By R. Andrew Daniel, IHSS provider, San Diego County
During LGBT Pride Month, I like to take a look back at how far my community has come. Throughout history we have been beaten and killed for loving who we love, and we’ve fought tooth and nail for every right we have today. But though we’ve made strides towards dignity and justice, we’re far from done fighting for equal rights.
My activism for my community has always been through care— I started at the age of 12. I always volunteered for various things, but focused on HIV/AIDS when the epidemic hit, in the days before anyone even knew what to call it, even before they called it “Gay Cancer.” I confess that I had to hide my work with it, due to the fact that my family would definitely not have approved. It was in high school that I became a candy striper working in the HIV/AIDS ward of hospitals in the 80s, that led to the in-home care I provide for my client with HIV today.
We know now that HIV and AIDS are diseases that can affect any person regardless of sexuality, but unfortunately, that wasn’t widely known in the early 1980s when the epidemic began. Because the disease affected a lot of gay men early on, a lot of fear, confusion, and shame spread throughout the community.
At the time, I was young and living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was devastated to see the amount of people dying from this disease. All I knew, even at the age of 12, was that I wanted to help people living and dying from this cruel illness.
I haven’t stopped my work as a caregiver since those early days as a candy striper. Now, I live in San Diego where I’ve worked as an IHSS provider for the same client for 20 years. I’ve provided care for more people living with HIV/AIDS than I can count. And it’s a tough job: I’ve buried every single client I have had except my current client.
Sometimes people ask me why I do it. As we all know, caregiving isn’t a glamorous or high-paying job. What makes it worth it, for me, is this: my goal in life is to make sure that at least one person in my clients’ lives sees them for who they are, and not for their disease. I want them to live with pride rather than shame. I want them to experience joy and happiness even in the toughest times of their lives. Not only do I provide care and keep their spirits up with my humor, but I treat my clients with dignity and respect – something that is often lacking because of the public stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.
Despite all the good caregivers do, it is truly a tough—and sometimes thankless—job. However, I believe that if you shy away from something just because it’s difficult, nothing will ever change or get better. That sentiment rings true in the LGBT community as well. We are no stranger to difficulties. My people have faced decades of discrimination, bigotry, and even violence—from the way HIV/AIDS epidemic was first ignored by the public, to laws designed to deny us equal rights, and horrific violence like the recent mass murder of nearly 50 LGBT people in Orlando, Florida. It’s easy to be afraid to be gay in this country. Even during LGBT Pride Month, a time for celebration, we are targeted because of who we are.
But I believe now more than ever that attacks on the basic rights of LGBT people have only made us stronger. To me, LGBT Pride Month is about recognizing where you came from, being proud to tell people who you are, and not letting anyone try to force you to be something different.
I am out and proud. I am proud to be a caregiver, and I am proud to care for people living with HIV/AIDS. I am proud to have the chance to show others that people with HIV/AIDS are individuals, not their disease. This LGBT Pride Month, I encourage others to be proud of who they are as well.