My World AIDS Day Trigger

Even your big, bad indestructible Daddy Ben Bear has one. #HIV #AIDS

Revisiting an article I wrote two years ago in 2016.

Welcome back one and all. 

A little over a year ago, I started a daytime job at Goodwill industries in their e-commerce department in Hillsboro, Oregon. They pretty much hired me on the spot, and I was grateful to have an employer that went out of their way to hire those with barriers to employment, one of mine being openly HIV+ for over two and a half decades. Yes, even in this day and age, HIV discrimination still happens…

I started in the smaller group of the two in our local e-commerce department: Books and Media. I immediately clicked with all of the people in this group, as it really did feel like family. For those not aware, we take donations, things that you probably have dropped off instead of sending to the trash, and do our best to not only repurpose them, but to make them presentable enough to re-sell at a discount to fund programs that assist the disabled and offer free job placement to our local communities, among others. Yes, not only did they hire a batshit crazy old queer leather HIV+ socialist, their mission speaks directly to my core value system AND keeps things from the ending up in the landfill. #daddiesgogreen? You betcha. 

One morning, as I was cruising through the stacks, pulling orders for those decided to take a chance on buying used books and media from us, I happened to be right underneath one of the speakers in the warehouse. I want to say I was in aisle N3-09, right about the middle, and then I heard it. It stopped me right in my tracks.

That’s what friends are for indeed: Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Elton John.

All of sudden, it was late 1985 again. I was teleported to a time when AIDS was brand new to mainstream ears, and the fear factor was incredibly high. If you were gay, even your friends and family wanted nothing to do with you, as we still didn’t even know how the disease was transmitted. Here were four veteran artists from the 1960’s, who were well familiar to mainstream ears, who decided to risk their careers for what was becoming very commonplace in the mid-1980’s, the charity single. But instead of focusing on the very dire situations happening regarding famine relief in Africa, this one was raising funds for amFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

It reminded me of messages from the hateful geared toward those with AIDS…

Looking back, the four artists who performed this track were exactly the same demographics as those in the first wave of the infected during the AIDS crisis in the United States in the 1980’s: black women (Gladys Knight and Dionne Warwick), black men (Stevie Wonder) and gays (Elton John). One of them, Wonder, was also a person whom disability had already affected as well. It reminded me of messages from the hateful geared toward those with AIDS, that “niggers, faggots and whores” deserved this malady, as it was somehow God’s punishment for their “evil” ways. 

(l-r) Wonder, Knight, John and Warwick in 2013 for a PBS special dedicated to the music of Burt Bacharach.

Warwick happened upon the song being sung by Rod Stewart in the closing credits of a film she had seen, Night Shift, directed by Ron Howard. Of course, what Dionne Warwick story would be complete without Burt Bacharach, who just happened to be the co-composer of the track. (For the unaware, Warwick was consistently a chart presence in the 1960’s singing songs written by Bacharach and his songwriting partner, Hal David.) Bacharach and his then wife, Carole Bayer Sager, were so moved by Warwick’s desire to use the song to help fund research and raise awareness for AIDS that to this day, they still donate any proceeds from the track to amFAR. When Mike Myers, in his Austin Powers guise, raved about Burt Bacharach, know that its resonance for me was more than just celebrating one of the greatest pop songwriters of our time. 

Bacharach and Sager with their Grammy awards for the track in question, 1986.

Unbeknownst to me, the lovely Maria, one of my fabulous co-workers, happened to hear my emotional outburst from around the corner, and came to see if I was alright. I immediately caught myself, and told her this song meant so very much to me, as it reminded me of many people I had lost. She asked me if I needed a few moments to process. (That’s what friends are for, indeed.) No, I gently told her, it is more important for me to get back to what I was doing, since there were those who would not have that luxury. She seemed a little worried, and I thanked her for her concern, and then I went about pulling the rest of my stack of orders. 

For those of you who say the track is schmatlzy, you’re correct. For those of you who say it’s nostalgia, you’re correct. For those of you who don’t understand, maybe now you do. HIV infection and the stigma that surrounds it are very real in this day and age. Just ask the residents of rural Indiana, a place where Vice-President elect Mike Pence cut funding and set up a system that still makes residents feel like criminals and outsiders, according to those the New York Times interviewed for a recent article (link here)

World AIDS Day is Thursday, 01 December 2016 this year. Let Warwick, John, Wonder, Knight, Bacharach and Sager remind us all of the very thing that gives me this emotional trigger: Fight HIV/AIDS, not people with HIV/AIDS. For more information on what you can do, visit the World AIDS Day website at https://www.worldaidsday.org/.

Own your trigger, and love to you all.

Fight AIDS. Not people with AIDS.

Ben Brown Jr., owner
www.aospdx.com

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