January 8, 2010

January 8, 2010
A Day of Doctors


Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Friday and I hope you are having a safe and great week so far.

Today is one of my longest and best friend's birthday. So Happy Birthday Diane. I hope it was a great one for you!

I am still in Jacksonville, Florida. Today I had another doctor's appointment and then had to go to the pharmacy to get my medications filled. It was great seeing the friends who work at AHF but sad at the same time since I know it is one of the last times I will get to see them. The news from the doctors was not what I was hoping for but at least I am still here.

Then it was time to run a few errands and continue packing up the house. After I finish this I need to start packing to get ready for the drive back to south Florida. I am so ready to get back to some slightly warmer temperatures since it is still around freezing here.

I have spoken a lot about Dab the AIDS Bear and I working on getting the United States to lift the HIV travel ban on visitors. Good news! The first traveler with HIV arrived yesterday.

Clemens Ruland from the Netherlands, is believed to be the first HIV-positive person to enter the United States freely following the removal of the long-standing HIV travel ban.

AIDS advocates in the United States and abroad rejoiced on January 4 when President Barack Obamaís administration officially lifted the countryís 22 year old ban on HIV positive travelers. But few are happier about this policy change than the Netherlandsí Clemens Ruland, who, traveling with his HIV negative partner Hugo Bausch, is being recognized as the first positive person to legally enter the United States following the banís removal.

While Ruland once made frequent trips to the Big Apple to visit his then boyfriend, the hassle of hiding his HIV status and medications from airport officials following his 1997 diagnosis grounded him in more ways than one.

After Obama announced on October 30 that the travel ban would be removed, a Dutch AIDS organization called AIDS Fonds held a celebratory contest inviting HIV positive people in the Netherlands to submit artwork that expresses their joy about the policy shift. Ruland wrote a poem that, coupled with an illustration by Bausch, won the pair a trip to the United States.

In anticipation of his January 7 arrival at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, the 45 year old Ruland spoke about what this historic journey means not only to him, but also to those living with and affected by HIV worldwide.

What was going through his head as he prepared for his trip to the United States? The following is his answer: I am mixed between two emotions, because in one way it feels like a victory and in the other way it also reminds me of the fact that I got infected in New York by my ex.

On the other hand, it makes me think back to a Dutch guy, Hans Paul Verhoef, who got arrested at an airport in the United States at the end of the 1980s, and he was one of the first [travelers] who did not want to deny his HIV [status to customs officials]. He got arrested and was sent home, and he got a lot of publicity. And to my mind, my trip is also a way to honor this man who had the guts to stand up against this horrible ban. [Verhoef died in 1990 at age 33.]

Why do you think it took so long for the travel ban to be lifted?

Since I am not an American, it is a bit hard to find a right reason. But I would say that it has something to do with the power of political conservatives in the United States especially in the days of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s when this ban was created. As far as I know, it was [former Republican Senator] Jesse Helms who fathered this legislation. In Europe Iím glad we were already, in those days, more liberal toward this point.

How often would you travel to the United States before you were HIV positive?

I met my ex at the end of the Gay Games in 1994 in New York. Our relationship ended in 1997. I would travel to the U.S. every six to eight weeks, but I did not know I [was HIV positive] then. I found out after my breakup. After we got separated, I discovered I was infected by him.

Have you been to the United States since your diagnosis?

I have been back once. In the beginning I did not want to go back because it was too emotional. The city which I loved for all the good times [my ex and I] had when we were together was a little bit ruined by the fact that I did not want this relationship to be ended in the first place. And it was even worse when I found out he had infected me, just because of irresponsible behavior.

But I did come back once with my lover I am with today. We went back to New York five years ago.

What kind of obstacles did you face coming in?

I had to lie about being HIV positive, and I had to try to hide my medication. But I had been an AIDS nurse in the beginning of the 1990s here at one of the major Amsterdam hospitals, and I had learned some tricks how to try and keep medication away from customs and immigration.

As someone who is looking at the United States from the outside, what message do you think lifting this ban sends to the rest of the world?

I hve thought about it, and the only way I can put it is it gets rid of some part of your hypocrisy. It is like your president said lately when he signed the [Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act]. I saw it on YouTube. He said if we want to be the leading country on stopping this disease, we have to lift this ban. I have to admit a lot of people here [in the Netherlands] werenít aware that the United States had this exclusion, and people are shocked to hear that the U.S. had a travel ban until [January 4].

While you are in New York City, what are you looking forward to doing?

To just enjoy that lovely city! We want to see some great museums. One of my dear friends lives in New York, and he supported me all those years after my breakup with my ex and after I found out Iím HIV positive. Iím really looking forward to seeing him after many years and having a good time together. Of course, we also want to shop till we drop.

Read Rulandís winning poem below.

ďPositiveĒ

No more lies No more pretending No more hiding In the crevices of exclusion

Honesty to the land where once lay my destiny in one viral load

Free I am Free to travel To hug, share, love And once more be united

Alive and proud I turn to you, America America, here I come Come as I am

HIV+

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope and happiness.



big bear hug,





Daddy Dab