August 9, 2020

Scott Fried shines light on AIDS epidemic

By Thomas Infante
Reviews Editor

When you’re young, you often feel invincible. Those who are fortunate enough to be in good health often shrug off risky behavior with no further reasoning than “Nothing bad will happen to me.” Scott Fried had the same thought the first time that he had unsafe sex with another man. As he would later find out, he was wrong.

“Nothing bad ever happens the first time, right?” Fried asked the audience in the Physics Building. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Fried’s partner was HIV positive, and the encounter would change Fried’s life forever.

Fried has been HIV positive for 29 years and travels around the country to educate people about the virus. A proud Jewish-American with a youthful smile, Fried combatted his positive diagnosis with an even more positive attitude. In honor of World AIDS Day on Thursday, Dec. 1, PRISM hosted Fried as he shared tender and humorous anecdotes.

Fried opened the event with some kind words to the audience.

“You are a beautiful generation,” Fried told the audience. “Each and every one of you are beautiful and deserves to be alive.”

Fried believes most of our problems come from the part inside us that feels unloved or insecure. By appealing to this side of people, Fried hopes they will feel strong enough to not be pressured into unsafe sex.

fried entertains students with a blend of humor and touching anecdotes. (David Colby / Photo Assistant)
fried entertains students with a blend of humor and touching anecdotes. (David Colby / Photo Assistant)

As a gay man, Fried has been subject to discrimination throughout his life. The first standout was in 1981, when Fried was at George Washington University. He was having a great time for the first few weeks until, one day, he found a picture taped to his door.

“It was a picture of a muscular guy in a G-string,” Fried said. “In black ink someone wrote, ‘Hey Scott, this picture is for you. I love you, fag.’”

The anonymous message shook Fried to his core, and he transferred to New York University soon after to study dance. By the time he graduated, the AIDS epidemic throughout the U.S. was in full swing. Many groups were being blamed for the spreading of the virus, including homosexuals.

Still, Fried told himself, “It won’t happen to me.”

By 1987, Fried was working a starting position on an off-Broadway show set. One day, the carpenter on the set approached him out of nowhere and said, “I know your secret. You should call me sometime” and gave Fried his phone number. Fried was both taken aback and intrigued.

“It was such a new feeling,” he said. “He seemed dangerous and attractive. It was exciting. Do you ever go to a restaurant and the waitress tells you, ‘Don’t touch that plate. It’s hot.’ How many of you touch the plate anyway?” he asked and most of the audience members raised their hands.

He eventually called the man and a few days later, Fried found himself going to his apartment. Inside, the man sat down at a keyboard and played a song he said he wrote for Fried.

“The song sucked,” Fried said. “And I knew he was lying. He didn’t write that song for me, but when he asked me if I liked it, I told him it was great. Our first interaction was predicated on lies.”

Fried asked the man if he had ever been tested for HIV, and the man told him that he had been tested six weeks prior. He didn’t ask what the results of the test were, and even if he did, a six-week-old test could have been totally irrelevant if he had unprotected sex since then. In addition, neither of them had a condom.

“I didn’t even care what the results of the test were,” Fried said. “I was willing to go so far for someone that knew my secret just to feel comfortable again. I was at the intersection of risk and need, and I didn’t know how to say, ‘No.’”

A few weeks later, Fried began developing sores on his stomach and feeling ill. He went to get tested for HIV among other diseases, and his partner was upset that he did so.

“He told me that if I ever told someone that he infected me with AIDS he would kill me,” Fried said.

“Then he moved to (Los Angeles), and I never saw him again.”

When Fried’s HIV test came back positive, he asked himself if he was finally ready to accept who he was.

“I got infected with HIV because I didn’t know if I was enough,” Fried said. “No one ever came to my school to tell me that I’m beautiful.”

Fried is thankful to live in an age in which one with HIV can live with few inhibitions. Thanks to daily medication, his HIV count is so low that the virus is unable to replicate. He is classified as “positive and undetectable.” Fried said if he stopped taking his medicine tomorrow, the virus would kill him in about six months.

He spoke highly of post-exposure prophylaxis pills that act as a preventative measure for those who fear that they may have been infected. When taken within 48 hours of having unsafe sex, it can be extremely effective in stopping the transmission of HIV. He also advocated for clean needle exchange programs that would curb the rising HIV rates in areas with rampant drug addiction problems.

Fried closed the evening with a slideshow of his friends who have died from AIDS.

“The moments we create with each other are eternal,” Fried said. “I know some of you may have felt awkward hearing these things. My friends wished for more time to do things like this. All the awkwardness leads to healing.”

Few have witnessed as much healing firsthand as Fried, who said Jonathan Larson, author of the play “Rent,” used to sit in on their HIV group therapy sessions. It was there that one of Fried’s friends said, “I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of losing my dignity.”

Now, Fried is making sure that America’s youth will never have to face that fear again.

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