Brad Setter knows what it's like to be judged. In some ways, it's shaped his life.
Setter served in the Marine Corps from 2007 to 2011, the end of his service essentially coinciding with the close of the military's don't ask, don't tell era. Before he concluded his tour of duty, he confided in a friend -- a fellow Marine -- that he is gay. Word spread, he says, and suddenly Marines he'd been serving with began to torment and bully him.
If you goWhat: AIDS Walk and Run Chicago, with 10K and 5K runs and a 5K walk
Why: Proceeds support AIDS Foundation of Chicago's efforts to improve services for and protect the rights of people with and at risk for AIDS and HIV
When: Sunday, Sept. 14; registration at 7:45 a.m., 10K run at 9 a.m., 5K run at 9:10 a.m., 5K walk at 9:20 a.m.
Where: Arvey Field in Grant Park, between Columbus Drive and Lake Shore Drive, near 11th Street, Chicago
Cost: $40 for runners, $30 for walkers when registering online; $50 for everyone on race day; fundraising encouraged
The experience shook Setter's confidence.
After his discharge, Setter lived in Phoenix and worked at a bar that raised money for organizations backing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and causes. By working on behalf of others, Setter discovered a sense of community that rejuvenated his confidence.
Setter dated two men who each were HIV-positive and witnessed the stigma they felt. The experience, he says, reminds him that what matters is who people are, not how society might judge them.
Now living in Westmont and attending College of DuPage, Setter is working to ensure the suburbs are a safe, understanding place for teens and young adults regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status. A member of COD's Pride Alliance, Setter supports Youth Outlook, a Naperville-based group that offers support services and a social network for LGBT teens and young adults, as well as those who are uncertain of their sexual or gender identity.
Setter is dedicating his run in the AIDS Run and Walk Chicago to Youth Outlook. The AIDS Run and Walk, benefiting the AIDS Foundation of Chicago's services and advocacy for the LGBT community, steps off at 9 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 14, in Chicago's Grant Park. Last year's run/walk raised more than $200,000 for the cause.
Today, Setter tells us more about why he takes part each year in the AIDS Run and Walk Chicago.
Q. Who or what inspires you to participate in the AIDS Run and Walk? Did you sign up in honor of or in memory of someone?
A. Inspiration comes from the stories I have heard over the years of people who lived before, during and after the AIDS crisis in the '80s. It is possible to do good on any scale, whether it be sharing your story or pushing for a cause you personally believe in like AIDS Run and Walk Chicago.
Q. How have you been affected by AIDS/HIV?
A. HIV/AIDS is prevalent in the LGBTQ+ community and, to be honest, it isn't how HIV/AIDS affects me but how it affects people in my community. I know and understand the different tolls HIV takes on people's mental and physical bodies, but there is a lot of educating to be done in areas surrounding large cities.
Q. What has been difficult about your experience?
A. In the past I have dated HIV positive people because I don't believe in being scared of people because of health conditions they have. I believe in dating people for how they appreciate life and view the world, not because of a status.
Q. What might surprise people about your experience?
A. Through dating HIV-positive people, I have learned that you need to know that serodiscordant couples (HIV-positive person with an HIV-negative person) can have happy and healthy relationships, but like any relationship it requires work and commitment.
Q. What have you learned about yourself and/or the person you're honoring because of the experience?
A. I've been participating in AIDS run/walks for the past three years. Not only is it fun and rewarding, but it's also given me the chance to give back to the community. It provides crucial health and wellness services to thousands of men, women and families living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, the vast majority of whom live at or below the federal poverty line.
Q. What support have you received from the AIDS Foundation of Chicago?
A. The AIDS Foundation of Chicago has given me many outlets to share my experiences and allows me places and times to volunteer and give back to my community.
Q. Have you ever done this run before and, if so, what was the experience like?
A. Every year I do an AIDS Run and Walk it is a different experience and worth every bit of energy that is put into it. The feeling of community and the stories you overhear throughout the day inspire you to do more for your community and fuel the fire. Every year I am rejuvenated for the next.
Q. What would you tell someone who is undecided about participating in the AIDS Run/Walk?
A. Don't be afraid to walk. Be proud that you are assisting people living with HIV and ending the stigma by standing up.
Q. How can readers donate to your fundraising efforts?