Reflections of a Seasoned AIDSWatch Advocate

I believe I attended my first AIDSWatch in 2013. To many of the HIV advocates there, I was totally unknown, so my excitement, anticipation and desire to rush around meeting people that I’d been conversing with via social media was uncharted waters. Looking back on it, I think they were uncertain of me because, despite being in my 50s, I was a new kid on the block!

Fast forward to the months and weeks ahead of AIDSWatch 2020 and again I was uncertain — not because I was going to be the unknown entity at this year’s conference or because of troubled political waters, but because of the appearance of a different type of virus. As it got closer to conference time, a new and even uglier beast — one that was taking the lives of people in other countries — finally arrived in the United States. It was the beast we all now know as coronavirus or COVID-19.

AIDS United and the partners that host AIDSWatch each year had a decision to make: They could cancel the conference entirely or they find a way make it happen without endangering any lives. This advocate was immensely gra

teful when I got email stating AIDSWatch was to be a virtual event! After hearing the news, I immediately emailed AIDS United staffers and asked if I could register. They told me, “Yes, you can!” So I did.

A few days after I registered, it was brought to my attention that AIDS United had made an unprecedented decision: This Virtual AIDSWatch was to be free for anyone who wanted to cyber-attend! I was so excited I shared via Twitter and Facebook … everyday!

Many people may not realize that I am no longer physically able to rip and run like my fellow advocates remember being normal for me. Extreme asthma with a side of aging with HIV has caused me to acknowledge my limitations.

Trust me, that’s not an easy thing to do.

I shared with all my social media and with my AIDS United family how phenomenally “next gen” thinking it was to have virtual AIDSWatch. I know that I’m far from the only person who wanted to attend AIDSWatch and who can benefit from the education that AIDSWatch affords attendees, but is unable to be there physically.

It is my hope that this virtual AIDSWatch is a new beginning; a different way of determining what it means to attend AIDSWatch and who gets to participate. Many of us are physically unable to do all that walking from the Senate offices to the House offices, which can seem like they’re miles apart when you have trouble getting around. But, those of us with mobility issues want to be able to access the trainings and the breakout sessions. We deserve to have the opportunity to be at the networking breakfast and lunch and the awards event where folks get to meet Elizabeth Taylor’s family who carry on her mission.

All those are things that motivate true advocates. We want to be a part of them and we’re grateful that the virtual AIDSWatch was able to do that. Some of us advocates can’t rip and run like we used to, but our fingers sure can use all 280 of those Twitter characters and share Facebook and Instagram posts like crazy.