off a list of their hopes for all mankind. This song resonates with me, and in listening to it recently it made me think of my own “grown-up” Christmas list. While I can’t buy a present and wrap it up for the city of Atlanta, what is it that I’d wish for my community this time of year?
Like the singer in the song, I’d definitely wish for “no more lives torn apart.” Each day I see the way that HIV/AIDS continues to ravage our community, and I see the lives of men and women who are torn apart by their new diagnoses. Also, the singer wishes that “time would heal all hearts.” Having lost friends and loved ones to HIV/AIDS, I think of them each and every day.
What a gift it would be for time to heal the wounds of all of our hearts, and to take away that longing for loved ones lost. The song lyrics go on to express a desire that “every man would have a friend, right would always win, and love will never end.” I’m sure that many people would wish this for themselves and others. Too often, I see that the continued social stigma of HIV/AIDS tears friendships and families apart. People are uncomfortable with things they aren’t familiar with; rather than embracing changes and educating themselves, people often turn their backs when friends and family need them the most. Sometimes that friendship and support is the greatest gift we can give or receive. Likewise, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t support people getting the care they need. Despite that, our state has the second highest waiting list for our AIDS drug assistance program (ADAP), and people continue to struggle to get the care and support that they need.
Inspired by this song, and by this season of giving and hope, I have come up with my very own grown-up Christmas list. Topping that list, I’d wish that everyone would know their HIV status. We’ve made so many advances in medication and outreach, but that doesn’t matter if people don’t even take the time to get tested and know their status. With free testing available at AID Atlanta (and other area organizations) there is no need for anyone not to know their status. Second on that list would be that people would know they are loved and supported. Whether you are HIV positive or negative, there is a place for you in our community.
There is a seemingly endless array of support groups, discussion groups, and social outings that will allow you to connect with other people who understand where you are coming from. We all need a friend, and more over, we can all be a friend. If you don’t know where to start, you could check out one of AID Atlanta’s Happy Hour events, Coffee Talks, or our monthly OUT 2 EAT supper club. Lastly, my list would call for an end to our societal apathy. A problem for anyone in our community is a problem for EVERYONE in our community. Until we get over our own discriminatory patterns, and stop our own divisive behaviors, we will never fully unite as the community that we can – and should – be.
This holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa (or some other seasonal celebration), I hope and pray that we all will get our wishes granted.
Steven Igarashi is the Gay Men’s Outreach Program Coordinator for AID Atlanta. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.