There are entirely too many atrocious things happening in the world right now. On top of the unfortunately routine tragedies of suicide, addiction, illness, and death, there are wars all over the world and planes being shot out of the sky.
There are ongoing wars in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine that continue to kill, wound, disrupt, and terrify people every day. Ground war has broken out between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, and the death toll has been rising steadily. My heart weeps for all affected.
Perhaps the most shocking and heartbreaking development in the world in the last few days is the shooting down of commercial, civilian Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. The flight departed Amsterdam headed for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was apparently shot down by a land-to-air missile as it passed over Ukrainian airspace near the Russian border. It is unclear who perpetrated this unprovoked attack that killed two hundred and ninety-five men, women, and children. Sources in the United States seem to believe that Ukrainian separatists are to blame, but it is unclear whether or not this was an accident.
Most American televised news services are focusing on the ‘whodunits’ and the one American casualty, extending general sympathies to the families of all those onboard. However, there’s a piece of this story that’s been largely glossed over that has a profound impact on the LGBTQH community.
It’s been reported that nearly one-third—roughly one hundred people—of those onboard the flight were headed for this weekend’s 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. Among them were Dutch governmental officials, delegates from the World Health Organization (WHO), and famous HIV researcher Joseph “Joep” Lange.
Dr. Lange had been working on developing HIV treatment and searching for a cure since 1983, nearly the beginning of the global AIDS pandemic. Among many other laudable things, he advocated for combination retroviral drugs in the treatment of HIV, founded non-profits who help distribute HIV medications to patients in developing countries, participated in research on how to prevent the transmission of HIV between mother and child, advocated the use of PrEP, and participated in HIV/AIDS symposiums and conferences all over the world.
The LGBT community mourns with all of the families who lost loved ones, with the countries most heavily affected by this tragedy—The Netherlands, Australia, and Malaysia—and with our HIV affected brothers and sisters who lost a great scientist and one hundred advocates in this senseless tragedy. As we mourn this loss of life, of intellect, and of advocacy, we must recognize that it is also a call to action. One hundred HIV advocates and researchers were killed; we must each, in our own way, step in to take their place. The world needs more microbiologists, immunologists, activists, and policy-makers to defend our HIV+ community as well as search steadfastly for a cure. We must advocate understanding and seek to put an end to all this death.
BRIEF ASIDE—I am home from my purgatorial and closeted vacation with my family. I am okay, but still trying to work through the many thoughts and feelings that were borne from it. A post on this topic is forthcoming.