Michael Bryce wasn’t sure what to expect when he posted on Facebook about his HIV status. A veteran of AIDS/LifeCycle, Bryce knew his fundraising post would be seen by his friends, family and colleagues in the financial services industry. He had already come out as gay at work, but only a few close friends knew that he had been living with HIV for 30 years. So he hesitated.
“After I wrote the post, I sat there for like 20 minutes, thinking, ‘Should I post it? Should I not?’ And then I finally took a deep breath, clicked, closed the laptop, and walked away.”
Bryce was immediately surprised at the response he received. “I raised over $3,000 in less than 24 hours,” he said. “And there wasn’t one negative comment from anyone, even from my staunchly religious family. It was difficult—but I got to a point where I wanted to be done with the stigma of HIV, and done with the hiding. It was time to let go of all of that and truly live an authentic life. A simple push of a button was the catalyst to make that happen. I think even ten years ago people might not have understood; but now, people are more accepting.”
Decreasing HIV stigma and increasing workplace equality for LGBTQ people at work are missions close to Bryce’s heart. While the AIDS epidemic peaked in the 90s, Bryce worked for the airline industry, and saw his friends at work pass away one by one. When he was infected with HIV, he said he “was living day by day—just in the short-term.” He remembers thinking, “I’m not going to need this,” when he got a five-year warranty on a mattress then.
In 2007, Bryce made a career move to a financial services company, and said he “felt like the only gay in the village.”
“There were no out people in finance, even in San Francisco. I was like, ‘Where are my people?,’” he said.
After a few months, Bryce joined forces with a few friends to start the employee resource group for LGBTQ employees. Since 2007, the team has started programs and initiatives across the global company to improve the company’s equality index and ensure that LGBTQ employees are supported.
Bryce has seen many successes over the years after starting the resource group. His organization signed onto the amicus brief—in support of marriage equality—and was one of the only financial firms to do so. The organization improved its Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index score from 70% to 100%—and has maintained that score for the past four years. Recently, the company hosted Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, to speak about creating a diverse culture in the workplace.
AIDS/LifeCycle, and the other AIDS rides he had participated in, helped Bryce deal with his frustration and grief over losing his partner and friends to AIDS and offered him a community to connect with over a shared cause. Since 2010, he has returned, year after year, to raise money for HIV and AIDS prevention and care.
This year, he won’t be able to participate in the week-long event, so instead opted to raise money as a virtual cyclist. He decided to join the Everesting Challenge—which involves doing hill repeats to climb an elevation equivalent to the altitude of Mt. Everest.
Michael completed the challenge in just over 24 hours, riding Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands. In total, he climbed higher than the elevation of Mt. Everest, 29,029 feet, to reach the more poignant milestone of 30,000 feet.
“This is my 30th year living with HIV,” said Michael, “so I thought, what’s one more loop to reach 30,000 feet? When I summited that final time, I took a moment in the still darkness and gave deep thanks for the community who supported me.”
Michael’s friends and colleagues supported him by donating to his AIDS/LifeCycle fund, coming out to cheer him along the challenge, and cycling segments of his ride with him.
“One of my friends came and put up signs all along the side of the road, strategically placed when the climbs got hard. Others rode as “Sherpas,” doing laps with me for company, keeping me safe, sane and hydrated. People I didn’t even know came out and said, ‘I want to do that with you!’”
AIDS/LifeCycle is this year from June 5 – 11. Follow the ride on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AIDSLifeCycle/.
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