For many of us, our orientation is much more than our sexuality—it’s fundamental to every part of our being. And our pride is in much more than the people with whom we sleep—it’s a pride in who we have become, our way of living, having created a reality where we can be ourselves and live with integrity and dignity.
We have a sense of pride that we are surviving in a society filled with homophobia, heterosexism and cisgender norms, and that we have opportunities to create a better community every day.
Too many of our community members did not survive, killing themselves directly (or perhaps indirectly) in the face of pressures to pretend to be someone else.
I can’t tell you why I didn’t become one of the horrifying statistics, one of those gay youth who succumbs to the effects of depression and bullying. LGBTQ+ youth are much more likely to have attempted to take their lives not because of something wrong with them, but based on lack of acceptance from families, institutions, communities that attempt to force them to be someone else.
Even if not a direct physical attempt to end the pain, sometimes it’s a slow, drawn-out suicide by means of abuse of alcohol or drugs or another form of self-harm. I’ve seen it too many times.
As a society, we’ve made great progress in the decades since I was a struggling queer kid. There are positive representations in media, a growing number of out and proud elected officials, and marriage equality is (for now) the law of the land. Some school districts have comprehensive, medically accurate sex education and life education curricula. Many local jurisdictions have ordinances making it illegal to discriminate in employment or public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
Still, there is a movement backward, attempts to prevent trans youth and adults from experiencing the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness promised to us. There are attempts to terrorize school boards and state legislatures to turn back the clock and push our progress back into the closet. We’ve witnessed recently how easy it is to demonize and scapegoat any segment of our community, with elected officials issuing executive orders to institute discrimination and installing administrators and judges in positions where they can do severe long-term damage despite the increasing numbers of Americans who support full equality.
To counter both the most vocal and the subtle efforts to divide and distract us, there are many local groups focusing on building community as well as creating systems of support and advocacy.
There are countless opportunities to donate your time and your money to key programs in our community such as Southern Arizona Gender Alliance (SAGA), Mariposas Sin Fronteras, Tucson LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Southern Arizona Senior Pride, Reveille Men’s Chorus, Tucson Pride, Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation, Desert Voices, Project Visibility at Pima Council on Aging, the Alliance Fund at the
Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, Rainbow Families, Equality Arizona and many more, including many at the University of Arizona.
I have the honor to serve as staff with one of the longest-standing organizations in the LGBTQ+ community, the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network (TIHAN):
- Providing direct support for immediate needs, as well as efforts to help people with HIV live well long term
- Increasing the volunteer capacity of caring community members to make a difference
- Decreasing HIV stigma
- Promoting HIV testing, awareness of PrEP, and U=U (Undetectable = Untransmittable)
- Advocating for additional efforts to build bridges, increase our understanding of intersectionality, and address the disproportionate impact of HIV on communities of color (and the systemic racism that has contributed to this).
There are 36.9 million people living with HIV around the world, with more than 1.1 million in the US, and several thousand people here in Pima County.
With new medications, people with HIV can live longer and healthier lives. Treatment can keep you healthy and get the amount of virus in your system to an “undetectable” level that can prevent you from transmitting HIV to your partner.
We see a wide diversity of people coming to TIHAN for help and support. In addition to having HIV, most of the people we serve live at or below the federal poverty level. Most have little or no family support.
Many of them have been beaten down by the impact of this disease upon their bodies, but also too often upon their minds and souls. They’ve faced discrimination and rejection—from families, friends, employers and faith communities. The vast majority of people have been marginalized because of their life circumstances. Stigma remains strong, and isolation and depression are still too prevalent.
So people come to TIHAN and we offer care and companionship, hope and hospitality. We offer meals and emotional and social support and care packages. We provide advocates and CareTeams and resources of empowerment. We make sure they know that they are not alone and that we will provide support to help them live with HIV as well and as fully as possible.
TIHAN is proud of our work in the community. We’re proud to have caring volunteers, compassionate faith communities and businesses, and fabulous and courageous CarePartners living with HIV. Many of us at TIHAN are LGBTQ+ and many of us are not—but we are friends and allies who have joined this march towards justice and equality. TIHAN reaches across lines of sexual orientation, building bridges of understanding and support and increasing the number and impact of allies. We are proud of our coalitions and collaborations—between people, between progressive faith communities of diverse faith, and between segments of society that have misunderstood each other for too long.
We have four immediate needs you can consider:
- Donate toiletry, cleaning, and personal care items for CarePackages (toilet tissue, bar soap/body wash, shampoo, paper towels, facial tissue, disinfecting wipes, bleach, household disinfecting cleaners, liquid hand soap, dish detergent, toothpaste, dental floss, mouthwash, toothbrushes, disposable razors, shaving cream, deodorant, hand sanitizer and laundry detergent).
- Contribute funds for $25 food cards to local grocery stores for people with HIV living in poverty. We are short, but with $5,000 more, we can provide these gift cards to the 200 people most in need through December.
- Learn about and share the life-saving information about PrEP, medication that people at high risk of HIV can take to minimize the chance of contracting HIV.
- Engage with your community, the people with whom you identify, as well as those who seem so different—until you find your commonalities. Your connections and activism, with your time and your dollars, is critical right now.
Whether it’s with the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network or one of many more groups working on social, racial, and economic justice: Find ways to contribute.
Together, we’re creating a better future for ourselves, and for those who will follow us.
Scott Blades is the Executive Director of the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network (TIHAN). More information is available at tihan.org