About 200 people attended Open Door Clinic's "New Beginnings" fundraiser featuring openly gay, HIV-positive, gold medal-winning Olympic diver and activist Greg Louganis at St. Andrews Golf and Country Club in West Chicago on April 12.
Founded in 1977, Open Door Clinic is, according to its website, "A non-profit healthcare organization established by grassroots organizations that identified the need to provide education, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Its mission is to improve health and wellness by providing education prevention, screening, and treatment for sexual health and wellness in the Fox Valley Area." The organization is expanding its services with a new clinic.
A video featuring Open Door's mission and the services it provides, testimonials from Open Door clients and Ryan White's mom Jeannie White-Ginger, and pictures of the famous faces of the HIV/AIDS epidemic kicked off the evening's festivities.
Executive Director David Roesler spoke about Open Door's history and work. He also introduced the Open Door Clinic leadership team, staff members and board of directors, and thanked the sponsors ahead of Louganis' remarks.
White-Ginder introduced Louganis via video message. In her message she shared how Louganis impacted her family's life and how proud she is of Louganis and the work he does.
Louganis shared that his journey with HIV began in 1986 when he first read about White in People magazine. Later that year, Louganis invited White and his mom to the national diving competition in Indianapolis, Ind. Upon winning a medal, he gave it to White. This was two years prior to Louganis finding out he himself was HIV-positive.
Six months prior to the 1988 summer Olympic games Louganis noted that he got tested for HIV and his results were just shy of a full-blown AIDS diagnosis. Louganis shared his experiences of taking AZT medications while training for the Olympics. He also noted how far people have come in understanding HIV/AIDS as well as LGBT equalityincluding marriage equality, mentioning husband Johnny Chaillot, who was also in the audience.
"It's important to be seen (as LGBT people) ... and start talking openly about sexuality. I think that it alleviates a lot of the stigma and preconceived notions and ideas," said Louganis.
He shared his experiences traveling to Nepal with his husband for the First Southeast Asian LGBT Games where, during his first press conference, someone asked him which one (Louganis or Chaillot) was the husband and which one was the wife. "My response to him was what time is it," said Louganis. Despite the initial misunderstanding of Louganis and Chaillot's relationship, Louganis remarked that they did so much good in Nepal just by being themselves.
Louganis also spoke about the situation in Russia with the Sochi Olympics as well as the anti-gay propaganda bill that was signed into law. He shared that he was against a boycott of the Sochi Olympics because it hurts the wrong people, the athletes. To explain his reasoning, Louganis reminded the audience that due to the United States boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics he was unable to compete that year.
During the Sochi Olympic delegation selection process, Louganis noted that he was on the short list of people to attend on the United States' behalf but wasn't chosen. Instead, Louganis said, Russian LGBT Sport Federation co-chair Konstantin Yoblatskiy reached out to him to attend the LGBTI Russian Open Games that took place in Moscow between the Sochi Olympics and Paralympic Games and he accepted the invitation. The situation in Moscow, Louganis explained, was very different from people's experiences attending the Sochi games such as participants being turned away from their hotels, a bomb threat marring their first press conference, and events being thwarted in one way or another, resulting in relocations to other venues. "Sochi was Putin's propaganda and what I experienced is what is really happening in Russia," said Louganis.
"I wonder each day what the universe has in store for me, and tonight I am here to celebrate and also to raise money and awareness," said Louganis. "One of my Facebook posts is about supporting local [organizations, initiatives and people] because that is where you can really make a difference. That's what my mom taught me. Try to make everywhere you go better because you were there so that's my message to you."
During the Q&A session, Louganis related his experiences being followed across the country by Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church while on a tour promoting his autobiography Breaking the Surface.
"We live with HIV. HIV doesn't define me. It's not who I am," said Louganis in response to a question from someone who is HIV-positive about living her truth. Louganis added that his mom said everyone's goal is to make the world a better place.
He also talked about the making of the Showtime movie Breaking the Surface: The Greg Louganis Story, and his experiences on the set as Mario Lopez's body double during the diving scenes.
As for getting the message out to younger generations about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Louganis said it is really hard to get through to them because for the most part they haven't had to deal with the loss of their family members and friends to AIDS. All he can do, Louganis noted, is share his story and in some cases explain who he is when speaking to young people. "I am walking propaganda. I don't even need to say anything," said Louganis.
Louganis also shared his upcoming media projects as well as his greatest challenge as an athlete: being bullied. Louganis shared that experience in a blog item for the Huffington Post.
See www.opendoorclinic.org and www.facebook.com/opendoorclinic for more information.
Videos by Tracy Baim
Windy City Times: Open Door benefit, Greg Louganis speech: www.youtube.com/watch .
Windy City Times: Open Door benefit 1 of 6: ED Roesler: www.youtube.com/watch .
Windy City Times: Open Door benefit 2 of 6: Greg Louganis: www.youtube.com/watch .
Windy City Times: Open Door benefit 3 of 6: Greg Louganis on challenges www.youtube.com/watch .
Windy City Times: Open Door benefit 4 of 6: Greg Louganis, on injuries www.youtube.com/watch .
Windy City Times: Open Door benefit 5 of 6: ED Roesler www.youtube.com/watch .