This Pride Weekend I would like to remind all my brothers and sisters of a man who taught each of us what LGBT PRIDE really means, Matthew Cusick . The former Cirque du Soleil performer who was fired in 2002 for being honest about his own HIV status. A man who should reminds each of us what it truly means to be proud of who we are.
You will forever be my hero Matthew, and below please find how I chose to reponse to the unlawful employment termination of a friend.
MY LETTER TO CIRQUE DU SOLEIL FOUNDER & CEO GUY LALIBERTE
November 8th, 2003
Please allow me to introduce myself to you. My name is Aaron Baldwin and I am the individual who was very politely asked to leave the parking lot of Cirque du Soleil Algeria show, last Thursday night. I guess the CDS staff did not approve of my handing out leaflets to your patrons, in reference to the current allegations of HIV Discrimination (by Cirque du Soleil) against my good friend Matthew Cusick.
Just a few weeks now before World AIDS Day, (December 5th) and on the heels of the 5th year anniversary of the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, I felt it was my moral responsibility to speak out against this alleged injustice. So last Thursday night, on what was a very cold and rainy San Francisco evening, I went down to the Pac Bell Stadium parking lot. It was my hope that the HIV Discrimination leaflets that I had would help inform some of your patrons of the other side of Cirque du Soleil.
Cirque du Soleil, by your own public admission, chose to terminate Matthew Cusick's employment solely on the basis on his decision to be honest about his HIV status. So the question that I am now compelled to ask is, "did Cirque du Soleil break the law when you did this or were your fears justified?" Although I have no way of intelligently answering this question, as I assume is also the case for yourself, as neither of us has any formal legal training and you have yet to given your day in court.
However I do know how to think for myself, and I know how to read, and I also know how to listen to what my heart tells me. Additionally, I just recently read the 2002 United Nations AIDS report, where it stated that "today the driving forces behind the spread of HIV are the stigma and discrimination of the very disease itself. That the social taboos about discussing sex, the moral judgments that people often place on each other and the stigma too often placed upon People Living with AIDS (PLWA)... are all continuing to drive this hideous disease into hiding. That fear of HIV stigma and discrimination, today often compels an individual to keep their HIV status locked up in some secret closet. That in turn, actually only serves to continue the spread HIV.
However, what you probably do not know is that Matthew Cusick gave up everything he had for the opportunity of fulfilling a lifelong dream of performing with your "great" Cirque du Soleil. That he gave up the two businesses that he had started; in physical training and gymnastic coaching. That he and his lover (whose career would not allow him to move with Matthew to Las Vegas) mutually agreed to end their long term relationship so that Matthew could pursue that dream. That he also left behind his family and a lifetime of friends in Washington D.C., although I would imagine this is often the case for individuals hoping to perform with Cirque.
So I thought you should know that today Matthew Cusick is living in the basement of his mother's home, and he is now without even the means of paying for his own medical care. Medical care that you are aware he may soon one day very desperately need. However Mr. Laliberte, I do not want you to worry about Matthew Cusick, because his friends are making sure that all his medical needs are being met, as he now begins to rebuild his life.
Here in North America there appears to be some growing belief, that we now have the HIV virus under control. But do we really? It is reported that there are currently 1,000,000 Americans and 50,000 Canadians are infected with the HIV virus. Of all the new HIV infections in the North America last year, 51% of then occurred in humans beings under the age of 25, and slightly more than 25% of them are just teenagers. In Canada, 27% of all of the new HIV infections are in people between the ages of 13 to 29. Perhaps this is all some crazy coincidence, but I really don't think so! Education of the facts, and a freedom from unnecessary persecution and discrimination does save lives.
Many of these young human beings who are today becoming infected with HIV, are also fans of the "Circus of the Sun." They are the very same children and young adults who were once sitting on the edges of their chairs (as we all have) while watching the greatest performers in the world. They too have also dreamed that same impossible dream, that one day they might perform for the great Cirque du Soleil.
THE FACTS ABOUT HIV AND SPORTS
To date, there has NEVER been even one confirmed case of an HIV infection relating from sports. This includes; football, rugby, basketball, lacrosse, boxing and every other known sport. Sports where not only is blood often spilled, but where it is encouraged and often viewed as a kind of badge of distinction when it happens. I would dare to say, that if there was even one confirmed case of a sports related HIV infection, parents all around the world would be removing their children from all competitive sports programs.
Over the past years, Cirque du Soleil has encouraged it patrons to go out and to "Dream the Impossible Dream." This is exactly what my good friend Matthew Cusick did. His dreams, like all of our dreams, were very precious to him. You see, our dreams make up the very fabric and foundation of our lives, and no one who ever fulfills another dreams... should ever be able to take that dream back!!
I, too, encourage everyone to continue dreaming that impossible dream. However, I would first encourage you to stop and remember the words of some other great dreamers. Dreamers like the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A man who through his words, shared his dream for this world.... in his speech called, "I Have a Dream." Think about how that dream and through his words, he was able to impact the basic human rights of so human beings around the world.
I would also ask you to remember the words of the great Irish writer and poet, George Bernard Shaw. Think about how even today, Shaw's words can still inspire the masses whenever they are quoted: "Some men see things as they are and say, 'Why?' I dream things of that never were and say, 'Why not?' "
Now if the fact about HIV infections during sports and the words of great Dr. King and Mr. Shaw have not caused you to re-think your position, as it relates to Matthew Cusick, then I would ask you to consider these words from the Joe Darion lyrics, from the play "MAN OF LA MANCHA".
to fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow,
to run where the brave dare not go...
To fight for the right
without question or pause
to be willing to march into hell...
for a heavenly cause.
Additionally, I would like encourage everyone to continue supporting all the wonderful and talented men and woman, who make up the casts of the amazing productions, that is Cirque du Soleil! This issue of discrimination should not be their burden to carry, for it truly belongs on the shoulders of CDS management.
I thank you for your understanding on this very important issue.