Advocacy, Education, and Contact

This month, PosPeds was invited to discuss our mission with the staff of the Southern California AIDS/LifeCycle office.

There is a lot of synergy between our two organizations, and our goals, so an opportunity to get to know each other better, and share how we can work more closely to support each other’s efforts was the goal of our meeting.

During introductions, everyone shared when they first became aware of Positive Pedalers. Almost exclusively, the answer was during their first AIDS/LifeCycle event. PosPeds has always been visible on AIDS/LifeCycle, starting with the Riderless Bike ceremony on Day 1, and then leading the ride-out from the Cow Palace. Each night in camp on the 7-day event there is a PosPeds tent, and the ceremonial dedication flags are available for people to sign. Day 3 of AIDS/LifeCycle is PosPeds day.

But PosPeds is active year-round; we promote visibility in the cycling community year-round, and nationwide. As discussed in Positive Traction last month, a strong way in which we deliver our mission of eliminating stigma through our positive public example is through simple visibility, and the opportunity for contact that this invites.

A big part of AIDS/LifeCycle, just like all other AIDS rides across the country is connecting the riders with the cause, developing the community, and sharing our stories. Keeping people riding year after year, sharing their event and experiences with friends and family often beyond our own community is one of the strongest ways we start attacking stigma, breaking down barriers and reducing stereotypes.

A large portion of our discussion with the ALC staff centered on specific ways, and discrete activities we can do to connect people with the cause they are riding for, promote visibility of HIV+ individuals, break down stereotypes, and share stories and reasons people ride.

Something as simple as having a rider talk about why they ride at the start of a group training ride, or have a Positive Pedaler discuss why they are a member and support the mission to eliminate stigma. This not only deepens connection and community but can foster a safe and nurturing environment for others to share and connect.

We are developing a Speakers’ Bureau within PosPeds. This is a framework for people who want to go out into the community and share our, and their, story.Connect with and contact: the most effective way in altering perceptions and reducing stigma. Collating a list of people interested in speaking at events, fundraisers, meetings and social gatherings is actively under way. Every member is encouraged to get involved with this. If you are interested in adding your name to the list, please contact Hoa or Greg on the Membership and Outreach committee: outreach@pospeds.org

We are excited to kick this off with AIDS/LifeCycle, collaborating with team captains and training ride leaders. We are already talking to some other AIDS rides about building similar collaborations. Please get in touch if you’re associated with a ride, no matter the size, who’d also be interested in this too.

Many thanks to SoCal ALC Director Cailin La Fontaine for inviting us to speak with her staff. We are excited to further our involvement with AIDS/LifeCycle, and take and share what we learn with rides across the country.

— by Stu McLellan

My Story

As soon as I graduated high school, I did a little California dreamin’ and headed west. It was an amazing time in my life. Each day brought new experiences: seeing the Pacific Ocean, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, hiking in the desert, and backpacking Yosemite – so much fun and adventure!

It’s a little surreal now as I remember seeing Grace Slick at the Sausalito Flea Market, or enjoying the Grateful Dead from the lawn of the Shoreline Amphitheater. Pop culture icons and moments that seemed to only live in the pages of Rolling Stone Magazine were now a part of my life.

Pretty quickly, I did enroll at San Jose State University. It wasn’t that I really knew what I wanted to do with my life, but there I felt I could figure it out. College was a place of self-discovery for me. It was where I could figure out who I was.

See, I always knew inside that I was attracted to other guys, but the world wasn’t so accepting of people like me back then. The only way I even knew to find another gay person back then was to look in the back of the classifieds section of the newspaper, under “Personals.” Everything felt very cloak and dagger.

Fortunately, I made a friend by responding to an ad and he introduced me to a local gay bar. It was my second visit to that bar when I met my first boyfriend. I was so in love and I thought it would go on forever.

We broke up after two months.

Six months later, I was very sick and the doctor said, “Let’s run some tests.”

Two weeks later I was better and back at work when I got a phone call from my doctor. He insisted I come in right away. I said, “no.”

The doctor continued to persuade me. He told me another test came back.Thing was, there was only one test I had not received the results from yet and I knew which one. So my resistance to hearing the results was my way of holding back the inevitable.

After three minutes I caved and went in.

When I reached the doctor’s office, the front desk knew who I was and took me back right away. I was led to a small room with a desk and a chair. The doctor came in, sat down, and with my unopened chart looked me straight in the eye and said, “Your HIV test came back positive.”

No matter how much I kind of knew what he had to tell me, it was still different hearing it. Up to that moment I could tell myself he might have something else to say, but no – now it was final.

I still remember the feeling of sitting in that chair. My ears had this high-pitched humming sound in them, like the noise a fluorescent light makes. It felt like I was floating above my body. The doctor continued to talk, but all I saw were moving lips.

I was afraid to tell any of my friends for fear of rejection. My family was thousands of miles away and I was ashamed to tell them. For that matter, they didn’t even know I was gay.

It’s no wonder I felt shame. Up to this point in my life I had never known anyone with HIV/AIDS. I knew very few gay people. My exposure to both was limited to the evening news. Coverage of annual pride parades and AIDS protests dotted my teenage memories. Deeply engrained in my conscience was being a child in a Texas church listening to Anita Bryant speak.

Days after diagnosis, my boss and I went for a walk, as we did occasionally. He let me know that he could tell something was going on with me and if I needed to talk he was there. I opened up. The next day he fired me.

So there I was, twenty-one years old, all alone in the world with a death sentence. I was scared.

I dropped out of college. It didn’t make sense to prepare for a future I didn’t have.

Weirdly, a bright spot was an HIV/AIDS support group I attended. Back then it was more like a strategy session for survivalists. We sat in a circle of folding chairs exchanging tips on the latest black market treatment. I still remember discussions of bark smuggled in from China that was originally used as birth control (or, so the story went). The bark would kill the virus, but it could also kill you. Needless to say, we were desperate people. We were going to each other’s funerals at a clip of one a week.

Then, something began to change. There was talk of a new class of drugs in clinical trials called protease inhibitors. Suddenly friends were leaving hospice care and the funerals slowed to one every-other-week.

Over time, the funerals stopped. Life returned to normal. Only thing was; I forgot to notice. It took more than a decade before I noticed.

In 2013 I picked my sister Deborah up from the finish line of her first AIDS Lifecycle. I knew why she rode. I was so proud of her. She said, “Charles, you have to come do this with me.”

I wasn’t so sure I had the time, but when I picked Deborah up from her second AIDS Lifecycle in 2014, we both signed up for the 2015 ride.

The first year, I showed up thinking I was riding for all of those I had lost. There were just so many. What I wound up doing was riding for me. See when I showed up to my first ride I was carrying a burden of guilt for not having picked up my boot straps and moved on in life sooner. I looked around and it seemed everyone else had. No one really talked about AIDS anymore. It was like I had woken up from a terrible dream. I wondered; had that all really happened? Did I over react?

Training for my first AIDS Lifecycle was an opportunity to meet others like me. Out on the road and at rest stops, I found out I wasn’t alone. What I was feeling and going through was a common experience. I learned to forgive myself and let go of guilt. I learned to laugh at the chaos of trying to survive a plague. Another rider told me I was “Kicking A.S.S. (AIDS Survivor Syndrome).”

By the time my second ride came along I had made so many friendships with young men and women that would come up and tell me they never knew anyone who died from AIDS. They would ask me what it was like to loose so many people, or what it was like to take care of someone dying from AIDS.

When we rode out of Cow Palace for AIDS Lifecycle in 2016, I knew I was riding for all of those young people that I had met over the previous two training seasons.

In 2017, AIDS Lifecycle participation was limited to training and donating because, instead of riding, I finally graduated from San Jose State University.

Remember that HIV support group I told you about earlier? When I first joined it I was alone and scared. The very first night a guy named Danny came up to me after the meeting. He gave me a hug and told me it was going to be okay. Danny died of AIDS complications this past summer. Honestly, I didn’t think people still died from this disease.

In 2018, when I participate in my fourth AIDS Lifecycle, it will be to remember all of those I’ve lost to HIV.

I am grateful to all of the volunteers, staff, donors, roadies, Training Ride Leaders, and fellow cyclists throughout the AIDS Lifecycle and Positive Pedaler Organizations that I’ve gotten to interact with over the years. You helped get me back out on the road – literally & figuratively.

— by Charles Evans

Member Spotlight – Sal Iannello

I am always fascinated when I reflect upon the people who have come and gone from my life. Destiny often has its own plan; therefore, we move, change job, or simply move on from a time and place in which we once found ourselves. Regardless of circumstance, these same people often impact me in ways I’m not always sure of at the moment. Sometimes it’s bad but if I’m lucky enough it is great.

On this occasion, I would like to share one of those great experiences. Reflecting back, it has to be five years since I first met Salvatore Iannello aka Sal. I met him during an ALC training ride, and boy have we had some amazing laughs and good times on the road since then.

Sal was first introduced to Positive Pedalers by long time rider Dave Marez. Dave, as he normally does, introduced Sal to numerous people but one in particular was Tim Wood. Tim was the then President of Positive Pedalers and it was during his address to the ALC cycling family that Sal was moved by the words he heard and felt empowered. So much so that on night 5, in Paso Robles, Sal felt compelled to stand and begin his personal fight against stigma by acknowledging his own status publicly for the very first time. This began a shift from within himself, and he understood it be ok. People who are positive are not damaged, but it is a manageable medical issue.

Sal celebrated his 10th anniversary of sobriety recently and I had the personal pleasure and honor of sharing his celebration. Such a huge achievement. He also celebrates daily by being of service to the community. His pride comes from helping others whenever possible. The legacy he would like to leave behind is one of compassion and service to others.

As an ambassador of good will, Sal is also an active member of the WEHO cheerleaders. Their mission is like PosPeds in that they fight against stigma of HIV and raise money for different HIV organizations. He is looking forward to participating in other HIV/AIDS rides in the future but for now his passion is ALC. He did his very first ride in memory of his brother Al who passed away from HIV/AIDS in 1990. Sal commits to riding every year so long as he has the capacity and health to do so.

Sal is strongly committed to his three daughters ages 30, 23, & 21. He is especially proud of being a single dad to his first daughter from the age of nine months until he re-married when she was four years old. When he came out (being gay) to his family12 years ago he felt he could openly talk to them and it has never been an issue. These lines of communication have allowed him to remain close and a recipient of support, something of which he is rightfully proud of.

Sal is open about his HIV status for the most part. One part of his life where he has not come out is with his family. However, he plans on being open with them very soon. He recognizes that we live in a time of PrEP and feels this is something his daughters should know more about. He and his youngest daughter are planning a bike tour from California to Florida when she graduates from collage sometime next year. (I’m campaigning for a roadie position.)

For now, we will continue to see Sal on the road training for ALC. Sal rides weekly and just loves doing it. So please join him on one of the calendared Positive Pedalers rides listed on the ALC calendar.

And thank you Sal for living your moto of “Treat others the way you want to be treated”.

— by Jose Gomez

Member Spotlight — In Memoriam Tim Welch

Whether he was wearing his fluorescent AIDS LifeCycle “Sweep” roadie shirt or zooming past on his bike, Tim Welch was instantly recognizable by his smile and his laugh.  Few things made him happier than supporting the cause that meant so much to him.

Born and raised in Wisconsin, Tim moved to California in 1981 and quickly fell in love with his new home and new friends. Among them was Andy Cardenas. Tim soon realized he had found the love of his life. They were inseparable, building a life together for over 24 years and officially married for 9 years under California law. After moving to Palm Springs in 2000, they ran a Bed and Breakfast for many years. The “333” became a favorite vacation spot, and host to many ALC gatherings.

In the early days of the AIDS epidemic Tim was so appalled at the lack of support and action, that he became a lifelong activist. He brought his engineer’s mind and focus to the fight, starting with awareness campaigns and fundraising with ACTUP LA and Long Beach. Knowing that funding and visibility would be crucial, Tim and Andy set to work organizing and selling ACTUP t-shirts and merchandise.

Their friend Wendell Jones recalls those days:

“When I met Tim Welch in the mid-eighties people with AIDS were left to die in wheel chairs in the hallway at County USC hospital. No one would share a room with them and there were no AIDS wards. The president refused to even speak the word AIDS. Drug treatment approval took years. Everywhere gay people were dying. So, the activists of ACT UP went to war. We got arrested. We got beat up. We crashed government meetings. We forced AIDS onto the front pages of the Los Angeles Times. We got dedicated AIDS wards opened in numerous hospitals. We forced the government to fast track drug trials. Many times, Tim was on the front lines screaming and shouting, ‘ACT UP, Fight Back, Fight AIDS.’ From protests in the streets, to marching on Washington in 1993 with thousands of other activists who had lost loved ones.

But this war took years and a lot of money. We raised thousands with all sorts of creative fund raisers. The day to day funding came from the sales of T-shirts and then posters and stickers and buttons. It started with a few boxes of Silence = Death T-shirts and soon expanded to dozens of different designs. Hundreds and then thousands of T-shirts, buttons and stickers showed up everywhere. Tim and Andy became the organizers of crates of merchandise. We sold them at meetings, at street fairs, at the Pride Parades.

You could not walk through West Hollywood without seeing people wearing the shirts. Not just activists. Gym boys, lesbians, senior citizens were decked out in activist wear. Tim and Andy, with the support of numerous other activists, raked in the money needed to fund the war on AIDS. Everyone who is alive today thanks to the AIDS meds that allowed people to live longer, owes a debt of gratitude to Tim and Andy and their counterparts in other cities who worked their butts off over many years to force the release of these drugs.”

In 1994, Tim and Andy took their activism and fundraising to the road – first on two wheels, with the California AIDS Ride as well as other rides around the country (including the Red Ribbon Ride) – and later on four wheels as volunteer “sweep” support for AIDS/LifeCycle. Some may remember them during one year as “Team In ‘n’ Out.” They wore their official In ‘n’ Out Aprons and hats. Another year They were “The Complimentary Sweep.” They have been a beloved part of the ALC community for many years, and rescued many a rider in need of support.

In 2016, after 36 years in California, Tim and Andy moved back to Wisconsin so Tim could pursue a new career opportunity. While there, they got involved in more local AIDS rides, including the Minnesota Red Ribbon Ride and the Wisconsin AIDS Ride.

They were making plans for more rides and volunteering when Tim was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer. He fought valiantly for his life. He lost his battle shortly before Thanksgiving and passed away with his husband and his family at his side.

Andy is determined to carry on his husband’s dedication to the fight against HIV/AIDS. He has decided to sign up as a rider for ALC 2018 and by doing so commemorate their first AIDS ride together back in 1994. “Tim had great passion for equality and justice. He believed that one voice did make a difference, and always tried to be that voice. It is my hope that I can continue that passion and drive with the same determination that he had!”

— by Chris Eisenberg

Things that make Jose Go Hmmmm

I often wonder what drives someone to join Positive Pedalers. Is it because we are positive ourselves? Do you have a loved one that passed during the epidemic? Do you even remember why you joined or even signed up for this newsletter?

It has now been 11 years since I first heard of Positive Pedalers or PosPeds as we are often referred to. It was during my first AIDS LifeCycle ride on the eve of night 3 in Paso Robles that I first heard of them. I remember how impactful it was on me to be asked if you were positive to stand and be recognized by all in attendance. I remember vividly thinking how brave they all were. It took me several years later to publicly acknowledge my very own HIV status but I can honestly say that that first night began a change within me. I recognized that it was my own stigma against myself that prevented me from disclosing my HIV status for so many years.

Another life changing moment also happened that very night. I remember having my dinner enjoying the company of so many friendly people that we were willing to share our days experience thus far. You could hear the endless chatter and laughter throughout the dinner hall when slowly it began to fade. As loud it was before, now you could hear a pin drop. On the big screen, there was a very young girl maybe 7 or 8 years old. She was happily thanking us for the work we were all doing and motivating us to pedal hard and asking us to take good care of ourselves while out on the road over the next few days. At first, I could only imagine that she was thanking us on behalf of a brother, dad, uncle, or someone to that effect. It was soon after that we all realized that she was thanking us on her very own behalf. She had been born HIV positive. This little girl was dependent on the generosity of others so that she one day can attend her graduation and years’ worth of other accomplishments beyond that. That moment changed my life.

I willingly dedicate my time and oftentimes lots of energy to fight against the stigma that still surrounds HIV/AIDS because I can look back to that first ride and being afraid to stand and be recognized and yet this young girl easily did. I can only hope and pray that she continued to thrive because of the work that is being done. She should be graduating soon or possibly already has and I hope that she has been able to share her status without the fear of being judged as to how she may have become positive. Remember, it was not her decision.

So, to this day and for as long as HIV/AIDS is still a concern I will continue to raise money, I will continue to fight against stigma even if comes only from within.  Edward Everett Hale said it best for me. “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

Thank you all for being part of change.

— by Jose Gomez

Doreen Gonzales awarded 2016 Stand-Up Award

Contrary to popular belief, Lorem Ipsum is not simply random text. It has roots in a piece of classical Latin literature from 45 BC, making it over 2000 years old. Richard McClintock, a Latin professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, looked up one of the more obscure Latin words, consectetur, from a Lorem Ipsum passage, and going through the cites of the word in classical literature, discovered the undoubtable source. Lorem Ipsum comes from sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” (The Extremes of Good and Evil) by Cicero, written in 45 BC. This book is a treatise on the theory of ethics, very popular during the Renaissance. The first line of Lorem Ipsum, “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet..”, comes from a line in section 1.10.32.

The standard chunk of Lorem Ipsum used since the 1500s is reproduced below for those interested. Sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 from “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” by Cicero are also reproduced in their exact original form, accompanied by English versions from the 1914 translation by H. Rackham.

Things that make Jose go Hmmmm

One cool day in January I got on the road from West Hollywood to Mariposa for our Positive Peddlers annual work retreat. Without thinking I got in my car and started to drive the 5 hour trek to central California. Part of the drive was nice and clear but as I got closer the skies grew darker and the rain began to come down. I was unaware of the rain that was scheduled to come down. I suppose I should have checked the weather but meh. I live on the edge.

As I began to slow down to match the driving conditions I couldn’t help but to think, “thank goodness I am insured, I am driving my husband’s truck!”. Then it hit me. Last weekend the Los Angeles LGBT center launched a new campaign. “F*ck w/out Fear”. Bold statement I would say, but I can’t help but to really love it. The new campaign is focused on ensuring that everyone knows that if you are HIV negative you can stay that way. We now have the tools necessary to eliminate HIV by ending new transmissions. This is huge. This is exciting. This is something that everyone who is at risk should be aware of.

I personally can only fantasize on what life could now be for me if I had PrEP available to me fifteen years ago. Yes I live a healthy life now and I have medications that keep me that way, but with new changes coming to health care and with pre-existing conditions being an issue to gain new coverage etc. I have to wonder how things would be for me if I was negative. I surely would take the precautions necessary to stay negative.

Thinking about the drive again, do we not all have car insurance just in case? No one I believe sets out on a road trip looking to have a car accident but the reality is that it does sometimes happen. We can’t surely stay home avoiding wonderful, beautiful road trips in fear of an accident. Not only do we have insurance, it is required that we have it. I can’t help to see a parallel to PrEP now. Why should we be afraid to have wonderful beautiful sex? And let’s be honest, sometimes I do not want to make love. Sometimes I just want to fuck.

For those of us who are positive, we should be able to fuck w/out fear knowing that our partner is protected. I am undetectable therefore highly unlikely of transmitting. Layer that with PrEP and a condom, magic can happen. Studies also show that not everyone is using a condom 100% of the time, so doesn’t it feel good that you are still protected? So let’s see, seatbelt, airbags, and insurance = condoms, undetectable viral loads, and PrEP. Layered approach to safety.

So if you are in favor or still deliberating on PrEP, the beauty of this is that currently there is a choice. We have options and a legitimate reason to believe that we can see new HIV transmissions disappear.

F*ck w/out Fear my friends.

— by Jose Gomez