Our community has known the fear and frustration wrought by an emerging pandemic before. A lethal novel virus for which there was no therapy, vaccine or cure. A terrible social isolation painful enough in health and totally devastating when facing death. We have known the awful sense of separation from a society unconcerned because most were not personally touched by a loved one, friend or neighbor sick with a mysterious illness. The elders among us lived it, my generation witnessed it, and today the young and emerging generations know it only as history — a time when HIV/AIDS was a death sentence.
Today, in a world made much smaller by technology, we are watching in horror as a new threat many times more virulent creeps across the globe. This time, the invisible enemy strikes within all communities without regard to race, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation. This time, because the threat extends so far, the global community is making a gigantic and early effort to combat it.
The novel coronavirus has changed the world both temporarily and permanently. It dominates our news cycles, threatens the global economy and could overwhelm our health care systems. Anyone, regardless of health or age, can become suddenly and critically ill. I know — it nearly killed me.
I am a proud gay man of color and a grateful COVID-19 survivor. In the more than three weeks from diagnosis to coming home from the hospital, I rapidly went from feeling as if I had a bad flu, to struggling to breathe and being critically ill. In intensive care, I was placed on a ventilator for 11 days and put into a medically induced coma. I lost 27 pounds and one of my lungs partially collapsed. It was the sickest I’ve ever been and the scariest ordeal of my life. But I’m one of the lucky ones because I made it.
Sadly, as we confront COVID today, we are seeing some things we have seen before. Misguided and fearful people giving in to selfish concerns and irresponsible behavior all justified because only a “minority” of people have been sick or died from the virus, a false sense of personal distance from a growing threat. I am as frustrated as anyone that I can’t dine out and that our businesses are in crisis. Many are suffering today, not just those who are sick. But I know this is not permanent and that life and health must be the priority.
There was a time when the LGBTQ community had to stand and fight to mobilize world concern about HIV/AIDS, and to change hearts and minds about our place in society. That movement forced great progress, as today HIV/AIDS is a chronic, not terminal, condition. Today, my pride and my hope are that our community can be again thundering voices of reason, practitioners of compassion and examples of responsible acts and enduring love.
Steve Padilla is chairman of the California Coastal Commission, former mayor of Chula Vista and currently represents the 3rd District on the Chula Vista City Council.