This week, guest videographer and editor Matthew Ladensack and I are accompanying the more than 2700 riders and volunteers of the AIDS LifeCycle and collecting their stories. If you’re not familiar with ALC, it’s the world’s largest annual HIV/AIDS fundraiser where riders bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles over the course of 7 days. We won’t be riding bikes, but will be riding with the Press Corps, a group of reporters, photojournalists, bloggers, etc., to help document the ride.
In her story, Kari Samuels shatters any preconceived notion you might have about who can contract HIV/AIDS.
“Back in 1994, I remember sitting down in our Poconos house with my sister and my mother and my mother’s husband at the time. She told us she’s been living with HIV for over 10 years and she now had full-blown AIDS and had to tell us because she was getting ready to die.”
Kari explains how her mom’s dentist, gynecologist, and even manicurist wouldn’t see her anymore. Over the years, Kari became an activist, made her first gay friends and joined an entire community, and now idolizes her mother for her strength through the entire experience. Continue Reading to watch Kari’s story and for the transcript.
I’m Kari Samuels, and I’m from Philadelphia. When people think about HIV and AIDS they think about gay men and the fact is that straight women can get it. In 1994 I remember sitting down at out Pocono house with my sister, mother, and my mother’s husband at the time. And she told us that she had been living with AIDS, or HIV, for over ten years and she now had full-blown AIDS and had to tell us because she was getting ready to die.
My mom was a housewife before she became a career woman. And she was living in New York, she was around my age, she was early forties. Her dentist wouldn’t treat her, her gynecologist wouldn’t treat her, her manicurist wouldn’t provide services to her anymore. The stuff that she went through in the early years was really hard for her, it made her question her worth, her sexuality, everything. People thought you could get it from a kiss or a glass of water or a toilet seat. That was a big part of why I wanted to come out here and start riding, to eliminate those ignorant thoughts that are still very pervasive. I remember when I was fundraising, I was at a bar and I asked everyone in the bar for one dollar, just going around. I said I’m riding 500 miles for AIDS vaccine charities and can you give me a dollar? Everybody was like yea, sure, cool, you know, and this one guy was like the only way I would ride 500 miles was if somebody with AIDS was chasing me. So I gave him a few words and tried to educate him.
Before I started riding I lived a very sort of sheltered suburban Philadelphia life. I didn’t have any gay friends, I didn’t know anybody with HIV, I mean it was taboo back then. On the plane out to Alaska I met a guy who was really hot. We started talking and I then I saw him again at the orientation day and both of us were standing around the tent assignment and I knew like two people and he couldn’t find the people he wanted I was like hey do you want to be my tent mate? So as we’re snaking through the line I learn that he’s gay and I was like ugh, I was mortified because I had been flirting like insanely. I now have what I call my gay husband and now his husband. I used to ride for my mom and now there are so many people that I ride for and I meet more every day. I think that the people who are out and proud about their health situation are so brave because they’re putting themselves, I mean again it comes back to the ignorance, but they’re putting themselves in danger of being stigmatized, being discriminated against, and I don’t know if I would be that strong.
This year the coolest thing is that my mom is here. I figure she’s only going to do this once so I want it to be the best experience that she could possibly have. When she agreed to do it she didn’t know that I would be speaking or anything like that so that was just all kind of bonus. She’s awesome, she’s my hero, she is the toughest woman I know, and I want to be like her when I grow up.