Monday, October 10, 2005

"I gave her AIDS"

TheWisconsin legislature has just appropriated a half million dollars in new funding for HIV in that state and named the fund for Michael Johnson, a positive advocate who has spent many years talking to youth about HIV and the need to get tested. The Wisconsin State Journal story highlights Johnson's contribution to HIV prevention in his home state and his recent health struggles. Johnson himself regrets that he has not been well enough recently to carry on the fight:

Johnson says he'd like to return to the school circuit. He feels he let the parents of Wisconsin down during the years he was too sick to speak.

He wants to tell teenagers that they and their sex partners need to get tested. If that doesn't seem romantic, tough.

"I gave her AIDS," Johnson said, nodding at his wife, Sherie. "and I love her more than anyone in the world. Why? Because I didn't know."

If Johnson's story persuaded kids a decade ago, it's even more poignant now that he's come back from his deathbed to tell it once again.

A few years ago, the theme for World AIDS Day referred to men and their role in prevention. I was asked to speak at an appreciation event held at a local CBO on that day and had to come up with something to say that fit the theme. My first response was pretty snarky: Well, men are the problem, aren't they? But I eventually settled down to the task and thought it through.

I remembered an old poster that used to be available in Texas. It was in Spanish, which I don't read, so I asked someone to interpret it for me. The graphics showed a man standing in front of a woman and a couple of children, presumably his family, fighting off a many-headed monster. The caption was translated as "To be a man." In essence the poster talked about the role of a man in protecting his loved ones from danger--including HIV.

I used that thought in my talk on that World AIDS Day. I talked about the ways in which we traditionally thought of men as protectors and looked at how they should be protecting themselves and those that they loved from the spread of HIV.

It seems that Michael Johnson has been talking about this for a lot longer. Let's hope that his work can continue.


Brad said...

I hadn't heard that Johnson passed HIV on to his wife. I had been under the impression that she managed to stay negative, though I couldn't tell you where I got that idea.

He has definately served an important role in giving AIDS a face.

Carolyn said...

Johnson's words just broke my heart. I think he offers a powerful argument for getting tested, so that one knows and can protect others. He's had such a struggle, yet protecting others still seems to be his mission.