Many people think of the diagnosis of HIV as a death sentence, but Michael Kaplan said it was the beginning of a “new life,” one of activism and awareness.
Kaplan, who is gay and HIV-positive, spoke to a group of 10 people Thursday night as a part of the “Get the Connections” speaker series for the Association of Gay/Lesbian/ Bisexual/Transgender Student Organizations and Their Friends.
Kaplan is the second speaker in the series. Throughout the series, the association hopes to have many speakers talk about the way in which gender, race, sexual orientation and other identities intersect and how it affects their activism and work.
Kaplan is the executive director of District 202 — a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth community center. Since its opening in January 1993 more than 3000 youth have visited the center.
The center offers an accepting environment for gay youth. The center on Nicollet Mall has a sign at the entrance that reads: “Check your straight privilege.”
At the center, people can participate in a variety of activities. Underage youth can enjoy dances, programs and social events.
Kaplan began his speech by asking about the audience’s knowledge of AIDS. The round-table discussion addressed being HIV positive and how that should affect being gay.
Kaplan tested HIV positive in March 1992, around the time when Magic Johnson had just been diagnosed, when many people were getting tested. Because of a backlog of tests, it took six weeks for Kaplan to get his results. Kaplan said that he was very fortunate, however, to have a supportive family from the beginning.
He spoke about how being HIV positive affects his activism and work. He emphasized the importance of prevention and teaching.
To date, there have been around 2,000 AIDS cases in Minnesota, in addition to 3,000 cases of HIV. Of these cases, 500 to 1,000 people have already died of AIDS.
“There are over 300,000 people who have died unnecessarily from this disease,” said Kaplan.
Kaplan finished his speech by saying that AIDS is 100 percent preventable. “We need to lighten up about speaking of homosexuals and drug use and give more information about prevention,” Kaplan said.
The audience then asked questions about topics ranging from the latest line of drugs that slow the effects of the virus and what is being done to make them more accessible, to why there isn’t more training about the disease in the health department and food service areas about the disease.
Following Kaplan’s presentation there was a reception so people could meet him informally and ask him any other questions they had about the speech or his work.
“The series is very important because everyone needs to recognize the connections’ between various forms of oppression and use that knowledge for social justice. That includes those within the GLBT community as well as other groups,” said Megan Thomas, the association’s office coordinator.
The “Get the Connections” series will continue with an average of one speaker a month.