Fighting What’s Truly Indecent: HIV/AIDS


The following is an excerpt of a speech given by Steve Villano, president & CEO, Cable Positive, at the association’s Positively ______: An Evening to Benefit Cable Positive, fund-raising dinner March 30 in New York.

You have become the powerful, well connected friends of the communities of color, of women and young people whose lives are being terrorized by HIV and AIDS. You at Showtime and Lifetime, BET and MTV, Bravo and HBO, Oxygen and Discovery and Fox, Hallmark, Disney and The N, and many other networks here tonight — you have told the courageous truths others are too timid to tell — through your programming and our pro-social public-service campaigns.

At hundreds of cable systems around the country, from Cablevision and Cox, Charter and Mediacom, Comcast and Time Warner, to Insight and Advance/Newhouse — you have delivered Cable Positive’s message of HIV/AIDS awareness into the living rooms of more than 73 million families. And we’ve done it, together, during primetime, in PSA Roadblocks that have been highlighted by The Wall Street Journal, and praised by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Through our Tony Cox Community Fund — named for Matt’s mentor and predecessor at Showtime and also a Joel A. Berger Award recipient — you’ve formed more than 200 partnerships between local cable systems and community-based AIDS Service Organizations in some 33 states, donating millions of dollars of valuable air-time to teach our children, our neighbors and our co-workers about AIDS, and where to go for help.

You have become the public health advocates for our friends and children under 25, for black and Latino men and women; and society’s synthesizer for gays and lesbians.

Through the actions of many people in this room, you have redefined the meaning of community, and extended it from boardrooms to classrooms to public health clinic waiting rooms, and you have done it with the compassion and commitment that drives Cable Positive.

Just as HIV/AIDS is everywhere, so too is the technology of cable and the Internet. Our great strength as an industry, and Cable Positive’s great value as an organization devoted to fighting this epidemic, is that, working together, we can deliver the vaccine of AIDS education every place a cable wire or internet connection exists.

This industry — working through Cable Positive — is equally committed to educating our cable workforce about HIV/AIDS, from field technicians to CEOs. Our unique “AIDS in the Workplace” Training Program — which exists in no other industry — has trained nearly one-third of cable’s 160,000 employees about the disease and the workplace rights of co-workers who may have it.

And, we don’t stop there. We also provide all cable employees with access to an industry-supported, Actor’s Fund-administered assistance program to serve their needs.

There’s public service and service to our co-workers to combat AIDS; four core principles aimed at education, care, nondiscrimination and mobilizing resources; thousands of people educated and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of free airtime. So, why does such a good, decent, enduring initiative like Cable Positive — with tangible, life-saving results — get lost in all of the swirl about cable rates, and must-carry and indecency?

Maybe we’d be more effective at getting our message out if I could define things as clearly as Sharon Gless’ character Debbie Novotny in Showtime’s Queer as Folk, who wears her PFLAG pin on her lapel and her heart on her sleeve.

If I could speak as fearlessly as Debbie Novotny, I would go before Congress and the Federal Communications Commission and tell them how the whole decency/indecency debate is topsy-turvy — which is probably a bit milder than how Debbie would describe it.

I’d tell them how they should focus more on the millions of lives Bono has touched with his AIDS-education and prevention messages, and with the resources he has raised for care and treatment, then on his one adjective that got away.

I’d tell them to pay more attention to the alarming rise of HIV infections among young women, than to the disarming fall of Janet Jackson’s bustier during a football game.

If I had the nerve of Novotny, I’d tell public officials and religious leaders that they should save their energies, and their effigies, for the true indecencies in this world — the real seven dirty words: AIDS, poverty, injustice — disease, hatred, stigma and ignorance.

And if I were the beautiful, passionate Novotny, who simply wants people to be as loved, respected and cared for in the world as they are in her restaurant, I would scream, at the top of my lungs — that what is truly indecent and inhumane is anything that prevents that from happening.

That’s what Cable Positive is about. That’s why we exist. But, as Tracy Kidder writes in his newest book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, “lives of service depend on lives of support.”

And none of what we do is possible, without you.