Someone was droning on about the status of anonymous AIDS testing. More of the same old, same old...as the agenda of these meetings of the Governor's AIDS Council tended to be. Then another report, this one about the possibility of government cuts in funding for AIDS services. Nothing new there, either. Money, and how to divvy it up among competing interests, was always the most contentious issue--it had been that way ever since Megan first got involved with AIDS services fifteen years before, back in California.
She had been asked to join this council in August 1994. Its membership was composed of a variety of people--medical, political, legal and agency representatives--who advised Governor Roy Romer and the General Assembly on AIDS policies and funding. The members were wonderfully dedicated people, Megan thought, but Colorado sometimes seemed so far behind the rest of the country when it came to fighting AIDS, it was all she could do to sit still.
At last the discussion reached the topic on the agenda that most interested Megan: a proposed needle-exchange program. When she'd moved to Colorado two years earlier, she'd been shocked to find that the state didn't have one. In such programs in other parts of the country, enrolled drug users could swap used hypodermic needles for sterile ones in order to prevent the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The council had been debating the matter for the better part of a year; last summer it had finally voted to recommend establishing needle-exchange programs throughout the state. But since then, the group had gotten mired down in debate about how, exactly, this was to be accomplished. For starters, law enforcement agencies were hesitant to back the programs, worried they might encourage drug use.
Some people still didn't get it, Megan thought. This wasn't about creating new junkies. Although no one deserved to get AIDS, there was a whole category of victims out there whose only "sin" was that one or both of their parents had used needles that transmitted the virus: Children. Some were even free of HIV but had been tainted by people's fear of the disease nonetheless.
And here the council was, still talking. Finally, Megan had had enough. Picking up the basket, she stood. "I've heard about needle exchange for many, many years," she said, "and just assumed that, along with condom distribution, any tool that could help prevent transmission was being used, especially in major cities across the United States.
"I've had eleven foster-care children that were HIV-positive, and five of them died in my arms from AIDS," she continued, struggling not to cry. Reaching into the basket, she produced a sleeping infant. "I now have twelve. This is Joey, and he is eleven days old...His mother is HIV-positive."
That Megan Ross would try to mother as many unwanted babies as she could surprised no one who'd known her long. Born and raised in Portland, at the age of ten Megan had happily graduated from her doll collection to caring for her two younger sisters so that their mother could work.
Unlike other girls who might have rebelled at so much responsibility, Megan reveled in it. She fed her sisters, read them books and put them to bed. In high school she even took them along on her dates. When Megan got married and became pregnant shortly after graduation, her sisters still called when they needed someone to bake cookies for a school party or to ask for advice.
Megan gave birth to Kristina and, two years later, Konnie. Her marriage fell apart soon afterward, but that was okay with Megan. She had married so that she could have children, and although she liked her husband, she was beginning to realize that she was not attracted to men.
Megan and her girls moved to Southern California, where she enrolled in college. By the time Megan's daughters were in high school, she'd earned a degree in child development. Her first post-college job, however, was in drug- and alcohol-abuse counseling. It was at this post, in the late Seventies, that Megan first started hearing about a new disease that preyed on homosexuals.
For Megan, by then a gay activist as well as a drug counselor, it seemed only natural to get involved in the fight against AIDS. And when there was an opening for director of the Gay and Lesbian Service Center, a Long Beach, California, agency devoted to AIDS education and services, Megan applied. She got the job. It was now her business to learn all she could about the disease. Education was the key to containing AIDS, she believed, and she soon began teaching courses for the Red Cross, talking about the importance of practicing safe sex.