The senior social work major hopes to be a representation for what action and advocacy looks like.

When students enroll at Azusa Pacific, they are asked to abide by the university’s four cornerstones: Christ, community, scholarship and service. Throughout their time at the institution, students find many ways to implement these values. From the numerous options available, few might consider bicycling 545 miles to fight against HIV and AIDS. Yet, this is exactly what senior social work major Nathan Press plans on doing. 

After graduating in May 2020, Press will ride his bicycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles in a marathon hosted by AIDS/Life Cycle. The marathon will last for seven days, with rest stops along the way. The journey is sponsored by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the LGBT Center in Los Angeles, among others. Bike Angeles also contributed by donating the bicycle which Press will be riding. 

“It’s a good way to apply advocacy and action for me because I feel like, even at APU as a Christian college, there’s not a lot of awareness on the LGBT community or the trials they go through,” Press said. 

To prepare for the marathon, Press has been visiting the medical centers involved with the event, interviewing AIDS survivors and educating himself on the history of the virus. 

Some refer to HIV and AIDS as interchangeable terms, but they are different diagnoses. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. As the name suggests, it is a virus that attacks the immune system. AIDS, on the other hand, is short for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. AIDS affects people at the last and worst stage of HIV, when the virus has severely damaged the body. 

The AIDS epidemic hit a peak in the early ‘90s after spreading rapidly throughout the ‘80s. From its beginning, the disease has affected the LGBT+ community at higher rates than their heterosexual counterparts, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Despite this, heterosexual people can still contract HIV or AIDS if exposed to the virus and not treated properly.

To avoid contracting HIV, sexually active at-risk people are encouraged to use pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and condoms. PrEP is a daily medicine which has been proven to reduce the risk of getting HIV by 99 percent when taken properly, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In contrast, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a medical option for those who fear they may have contracted the virus recently. Patients have a 72-hour window to start PEP for it to be effective.

According to Press, most of the cyclists participating in the marathon are 8-10 years older than him. When Press heard their stories of why they chose to cycle, he felt compelled to join them.

“It really touched my heartstrings. It’s very hard for me to be aware of things that are going on [like] systematic oppression and discrimination and then not do anything about it,” Press said. “There’s already a lot on my heart, especially towards the LGBT community.”

Press believes his passion towards advocacy and action comes in part due to his role as a social work major. He works in hospitals across the city of Pasadena, helping others to find housing and stable living conditions. Through his courses at APU, Press has found comfort in the community around him who seek to better the world. 

However, Press also recognizes the ways in which APU can improve, particularly as it applies to the LGBT+ community. According to Press, APU often shies away from discussing issues around substance abuse, safe sex or the LGBT+ community at large. Although APU remains an abstinent, alcohol and drug free campus, Press said there are still those who participate in these acts, but do so in unsafe ways due to a lack of available resources.

“When you go to the health center, they don’t have any services for the LGBT community,” Press said. “I was looking at the brochure in the counseling center, and I’m sure they have services for the LGBT community, but it wasn’t [advertised] … I feel like they’re trying to show this doesn’t exist when it does and it’s a very real thing people need help with.”

Press believes APU’s general avoidance towards topics such as HIV and AIDS can lead to misunderstandings and harmful stereotypes about the community. 

Press recounted a time when his social work class was discussing the importance of working alongside people with opposing worldviews. According to Press, a fellow student in his social work class asked whether she had to work with a gay person in her field if it went against her beliefs. 

“The professor asked her, ‘Well, if a car flipped over and the person inside was gay, would you help them?’ And they had to think a bit,” Press said. “That kind of hurt that they had to think about whether to save someone’s life just because they love someone of the same sex.”

Press has seen the results of these mindsets through his interviews for the marathon and his experience with social work in Pasadena. From interviewing patients who knew more about PrEP and PEP than their doctors, to homeowners refusing to rent to people within the LGBT community, Press believes people need to be more understanding of those who are different from them.

“That’s another reason why people don’t come out at APU — because they don’t know if someone’s going to disregard their life just because they have a capacity to love that is different,” Press said. “Being gay is seen as someone’s master status or their character trait or personality, but it’s not. It’s just about who someone loves.”

Although the AIDS epidemic is not as bad as it was a decade ago, Press believes it is still important to be aware of the virus, its history and the people who are still alive today who suffered through the illness, whether personally or through the loss of loved ones.

Press hopes that his actions can inspire others to be the representation they hope to see around them, and to put advocacy and action together to make the world a better place. 

Press is currently accepting donations through his page on Life Cycle’s website. He has a set goal of $3,000 to fight against HIV. As of Dec. 2, he has accomplished 34 percent of that goal, with $1,033 raised. Donations will be accepted until June 6, with all proceeds going towards the education, prevention and treatment of HIV.