[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat happens in Vegas”…does not stay in Vegas—because Ms. Ruby tells all!
Beyond the marquee lights, gaming, and lengthy strip traffic lights, this desert town and its environs offer a ton of sightseeing treasures: The Mob Museum, The Neon Museum, the Springs Preserves, which includes the Nevada State Museum, not to mention Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition. At the Nevada State Museum I learned that the “First Lady of Vegas” is Helen Jane Stewart and that Las Vegas was founded in 1905. Helen, who was born in 1854, did not have an easy life. A neighbor murdered her husband and she raised their five kids by herself. She eventually became the largest landowner of that area and the town’s first postmaster (which, until 1903, was called Los Vegas). She was also the first woman to be elected to the school board.
Another pioneer is my pal, Evan Low, thirty-two, who’s also in Vegas for an AIDS conference. He was elected to the California State Assembly representing Silicon Valley. At twenty-six, Evan is the youngest Asian-American legislator to be elected to the Assembly in state history, as well as the youngest openly gay mayor (in Campbell, California) in the country.
Passionate about healthcare, Evan has been steadfastly involved with the HIV and AIDS community. In
2013, he launched a petition on the Change.org website asking the Food and Drug Administration to lift its ban on gay and bisexual men from donating blood. In a few short months the petition had garnered nearly 50,000 signatures. In the spring of last year, the FDA lifted the lifetime ban. However the updated recommendations still discriminate against men who have had sex with another man within the past twelve months. Evan also served on the 2007 host committee of “HIV Matters: Looking Forward” that helped launch rapid testing at Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI).
Evan also focuses on issues of affordable housing, education, renewable energy, and civil rights.
Both of us are hanging at the majestic JW Marriott in Summerlin, twenty minutes outside LV, and, boy, this lavish five-star is epic! George, the dashing bellman, graciously welcomes me to my one bedroom suite in his congenial Serbian accent. If I weren’t engaged, I might think about inviting him to my irresistible, fluffed-up king-size bed. Oh, Ruby, stop!
I have two balconies. Cascading gushing waters below my room offer a rhythmic serenity. I have a spectacular view of the Red Rocks, and at night, the twinkling lights of Vegas can be seen on the horizon. A walk-in closet offers a big enough space to accommodate Ms. Ruby’s cosmetics.
The Marriott is big on supporting their community that includes breast cancer, Nevada Children’s Center, the physically challenged, United Blood Services, Make a Wish Foundation, and, every year, the resort donates to silent auctions for various AIDS fundraisers.
In the late afternoon, after a full day of speaking and networking at the conference, Evan and I hop into my rented car and motor through the Red Rocks. This place has got to be a “Wonder of the World.” Jaw-dropping. Once back at the hotel, we leisurely stroll through the pristine hotel grounds. We trek across a wooden bridge over a meandering brook, pass through a Zen garden, and settle on a cushioned three-seat swing lounger amidst lush brimming foliage and lofty trees. Ahhh….
Ruby Comer: I wish I lived in a place like this, Evan. It’s a fairy tale! Earlier today we were talking movies. I wanna know what’s your favorite film of all time?
Evan Low: Star Wars [he instantly and enthusiastically replies].
Who could argue with that?! (Suddenly the sun glistens on his boyish face flaunting his flawless skin.) Say, what’s your number-one concern about HIV?
Prevention. One in eight people don’t know they’re infected. While the rate of AIDS and HIV deaths have been declining in recent years the rate of infections are still increasing.
How has all this impacted you?
As an openly gay man and a legislator, the AIDS epidemic certainly affects and informs my decisions on public health policy. I must do my part in preventing the spread of the infection by advocating for safe sex and regular testing. It also provides a guiding compass for the moral obligation that I have, not only to the LGBT community, but to all in society.
By the way, when did you first hear the words “HIV” and “AIDS”?
I was in school in San Jose [California], and I learned about it during sexual education class. Fortunately, they also taught students how to have protected sex.
You mentioned during the conference today about your work with the AACI. Please tell me a bit more, Evan.
I was proud to support them in obtaining rapid HIV testing in 2007. At the time, Santa Clara County was only supporting blood tests wherein results took a week or more to come in, as patients waited in fear. AACI is a wonderful organization proudly located in my Assembly District, and the leading nonprofit in Santa Clara County providing culturally sensitive health and human services to the Asian Pacific Islander community.
Yes, our organization in Los Angeles, APAIT (Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team) is extraordinary. Where does your interest in volunteering originate?
I was lucky to grow up in a home that valued community service and cared for others less fortunate than us. My father has an optometric practice in Campbell, has always been very active in the community. When I was just a young kid, he would take me to volunteer with him at various nonprofits and community organizations every weekend. It was fun. As I grew older, the real impact of what we had been doing hit me: Silicon Valley is a place of abundance, but it is also a place where many are in need of food, housing, healthcare and additional support services.
Spot on! Can you address HIV in the Asian community?
Homosexuality in Asian cultures run counter to many spoken and unspoken traditions related to the responsibilities and duties of a child to his or her parents and ancestors, including never shaming the family and producing healthy children to keep the family traditions alive. I believe that I and many other Asian-American children were taught never to disappoint our parents and were held to a higher standard. Rather than constantly looking for praise, I always strive to do my best.
When I came out to myself, I immediately thought: “I don’t want to shame my family.” And then, all these questions went through my mind, like how ashamed will my relatives be? How will it affect my parents? Will my relatives blame my parents for being gay? Many of these questions are not specific to Asian-American children. However, I think the level of ingrained fear that goes with these questions is often heightened due to Asian culture.
My brother Mikey is gay and he had a helluva time coming out. How old were you when you came out to your family and how did they handle it?
I was twenty. My parents are completely loving and kind souls. We’re a close family with strong traditional values.
Evan, what do you want to say to your fellow Asians about prevention?
The best solution to increase HIV testing in the API communities is to continue the effort to ensure that LGBTQs are treated equal in society, reducing stigma, sex education, and increasing access to culturally sensitive counseling.
Now you’re talking my language, Mister. As a politician you meet many people, like I just met Charlize Theron at the conference yesterday. [We get up and stroll back to the hotel.] What a gem of a humanitarian! I’m interested to know who stands out the most for you?
President Obama. He’s a kind man with a compassionate heart.
He’s a charismatic guy who cares for his fellow citizens. As an Assemblymember, what are you currently working on?
Last year, I had a very successful first year in the State Legislature. Right now, I’m meeting with constituents and stakeholders to look at a variety of issues to create a new bill package for this year.
(Standing in line at the hotel’s Rampart Restaurant, we eagerly anticipate the unlimited amounts of food we can eat at their popular daily buffet! I pose one last question.) What concerns you the most within the HIV community?
It’s so important that current and future generations do not become complacent. Too often with news about advanced drugs and prevention, individuals may feel like they’re safe. However, we must recognize and remember the past so that we do not repeat history! We also need a sense of appreciation while remembering the past. [Evan pauses, then his puppy-dog eyes glare directly into mine and he softly declares) Ruby, we… must…not…forget.
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].