I love to paint my fingernails. It’s my favourite way to unwind and a great way to express myself – soft pink, bold red, vibrant blue. It is not uncommon to see me with three different colours within a one week period.

Last night I was painting my nails a deep red that is full of life. This particular polish was a little bit runny and a drop fell onto my fingernail. As the drop ran down my finger it looked like a drop of blood. A combination of thinking about the upcoming AIDS Walk and the reflective space I enter when painting my nails got me thinking about HIV. As the drop of “blood” rolled down my finger I started thinking about what it would mean if I had HIV in my blood.

In that one drop I saw fear and stigma and discrimination.

Shortly after I started working at AIDS Calgary, I met someone new and had the “what do you do?” conversation. When I told him I worked for AIDS Calgary, his response was “eww”. I have always worked with people who are open-minded, compassionate, and caring, so I was surprised by the response. I was so taken aback that my response was “Did you really just say “eww” to me?” He stammered. His next question was “Do you have it?”. That is absolutely a fair question if we are about to engage in a risk activity, but definitely not appropriate when discussing our places of work.

So, in that drop, I saw the fear and discrimination and stigma that people living with HIV must face every day – health care professionals taking a step back when they learn their new patient is HIV positive; being harassed in their apartment buildings because someone illegally outed them to their neighbours; the surveys people complete before receiving HIV education stating that they wouldn’t share a plate or a hug with someone living with HIV.

In that drop I also saw lost love and lost opportunity.

When I came out as a lesbian I learned what it felt like to have to come out on a regular basis and I knew that some people were not supportive of my sexual orientation. I experienced discrimination, homophobia and homo-negativity. But, once I met someone I was interested in, I never had to question whether they would still be interested if I had this virus in my blood. I never had to worry about the right time to come out. If I were HIV positive meeting someone new would be terrifying to me. Do I wait until we get to know each other to disclose? Do I tell them right away? Do I trust that they will maintain my confidentiality?

In that drop, I realized how much I take for granted.

At AIDS Calgary, we have 100% staff and board participation in the AIDS Walk. Some of us are living with HIV and some of us aren’t. Some of us have lost loved ones, family and friends and some of us haven’t. But we all care and we all have our reasons for Walking.

I Walk because I firmly believe in the work of AIDS Calgary. I Walk because I care.

Why will you Walk?

Please join us on September 22nd, for the 2013 Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life. Register here.

This article was submitted by Tamrin Heardt, Senior Development Officer at AIDS Calgary Awareness Association.