I hopped a plane from Topeka, Kansas to Pensacola, Florida in February 2013 to visit with my amazing friend Patrick Rogers, Pastor of the United Church of Christ of Pensacola. Patrick also serves as the director of HIVevolution in Pensacola. He was one of the first people who led me to believe that I could make a difference in this world. I will be forever grateful.
During the trip, I met Dab the AIDS Bear. Patrick shared with me the story of Dab and while sitting at the beach in the Pensacola sunshine, I knew that I would be sending in for my own Dab as soon as I got home. What a remarkable bear. There is also a Dab the Cancer Bear and a Dab the Anti-Bullying Bear.
Then I talk about Dab Garner. How not too many years ago, during the AIDS crisis, he took teddy bears and gave them to young men who were dying alone because even doctors and family members wouldn't have anything to do with them.
I talk about how more recently, Mr. Garner started the Dab the AIDS Bear Project to help raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and the ongoing need for research and services; to provide education and eliminate discrimination. I could relate to that.
The organization I founded and for which I am the executive director is Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project. Our mission is to end discrimination against transgender Kansans and families through education.
There is sometimes a question about why a transgender educator would be carrying around an AIDS bear. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Transgender communities in the United States are among the groups at highest risk for HIV infection." This is a fact that few people realize.
I had the honor of asking Dab Garner for a few words for this blog:
I started the group of interested people in 1993 while battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma and was only given a 30 percent chance of surviving since the chemo and radiation lowered my t-cell count to 4. So this group was to take some activists I knew and train others who were interested in becoming activists.
We now have almost 500 Ambassadors of Hope in 23 countries who take pics with their bears at AIDS walks, rides, conferences, gay prides, women's events, health fairs, colleges, schools, with elected officials, around their cities and even on vacation.
I am also honored to be one of these Ambassadors of Hope.
My Dab is turning one years old in a few weeks. He has traveled all over Kansas and been there for dozens of presentations about transgender issues. He has attended Little Apple Pride in Manhattan, Salina Pride, Wichita Pride and Flint Hills Pride (at Milford Lake outside of Junction City).
Dab was in the audience at the Topeka City Council meeting when his mommy (that's me) became the first openly-transgender person to be appointed to a City of Topeka public board, the Topeka Human Relations Commission. He was there again when the Topeka City Council approved an ordinance that added support of efforts to end prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity to the purpose of the Topeka HRC.
He will be there as the Topeka City Council will soon be hearing an ordinance to add gender identity to the city's protected classes for employment, begin providing same-sex benefits to city employees and create a domestic partnership registry.
Dab flew with me to Boston when I was asked to be on a panel at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's LGBT conference. While in Boston, Dab and I found time to explore the Boston Public Garden, grab a bite to eat at Cheers, take a rickshaw ride back to the Park Plaza Hotel and spend some time looking out over Boston Harbor.
He was a star, sitting at the registration table and greeting attendees for the history-making TransKansas Conference in September in Lawrence. He recently did the same at another history-making conference in Kansas, the 2014 Womyn Rising conference in Topeka.
Not too bad for a one-year-old teddy bear. Not too bad at all. And each step of the way, Dab has done the very thing he was brought into this world to do. He travels with me everywhere I go, just waiting for someone to ask, "What's with the bear?"
Check out photos of Dab the AIDS Bear's travels in Kansas