At first, it seemed like a good way to get in better shape for a great cause. But as the months of training rides give way to the first day of the AIDS Lifecycle ride—the 545-mile, seven-day cycling event from San Francisco to Los Angeles—on June 2, I find myself thinking every day about the loved ones my wife Sandy and I have lost to AIDS. They were unlucky enough to be in the first or second wave of infections, during a time when our government turned a blind eye and left our community to fend for ourselves. An eight-hour training ride gives you lots of time to think, and remember.
In 1991, I became the first-ever staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. At the time, the ACLU was suing the Utah State Department of Corrections for appalling neglect of the medical and mental health of inmates. I was reviewing the documents from the lawsuit in my first week on the job when the name of the plaintiff in the suit jumped out at me: Sandy Henry.
I knew a Sandy Henry. She was my step-sister. I knew that some years back Sandy had been in prison on drug charges and that she was HIV positive. I picked up the phone and called her. When I told her what I was reading she laughed. “I was wondering how long it would take you to put two and two together.” My HIV-positive step-sister was the named plaintiff in one of the biggest lawsuits the ALCU of Utah had ever been a part of, and now I was her attorney.
The suit resulted in a new medical and mental health clinic for individuals incarcerated at the Utah State Prison—and it also resulted in an unlikely road show: Sandy and I visiting high schools and colleges across the state, talking about civil liberties, humane prison policy, and life choices. Our audiences were always riveted, but we saved the best for last. At the end we would tell them we were sisters—by this point adding the qualifier “step” seemed to diminish what we had become to each other.
Sandy died in 1996 from complications of AIDS, but not before being honored by the Utah State Department of Corrections for telling her searing story and helping guide young people to a different path. As you can well imagine, Sandy has been on my mind a great deal these past few months. I know she would be proud of me for doing the ride, even as she would express disbelief that cycling 545 miles was possible. I want to tell her she is one of the reasons I am riding. I want her to know she will be on my mind every day.
Sandy is one of many people who have dominated my thoughts over the last few months of training. But also on my mind are the men and women who are HIV positive and living vibrant and full lives, thanks to advancements in science, treatment, government action, and diminishing stigma. The money I am raising in sponsorships for my participation in the ride will be used by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the LA Gay & Lesbian Center to enhance the quality of life for those living with HIV/AIDS now and to prevent future infections. It may seem odd that the leader of an LGBTQ nonprofit would be raising money for organizations other than her own, but seeing how far we have come in the treatment of HIV/AIDS and how close we are to ending the pandemic is my motivation for riding.
I’m almost ready to clip in and ride off … but there is one more thing. I have raised almost $6,000 of my $10,000 goal in sponsorship support. I have never asked you to give to something other than NCLR (although I fully support broad giving by our donors who can), and it’s highly unlikely I will again. But this is a special case. HIV/AIDS impacts our community in a much bigger way than any other group—STILL. At the same time, we are on the verge of ending future infections. My kids could come to adulthood in a world where HIV/AIDS is no longer ravaging the community they have grown up in.
We all deserve that day. Your support will reinforce the point that we are ALL in this—as in so many of the day’s main issues—as one. We are not leaving anyone behind. So I am asking for whatever you can give. I don’t care what the amount is—what I want and humbly ask, is that I have a community riding with me (figuratively; honest, you don’t have to ride WITH me). As I carry the memories and stories of those I have loved and lost, I want you with me, too.
You can donate here and my list of supporters will literally be with me, in my jersey pocket for every mile. Thank you for your support and your commitment to seeing us witness the end of HIV/AIDS. My sister, Sandy Henry, and countless others gone too soon deserve at least that victory.