$10,000?? Did I hear correctly? This man raised over $10,000 for the AIDS/LifeCycle!
I’m parked for the weekend here in dreamy San Francisco, and I’m shooting the breeze with well, a dreamy guy, Alex Lau. Last night, a mutual friend introduced us at an event for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF). I was instantly entranced by Alex’s spirit and zest for his inaugural ride with AIDS/LifeCycle this past June.
I’ve long been intrigued by the Riders I have interviewed over the years. So many years, in fact, that I stopped counting them like I stopped counting my birthdays. An inner magic seems to transpire in all those who take this journey. I’ve considered doing it myself, but, despite my regular attendance at spin class, I’m not sure this old broad is up for the challenge.
Alex, on the other hand, did it! A twenty-seven year old in insurance risk management, he was born in London and raised in this Golden Gate city and graduated cum laude from the University of San Francisco.
Alex started volunteering in high school at food banks and community centers, and at the
AIDS Emergency Fund. It was in high school health education class that he first heard about the epidemic, but it was a superficial introduction at best.
Learning more about the epidemic in college, Alex was finally provided with the background that he was yearning for. He had a deep hunger to learn about the AIDS crisis, which preceded his arrival on this earth.
Currently, Alex works with SFAF and Strut (an all-encompassing health center extension of SFAF). Located in San Francisco’s Castro District, the center opened in January 2016. Alex not only volunteers there, he’s also a client. I was curious about the name but I got the 411 from Andrew Hattori, who works in their marketing and communications department. “The name comes from the word that means both a beam of support and a confident stride. As a center for many different kinds of services, Strut offers a system of support to our communities and at the same time encourages a sense of pride, strength, confidence, fun, and action.” Fun? I’m all in.
Nearly two years ago, Alex met his partner David Broockman, a professor and political science researcher at Stanford University. He divides his time between David’s home in the Castro and his family home.
We are in Dolores Park on a windy fall afternoon, beneath a swaying palm tree. The view is dazzling! This panoramic vista has been captured in many movies.
Ruby Comer: Congrats on your amazing accomplishment, Alex! [His broad infectious smile radiates.] Do tell about…your…journey.…
Alex Lau: He bursts with gusto.] AIDS/LifeCycle was an amazing experience, Ruby! I registered as an individual, but I did get my coworker to join me as my tent mate, which made this a meaningful experience.
…and $10,000. YIKES. How…?
[Alex chuckles.] I was very lucky to have generous sponsors. There were a variety of initiatives. At first, I advertised through friends and family first. I had a Facebook outreach where a lot of friends and coworkers donated. The biggest surprise was posting about the event on my Instagram [@alexlau]. I had donors from all around the country.
How rousing. [I cough.] Why did you want to do the Ride?
I was introduced to AIDS/LifeCycle through various social media outlets and through my friends who participated in past years. I wanted to learn more about this virus, its history and where we are today. In addition, I recognized that I wanted to challenge myself, gain new experiences, and also meet friends along the way.
All good reasons. Why did you want to know about your forerunners?
I think it was important for me, for my generation, because we never had to go through that struggle. I was very inspired after watching Dustin Lance Black’s [A&U, November 2018] When We Rise since it was that generation that fought for gay rights and for survival from the virus.
I wish every young person had your concerned drive. Did you have any fears about the Ride?
My greatest fear was about unable to complete the ride and/or getting injured during the ride. I really wanted to be able to successfully fundraise and to complete the ride. I was very happy to have succeeded.
How did you get the physical and inner strength to do it every day?!
We averaged around eighty miles a day with the longest day being 110 miles. It was honestly challenging the first couple of days, Ruby, but I ended up being one of the first ones to the finish line on the final day.
I’m encouraged. Was anyone in Los Angeles to greet you at the finished line?
David and some friends. I actually arrived at the finish line before them, so I had to backtrack and wait for them to arrive! I went faster than any other day. I guess it was last minute adrenaline. When everyone arrived, I passed through that finish line.
What a monumental moment. What was on your mind right at that time?
Honestly? [He tenderly finger-combs through his cropped black mane.] My first thought was I hope that they take a good photo of me! My second thought was that I’m so happy that my boyfriend and friends are here to support me through this life changing week.
What a grand finale! What was the most difficult period of your trip?
It was when I saw a rider get injured. She scraped her arm slightly but continued riding. It gave me an opportunity to recognize the potential dangers of cycling, but also gave me a glimpse of the passion and the drive these riders have on this seven-day journey. I’m thankful that the ride staff emphasized bike safety from the moment you register for the ride to the time you cross the finish line!
So it’s been a few months since the Ride ended, looking back, how did the journey affect you?
It provided me with a safe space to express who I am with a group of peers with a singular goal. I learned a lot more about the epidemic, where we are today with treatment and what our goals are moving forward.
Bravo. How old were you when you first got tested, Alex? What kind of feelings did you go through?
I was twenty, and I wasn’t too worried, because I wasn’t sexually active at the time. Even so, that feeling of waiting for the results always keeps me in suspense.
I didn’t have sex until I was in my twenties. Even then, I was extremely cautious, so I made sure both my partner and I got tested prior to doing anything potentially risky.
When you and David met did you guys talk about STIs? Did you test together?
We didn’t, as I go to SFAF, while he goes through his medical group. When we first started dating, we did talk about STIs, including PrEP. Overall, we are very low risk and we both have a mutual understanding regarding the importance of getting tested.
You started your altruistic ventures at quite a young age. Where did those values originate?
I think growing up in the Bay Area community played a part, as volunteering was engrained in us when we were young.
You know, sometimes certain populations, like the Asian community, due to their culture, can turn a blind eye to certain things that don’t have a positive outward appearance. As you know, not facing facts can be detrimental. Can you address this?
The Asian community would benefit from more access to information regarding homosexuality and HIV, especially in their own language. They are still taboo subjects in some conservative families, but I think my generation is much more open-minded to queerness and has access to a wealth of information available online. I strongly believe that conservative communities will change their opinions incrementally over time.
From your mouth to God’s ear. What is your sense of stigma?
I believe that there’s a lot of stigma attached to HIV and AIDS—and PrEP, too.
I have heard friends make jokes about PrEP. There are also friends that are afraid to talk about it in a group setting. At times, they will pull me aside to have conversations about it, because they know I am on the pill.
I really hope our community, better yet, humanity will one day recognize that pharma companies like Gilead and its Truvada as PrEP are changing the world for the better. [He breaks for a moment and then states in a crisp voice] With modern medication, perhaps we will get down to zero: zero new infections and zero deaths.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].