East Texans joined millions of others in the U.S. and worldwide in commemorating lives lost to HIV and AIDS and advocating the need for testing and education as part of World Aids Day.
The annual worldwide event has been held on Dec. 1 since 1988, according to its website.
About 20 East Texans gathered at the First Presbyterian Church, 230 Rusk St. in Tyler, for a candlelight vigil and brief ceremony where people spoke about the virus.
The group remembered those lost to the disease and honored those still fighting it.
Glenn Mallory, of Lindale, recalled when his partner was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985 while they were living in New York. He later died in 1989.
“In 1985, that was a pretty bleak diagnosis,” Mallory said. “It essentially meant you are going to die in a horrible way in two years of time if you were lucky. … I remember the horror of going home by myself to my own apartment and pondering what this meant, both to him and to me.”
Mallory, who does not have the virus, said he has been involved in research advocacy groups since.
Young people did not experience the seemingly sudden onset of the disease and the death toll it created while doctors rushed to create better treatments, said Dr. Jeanette Deas Calhoun, director of the East Texas CARES Resource Center and co-chair of MPowering Women over HIV.
“We have to focus upon adolescents, young people and minority women, and we need to do that because we are seeing growth among those groups with HIV,” Dr. Deas Calhoun said. “It’s reflective on the national scene. It’s reflective in East Texas. This is something that we need to pay attention to. … (We need to get) prevention information out here to our young people because if we don’t do that, (we) are likely to lose another generation.”
Carol Henson, co-chairwoman of MPowering Women, said education the younger generation is a key to stop the disease’s spread.
“It’s important that we are educated, and we continue to educate others,” she said. “Today, we remember, but when we leave, we need to fight tomorrow.”
Attendees discussed the stigma of living with the disease as a moral issue rather than a health issue.
“It’s a moral issue for us to make sure that fewer and fewer people who have it to see it as a death sentence,” said Dr. Stuart Baskin, pastor of First Presbyterian Church. “At some point, it’s going to be something to where you think it’s going to be a death sentence, and you live and die of old age from something completely unrelated to it. Until that day comes for everybody, it’s still a moral issue for us.”