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  • Okay, Backstory: 20th Anniversary of Earth Day (April 22, 1990). I was 20. I was organizing an ad=hoc, under-the-table version of the Florida Public Interest Reseach Group at University of Florida. The previous summer, i had canvassed and got bit by the grassroots organizing/public lobby bug and took it back to school. (UF was opposed to their presence on campus) I flipped the acronym PIRG to GRIP and we called ourselves Group for the Responsible Interaction with the Planet. FPIRG offered me a full time job the following summer and asked if i would pack up and move to Miami. "You rent the truck and find me an apartment, and i'll do it." A week after the conversation, i was living in Coral Gables. And i had made two decisions; 1. To really organize a successful canvass and campus, and 2.) find an LGBT community and come out fully before i turned 21 the next April.

    After an intense summer organizing the canvass, I started searching for a community center in fall of 1990. (That summer i went to see "Longtime Companion" seven times at the movie theatre next to the canvass office) I found an address using the resources at gay bars and the phone book. (NO INTERNET YET!!!) i rode my bike down to the morning side neighborhood and found a little hole in the wall next to a bookstore where an LGBT AA group met, but nothing else. Someone told me that all the action was taking place on Miami Beach with the AIDS service center and ACT-UP Miami that had just formed.

    So, that's where i went.

    It was November. Just before Veteran's Day. The first ACT-UP meeting i went to, i was greeted by a very handsome and very tall man at the door. His name: Mitch Weissner and he was pissed. He was angry and awakened and aware and he spoke his mind. I went into the meeting and quickly figured out that i was one of three young men barely in his twenties present. The rest of the meeting was filled with older men living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. One other guy my age was there. This very cute 19 year old Cuban, who clearly had a voice and mission. I remember the conversation that night was heated. Members were arguing about who legitimately could make decisions for the group based on status. IT was charged. Mitch, being HIV negative, was outspoken in his feelings about the discrimination. The young Cuban, listened and spoke thoughtfully. I sat and listened, new to this kind of passionate awareness.

    When the meeting was over, Mitch introduced me to the young Cuban guy. His name was Peter and he was HIV positive and he was one of four young people with HIV/AIDS out and speaking about it. And he wanted to ask me out for a date. (NO PULLING OUT iPHONES IN THIS STORY TO FIND EACH OTHER ON FACEBOOK OR MESSAGE!) We exchanged numbers and, with his busy schedule flying around the country speaking and a few phone calls to answering machines, made a date for me to pick him up at the airport and go to dinner. I was barely out of the closet!! and i met a VERY out and self aware guy my age. Not at all intimidating.

    I picked him up for our first date and we went to Miami Beach/Ocean Drive and ate outside (because the weather is always fabulous there!) and people would come up to him and say hello and thank him for his work or catch up. I can't remember what we talked about. It was the first time i'd ever been out with a guy in public for a date. I kept my cool. I watched him interact. I laughed. I drank in his smile. After dinner we walked around and then we went dancing at WARSAW and we danced until almost sunrise. We stumbled out of the club, sweaty and glowing and walked to a little coffee stand and got two cubans coffees and went and sat on the beach as the sun started to come up. And THEN, we kissed. and that was it. I was in love. First. Real. Love. First real love as a young gay man making the choice to accept myself and come out. And this smiling Cuban was dynamic and open and inspiring. And he was HIV positive and i was not. And it didn't matter to me. And we made it work.

    And we made it work for almost a year.

    I came out to my family that April. I turned 21 and Peter without knowing it pushed me halfway out of the closet with an ill-timed phonecall to check on me. He wrote me notes before he went on speaking engagements. Positive, affirming, loving notes that transcended our own personal love for each other. He would tell me about his beliefs in Santeria. How he had a guide. A old man in a white suit that would come to him and tell him things. He told me that the man said he would be alive until he was 25 and this knowledge compelled him to want to make the most impact he could in the time he had. (and I'm crying as i write this... wow.) And that knowledge was also what brought our relationship to an end. A weekend moving him into his first apartment.

    Vacuuming on that Sunday, i knew. I set down the hose and i asked him to tell me what he was feeling. And he did. And i knew. And there was no resistance. Just sadness and acceptance. and love.
    I moved back to Gainesville the next fall. We wrote some. And our lives moved forward. A year later, i was switching through channels, and suddenly, there he was, bigger than life on the television. An ad for a popular show on MTV. my phone rang, and a friend asked, "Did you just see on tv? Did you see him? Did you know?" And i said, "Yes, i did. And, no, i didn't know. Pretty cool." He had fulfilled his destiny.

    And we never spoke to each other again. He found love and happiness and a way to make the most impact with his short, brilliant life. He died soon after the show. But that's another story. I am grateful to have met him and loved him. He made my life better in ways that resonate still.
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