Mark Johnson was a student at the University of Louisville in 1982 when he saw an article at a library about a “weird, odd” disease. The disease, Gay-related immune deficiency, affected gay men in California and was killing them. Johnson, as well as the rest of the nation, was unsure about what it was.
That disease, of course, would become a medical and even moral crisis that has had a vast impact in the decades since.
“It has blown all of us away,” he said.
A crowd of more than 100 people listened Sunday to Johnson and the testimonies of others about how the pandemic affected them. They spoke before Lexington’s 25th annual AIDS Walk for Life.
Monica Lee Ridgeway, a Paducah native, said her experience with the disease included a prior sexual relationship with a man who “wasn’t completely honest” with her. One day, the man told Ridgeway that he was HIV positive.
“I was very scared,” she said.
Ridgeway and the man got tested on Dec. 1, 2012. She ended up testing HIV negative. Now Ridgeway works in the HIV branch for the Kentucky Department of Public Health, helping to educate the public about HIV.
HIV, also known as the human immunodeficiency virus, was originally a disease that affected primates. It was transmitted to a human sometime before 1960, according to the AIDS Institute. HIV attacks the body’s immune system, which makes a person more likely to get infections or infection-related cancer, according to aids.gov. AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is the final stage of HIV infection. More than 1.2 million people in the United States have HIV and about 36.7 million people were living with HIV worldwide at the end of 2015.
There is no cure.
The walk started at the Robert Stephens Courthouse Plaza, made its way to the Lyric Theatre before heading back to the plaza. Many of the walkers were wearing red, a color used to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, and holding signs that included language such as “Spread Love Not HIV.” While at the Lyric Theatre, walkers could pick up brochures about the virus and view a photo documentary about those affected with HIV/AIDS.
AVOL, also known as AIDS Volunteers Incorporated, organized the event. The organization provides HIV testing and living arrangements for those with AIDS.