Today is World AIDS Day, the day to remember the 25 million people killed by the disease and the over 33 million people worldwide living with HIV.
Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to profile Kevin Beauchamp and Howard Orlick in the Voice cover story “Maybe I Do and Maybe I Don’t.” Both Kevin and Howard are legally blind, have been living with AIDS for years, buried their former partners (at very young ages) to the disease, and now work as HIV/AIDS educators and activists. We chatted with them this morning to talk about who they’re remembering and how’ll they be spending their day.
The Voice: (to Kevin): So who are thinking about today?
Kevin: I’m thinking about David, my late partner, of course. For me, generally what happens on this day is, through out the day, just random people will pop into my head, even if I haven’t though about people for a couple of years – friends, co-workers, that kind of thing. Out of the blue, I’ll think of them.
How many people did you lose? Or did you lose count?
Kevin: I was fortunate in that I was one of those people who didn’t have to cross off my entire address book. For me, I lost about a half dozen close friends, and many acquaintances and co-workers.
We talked about your David a lot when I was writing the story about same-sex marriage. What are you thinking about him today?
Kevin: I am thinking about how much David overcame in his life. He had such a tough upbringing, with alcoholic parents and a lot of abuse in the home. It was really not a good childhood. Yet he managed to deal with all of that, and got through high school living with a family friend and sleeping on their sofa for the last year and a half of high school. And then, literally, it was the classic story – he got on a bus the day after graduation and came to New York City. And he got a job to support himself, and went to FIT and got a degree, and moved on from there.
He overcame so much, and still, in the end, HIV and AIDS got him before he turned 40.
It’s like, there was so much effort and so much work, and he still didn’t make it. That’s kind of what I think about him right now. I miss him. I wonder if we would still be together? One never knows, but it’s really a big part of it. The hard part is not knowing how life would be different if all of those people hadn’t died.
What will you be doing today?
I’m going to the Bronx to do a workshop for the Trevor Project, and from there I’ll swing back downtown by the house, then go to my philosophy class at NYU. From there I’ll go to the radio station [to be on Paul Novello’s show “Gay Life Solutions” on WWRL 1600 AM at 10:00 PM]. Howard is going to an Occupy Wall Street march leaving from Zuccotti Park at 11 to demand an increase in AIDS funding. We had discussed me going yesterday, but I think I am going to take a pass. As much I would like to go, that may be the one thing I can’t slip in…And, as Howard points out, I have been living with AIDS since 1996! (Laughs.)
Howard? What are you thinking about today?
Howard: For me, I always think of World AIDS day as the day for the people who died with AIDS versus the people living with AIDS. I always think of 1996. If you got sick before 1996 you died and if you got sick after 1996 you took medication and hopefully you are still alive. The irony of the timing.
I think about Peter, my first love. I think how different it was with him – how different life was versus with other boyfriends who came later. We were both kids and we were both starting out together, and we both had nothing, as we were both brand new in our careers. We were building a life together from nothing. Whereas when I met Ernie or Kevin we were both established and we were both set in our ways. With Peter it was young love.
How old were you when you met?
Howard: We were 26 and 27. Looking back on it, we were kids! We thought we were adults but we were kids.
Like Kevin, I didn’t know lots of people who died in the eighties. Peter and I became positive in 1987, and, as you know from our story, we put our heads in the ground and we basically ignored it. Then after he died in 1995, in 1996 I joined a group for people living with HIV. Then I got to watch people die, one a week. It was funeral after funeral after funeral. I stopped and thought, now tell me again: why did I join this support group? It was scary! It was a scary time. I am not sure coming out of my denial was a good thing. It was important. It is better to be educated and be supported by good people than to be on your own.
I think of all the people that never got out of their 30s. I think of the contributions they would have made, could have made, and never had the opportunity to make.
You spoke at Vassar, your alma mater, about AIDS last night. How did that go?
Howard: It felt really good. It felt in some way like I was honoring Peter, and it felt like you’re making a difference. I had two messages I wanted to communicate to the students: one is have a plan in life but leave room for change, because shit happens. The other thing is that AIDS still kills.
Who were the students in the audience?
Howard: They were students who work for the health department. I was training the trainers. There were about 20 of them. It’s hard to get people to come to these things because they think they know it all. But, once they’re there, it’s almost like they were interested in a history class, because they didn’t live through it like we did. It’s also good for me. I get so frustrated by people who have AIDS and just moan about it. Kevin and I are making lemonade out of lemons.
And I pointed out last, which is kind of ironic, that Kevin and I and most of our friends wouldn’t know each other except for AIDS. AIDS has completely changed my circle of friends, the focus of my life, my life, my career. For the better? I don’t know. I think so.
Today is a kind of reflective day. Today is maybe our D-Day, or our liberation day. Today is the day you try to hope people realize AIDS is still here, it still exits, it’s still something t be avoided.
Today at least it’s easier to avoid, because you know what causes it and how it’s transmitted. We didn’t know back in the eighties.
You can hear Kevin (and maybe Howard, too) talk more about life with AIDS tonight with Paul Novello at 10:00 PM on WWRL 1600 AM or www.wwrl1600.com.