Attending the Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s production of “Angels in America” will kick-start your brain back to the late 1980s — if you are old enough.
Memories flood of the names and faces of people who died of AIDS, people you may not have thought about for years.
Recall when people regularly died of AIDS? Their horrific, painful deaths were often filled with suffering made worse by endless assaults. Bystanders often leveled blame in deeply offensive ways because many early victims were gay men. Pastors refused to hold funeral services. There was fear. Many people refused to believe what science knew about how the virus was transmitted.
Ellen McDonald of the Rep’s marketing team exited the performance Saturday recalling the shameful way the death of a friend’s neighbor was handled. Officials wouldn’t pick up the body. They simply declared him dead. Friends wrapped the man in a sheet and carried him out of the house to an accepting funeral home.
Today you rarely hear about someone dying of AIDS or, as we reporters used to so carefully write, AIDS-related causes. Do not be soothed. People still die. But for many youths, there is a nonchalance about their risks. They never knew anyone who died of AIDS.
Kansas City is a national leader for the rate at which we get people diagnosed with HIV and get them into treatment.
And yet there is a looming reality of being a city surrounded by smaller, more rural and conservative communities. Kansas City is where many young people attempt to resettle after they come out as gay and are not accepted. They wind up here without family, without friends and sometimes falling to addictions and unsafe sex.
It’s been ruefully noted that being diagnosed with HIV is one of the better things that can happen to these young people. The disease can lead to networks of other gay people and help getting the expensive medications available to suppress the virus, along with counseling and acceptance.
Their health is a hell of a price to pay for the caring that should have been theirs all along.
Young black males who deny being gay but admit to occasionally having sex with men are another concern. They are a focus for targeted social media campaigns of the Kansas City CARE Clinic.
So the challenges are much the same as in the late 1980s and 1990s. Funding must be raised to help care for the sick. And education is paramount to stopping infections in the first place.