By Tony Brown, CLEVELAND, Ohio -- People are looking at me funny. Funnier than usual. Some sneer or laugh derisively. Some have a kind smile. Most just stare.
Maybe it's because a red T-shirt makes me look pallid. More pallid than usual.
Or maybe it's the bold, black-and-white lettering on the shirt:
My shirt identifies me as having the human immunodeficiency virus, the sneaky bug that can reverse-transcribe itself into my DNA and cause AIDS, which has infected 65 million worldwide and killed at least 25 million since the late 1970s.
On Friday, several hundred other people in Greater Cleveland -- where 4,000 people live with AIDS -- will do the same thing, coming out of the closet about HIV.
It's a "stunt" by the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, a bit of street-theater activism aimed at defusing HIV stigmas.
On Friday, we won't block intersections or yell. We'll just wear the shirt as we go about our routines -- doing our jobs, grocery shopping, hitting a sports bar for March Madness.
And we'll document it all in real time with words, photos and videos on Facebook and Twitter.
The plan is to get everybody -- ourselves included -- thinking about all the things we think of when we think about HIV/AIDS.
"We're out to challenge the silence, the mantle of shame that descends, the stigmas associated with HIV," AIDS Taskforce executive director Earl Pike said. "We don't stigmatize people who have prostate cancer. Why HIV?"
Pike is the guy who came up with the idea for Friday's guerilla action after British singer Annie Lennox caused a fan panic by wearing an "HIV Positive" T-shirt on national TV.
"It's about secrets -- sexual histories, who uses drugs," Pike said. "When you ask those questions, you find it's not just people in the inner cities. It's also people in Solon and Orange and Medina. How awesome it would be if everybody told everybody the truth about who we are and what we do."
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|AIDS Task Force launches "HIV Positive" tees|