'AIDS Orphan': Woman sparks conversation with her personal story

NOW: World Aids Day

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - There are still 36.7 million people living with HIV across the globe. Two-hundred five people are infected every minute.

In Maine, there are between 40 and 50 new cases each year.

There is still no cure.

People all over Maine wore red ribbons on Friday – to commemorate World AIDS Day. The day isn't about fundraising - it's about remembering and honoring lives lost.

One woman sat outside in Portland’s Monument Square all day on the chilly Friday. “AIDS is so personal to me,” said Crystal Gamet. “It’s so intimate.”

Gamet sat in Monument Square with a poster that read, “I am an AIDS Orphan.” She lost both of her parents, as well as her stepdad, to AIDS. She says they were infected in the ‘80s while they lived in rural Pennsylvania without much information on the disease.

She wasn’t even allowed to talk about HIV/AIDS with her friends growing up. “Because of stigma, and that's one of the reasons I'm out here too, we kept it completely secret,” she said. “My mom taught me not to tell anybody.”

Gamet has two children and a third on the way. She says telling her parents’ story is important to her healing process. “My kids will never know my parents and that's very said for me,” she said. “It's a major source of grief. I feel like I have to keep talking about it all the time. I want [my kids] to know my parents. I want them to know who they were, and I want them to know that they shouldn't have died.”

The HIV/AIDS epidemic and its aftermath are personal for Donna Galluzzo, too. That connection is what inspired her to become the executive director of the Frannie Peabody Center in Portland, a center for HIV/AIDS resources. As an “out gay woman,” she says she feels the connection. “My wife lost her uncle to AIDS related illness as well back in the '90s,” she explained. “So I think that for us as a couple and for myself personally, I just feel a real personal connection to the work that we do here and the ways in which it affects our community.”

Galluzzo says many people think of AIDS as a part of history. She says one of the questions people ask her is, “Is AIDS still a thing?”

AIDS still has a prominent presence globally, but Galluzzo says people are scared to discuss it because of the stigma.

There’s also a chance that Maine’s HIV/AIDS numbers are on the rise due to the state’s opioid epidemic.

“We're all keeping a very careful eye,” she said. “It's hard because sometimes the statistics are lagging in what happens in the world. Ourselves and anybody who does testing and outreach, as well as the CDC, are keeping a careful eye on this. And yes, I do think we're seeing an effect. And I think we are going to keep seeing an effect as the opioid crisis ramps up.”



The Frannie Peabody Center is selling “BRAVE” t-shirts for AIDS funding.

© 2017 WCSH-TV


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