Stepping away, but the fight’s not over |

Stepping away, but the fight’s not over

Don Regis-Bilar

Shortly after last year’s Riva Grill AIDS Benefit, on a bright and sunny weekday morning, a man, in possession of a knife, stood in front of my Al Tahoe residence and yelled over and over, “You’ve got a dope-smoking faggot with AIDS living in your neighborhood!”

I like to say that he got one out of three right, that my watchful and protective neighbors subdued him and that the South Lake Tahoe police officers, responding to a 911 call, with excellent training and kind consideration to all, escorted him along his way.

I also like to say that there has been a downside to being identified as the highest-profile individual involved in AIDS philanthropic work at Tahoe’s South Shore and that I am terribly burnt out.

In the same breath, I would also like to say that it seems the height of arrogance for me, as a person not living with HIV-disease, to say that, after 20 years of intense involvement with AIDS and related issues, I personally need to take a break. For the nearly 50 million people living with HIV-disease, it isn’t that easy.

All that has come home with the death on Aug. 19 of a wonderful friend to Tahoe, Brad Winans, who lived with HIV disease for 15 years.

Brad is the only other person I’ve known at Tahoe’s South Shore – the other being the namesake of the Friends of Patrick Bennett – who lived openly with AIDS, placing his humanity above all else. Brad, like Patrick, touched thousands of people’s lives and gave a badly needed human face to the pandemic.

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The other connection Brad and Patrick share is that they had been patients of Dr. Neil Flynn of Sacramento’s Center for AIDS Research, Education and Services (CARES) which is the beneficiary of the upcoming Riva Grill AIDS Benefit as well as being designated by Brad’s family to receive donations in his name.

As Maxine Alper of the Sierra Foothills AIDS Foundation, which works closely with CARES, says, “The CARES Clinic in Sacramento is the closest California HIV/AIDS specialty clinic to South Lake Tahoe. CARES services are invaluable to residents of the South Shore because they provide compassionate, quality specialty care to manage HIV/AIDS.”

As I step away from AIDS fund-raising at Tahoe, thoughts of Patrick and Brad weigh heavily on me.

If more people could have the fortitude and courage (as well as the support of family and friends) which Brad Winans and Patrick Bennett exemplified, AIDS would be far less misunderstood and feared.

Instead, it has become the greatest health crisis in human history. The death toll and infection rate surpasses one milestone after another. The global repercussions will be felt for generations.

The theme of this year’s Riva Grill AIDS Benefit is “How Come?” as in how could this have happened? How is it that humankind has so terribly turned its back on so many of its own kind?

For me, the answer is quite simple.

The trouble begins whenever any of us thinks we are better. The trouble begins when any of us thinks we are less.

– Friends of Patrick Bennett founder and 22-year South Lake Tahoe-resident Don Regis-Bilar is stepping away from AIDS charity work in order to complete his novel, “Blue.”