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Activist Calls for UAF Director Penfold’s Ouster

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At a rally focused on community building, building bridges and a call to “band together to change our common destinies,” community leader Richard Matthews raised more than a few eyebrows by calling for the resignation of Stan Penfold, executive director of the Utah AIDS Foundation.

“I hate making enemies; I really deep down just want to be friends with everyone,” Matthews wrote in a Facebook appeal titled, “Save the Utah AIDS Foundation” after the rally. “However, [rally organizer] Turner [Bitton] and I agreed: there comes a time in your life when you can’t worry about what people think. You have to do what you know is right.”

“I would avoid such impropriety at all costs if it weren’t about the lives and livelihoods of young people who are UNeducated, UNaware of the danger, and woefully UNPREPARED,” he continued.

Matthews believes Utah needs a “comprehensive HIV prevention program” and that Utah is “losing the battle against HIV.” He also questions Penfold’s dedication to his job.

“The leadership that we have entrusted to carry our banner in this battle is absent. The commander is not on the battlefield. In fact, I don’t believe you can even see the battlefield from the golf course or the city council chambers. I don’t think everyone realizes the gravity of this crisis. This is all hands on deck! That means you captain! You can’t save this sinking ship when you’re only at the helm for an hour a week,” he wrote.

Penfold said he was surprised at the call.

“I think it’s unfortunate that someone who clearly has concerns about HIV in our community didn’t come and talk to us at the UAF,” Penfold said. “It has caused me to reexamine our open-door policy. We apparently have barriers we are not aware of.”

Penfold said he understands that there might be a perception that he cannot handle both the UAF and his role on the Salt Lake City Council, which he was elected to in November of last year.

“Yes, the city council is a demanding job, and the Utah AIDS Foundation is a demanding job. Both require a lot of time,” Penfold said. “I put in my full time at UAF. I work at least 40 hours a week, but not at my desk. I meet with community partners, community leaders, funders, donors and the Board [of Trustees].  A significant part of my job is outside the office. In fact, if I were at my desk, I wouldn’t be doing my job as director.”

“Stan works an average of 45-plus hours a week,” said UAF Board of Trustees Chair Shawn Jackson. “He is a very dedicated executive director and has put his life on hold for many years to ensure that his first obsession — the Utah AIDS Foundation — is the best it can be. UAF’s staff is very well trained with the day-to-day operations, where Stan concentrates on the big picture — the community, community partnerships, donor relations and so on.

HIV on the Rise

Matthews points to recent statistics, which show a significant increase in new HIV diagnoses, as his reason for taking action. In eight years, the rate of HIV infections has risen nearly four-fold from 30 to 112, according to the Utah Department of Health. Seventy percent of all HIV-positive people in the state are men who have sex with men, including IV drug users who also have sex with men. (Twelve percent of HIV-positive people are unclassified.)

“We are losing the battle against HIV, and the response of our flagship HIV foundation is to decrease prevention efforts,” Matthews wrote.

Matthews is a former UAF volunteer who helped run a program since cut by the Foundation — The Village.

“Two years ago I came out of the closet. I had no friends and didn’t know one openly-gay person,” he said. “I found a sense of family in The Village.”

He has since started a similar group, called SimplySocial, which meets on Wednesday nights at the University of Utah for an hour before going to dinner all together at a restaurant.

Matthews points to what he says are severe reductions in services by UAF. He says that the organization has “dismantled nearly all of their HIV prevention programming,” with the exception of a program for Latino men. He also points to a reduction in HIV testing, especially free and walk-in testing, the discontinuation of the annual Gay Men’s Health Summit and support groups for people living with HIV and AIDS. He claims there is no HIV prevention programming for youth nor services for HIV-positive youth and that the organization turns away coordination requests from other groups.

Penfold said he is well aware of the increase in HIV transmission rates.

“It has been agonizing to see that, despite all of our efforts, infections are still going up across the country and in Utah as well,” Penfold said. “We’ve been taking a serious, hard look at our prevention programming. We are trying to be proactive. The old programming wasn’t working anymore, so we took a critical look at it.”

“We looked at other models across the country, but no one yet has a ‘magic cure,’” he continued. “Any good prevention program has a life expectancy of about five to six years. After that, it gets stale and routine.”

New Outreach Programs

Penfold said that the organization is currently focusing on two main efforts — A Mr. Gentleman campaign and the Doctors, Dudes and Dinner (3D) program.

“The Mr. Gentleman campaign is a refocus of our outreach in bar and social settings,” he said. Volunteers dress as superheroes and hand out packets with condoms, lube and a voucher to receive free HIV testing. “It’s an effort to show that safer sex can also be sexy. We worked really hard on sex-positive messages. There are plenty of sex-negative messages out there.”

Penfold says the program scales back in the summer because bar attendance is down and volunteers are more difficult to attract.

“It’ll pick up when school starts,” he explained.

The 3D program focuses on frank talk about sexual subjects in a relaxed, open setting. Topics are on health issues for gay men, including body image, steroids, drug use and anal care.

“We need to be very focused and specific in HIV education,” Penfold said. “We have done three and a fourth is coming up.”

“They’ve had good evaluations,” he said. “We want to make sure they are hearing the HIV [messaging] pieces. We’re going to crank it up a bit this fall and winter, doing more of those and broadening the topics to be more edgy and cool.”

As far as free HIV testing, Jackson says that the Foundation still offers testing twice a week — Mondays for drop-ins and Wednesdays for appointments.

“In our prevention outreach programs, we give out safe sex packets which include a card for free HIV testing,” Jackson said. “Also if you cannot pay for the test, we will not turn you away either. “

“Frankly, we are overwhelmed by the amount of people coming to get tested,” Jackson continued, “We do not have the manpower or the facility to accommodate everyone.”

HIV-Positive Youth

Matthews also expressed concern about youth entering the community, already sexually active, and already HIV-positive.

“My heart broke upon hearing from a 19-year-old kid, only recently joined our community, freshly diagnosed and now burdened with a lifetime of stigma, compromised health, a shortened lifespan, compromised relationships, and psychological burden,” Matthews wrote. This is a terrible price to pay for a mistake, especially when you did not understand the danger. How many kids do we have to lose to this terrible infection before we stop being polite about it?”

“It’s a huge concern and a significant challenge,” Penfold said. “Young men are becoming sexually active before we have any chance to interact with them. They are sexually active in high school and they are not looking to gay organizations and such.”

Penfold said that current Utah law restricts even the mention of homosexuality in any kind of positive light in the classroom.

“They are not going to bars or social groups. They are hooking up online,” Penfold said. “It becomes a really incredible challenge to get to them — especially if they are under 20.”

“People need to start demanding comprehensive sex education in schools,” he said. “We need a bigger, full-community response. Any encounter with a gay youth needs to have a talk about their safety and safer sex.”

Capitol Hill

Matthews counters that Penfold cannot be an effective lobbyist on Capitol Hill to demand such things as a shift in sex education because of his role in the Salt Lake City Council.

“The role of director of UAF should be that of lobbyist-in-chief over the issue of HIV/AIDS,” Matthews said. “The door knocking and lobbying on Capitol Hill this year was done by other organizations. I find it hard to believe that being elected to the city council would make one more willing to be a bull-dog advocate on Capitol Hill when one has sworn an oath to represent the city.”

One of the leading organizations which did the “door knocking” on Capitol Hill was the People With AIDS Coalition of Utah. Executive director Toni Johnson only said that she has “read the Facebook article, and I agree that there are legitimate concerns which need to be addressed.”

However, QSaltLake was on an email list last fall where Johnson and other prominent community leaders were going out of their way to accommodate Penfold’s schedule to join them in a meeting to address the needs of people with HIV and AIDS in light of decreasing Ryan White funding – and the possibility Utah wouldn’t match the funds at all. Penfold, who was in the final throes of his city council campaign, never attended, even the week following the election.

“Instead of leading the charge of organizing a community-wide response to cuts in state funding to HIV medication, he failed even to attend,” Matthews said.

Former Utahn and HIV/AIDS activist Stuart Merrill, who ran the Campaign to End Aids–Utah, said that Penfold refused for years to meet with him and other community organizations. He believes it came down to the bottom line as to why he wouldn’t have a presence on Capitol Hill.

“He refuses to lobby,” Merrill said. “He goes to great lengths to avoid anything even remotely politically touchy because it may affect his donor base.”

“There are just some times when his political goals directly conflicted with needs of the HIV community,” he said. “On two occasions we successfully lobbied for enough state money to eliminate wait lists in Utah. Stan, for whatever reason, tried on both occasions to stop our efforts, in spite of the fact that this work and these monies may literally have saved the lives of UAF clients.”

People with HIV/AIDS at Risk

Last October, the Utah AIDS Drug Assistance Program closed its doors to new applicants, lowered its income eligibility requirements and kicked 87 people from its rolls because of a state funding shortage.

“This is the money that [Penfold] said wasn’t needed the previous two years,” Merrill said. “Now there are people with HIV and AIDS in Utah who must wait while their disease progresses before they can get treatment.”

“Last year I was hospitalized because I wasn’t on medications,” wrote former Utahn Adam Alder in a guest editorial in the August 3 issue of QSaltLake. “I spent four days at the University Hospital battling pneumonia. I couldn’t get medications because the Utah AIDS Foundation constantly lost the paperwork needed for the Health Department and the Ryan White Program … Four days, and many antibiotics and shots later, I was starting to make a recovery. Upon checking out of the hospital, I was told to call and make an appointment with the doctor to get me started on HIV meds. The next day I called and was told there were no openings for six months. So, I told myself that I’d try to stay healthy until I could leave in August.”

“Here in Minnesota we are flush with HIV cash,” Merrill said. “The state budget was just cut by almost $1 billion, but nobody so much as whispered the thought of cutting our HIV funding. The federal bill that I worked on with Senator Hatch netted Minnesota almost $2 million a year more. It also netted Utah $1/2 million per year, but I guess it wasn’t enough … now new HIV cases in Salt Lake City have worse access to meds than in Havana or Rio.”

A Director’s Pay

Matthews also complained of Penfold getting a raise in difficult economic times. Penfold’s salary before 2008 was 58,275 plus $1,020 in an employee benefits plan, according to public records of UAF’s tax returns. In 2008, he received $68,000 and $5,630 in benefits.

“The salary of the director of the Utah AIDS Foundation is larger than the entire organizational budget of the People With AIDS Coalition of Utah,” Matthews wrote. “Many would argue that PWAC provides more value and programming to the HIV-positive community. The Northern Utah Coalition operates tremendous programming in the Weber County area with almost no funding.”

“The last time the Board approved any salary adjustments was in January of 2008,” said Jackson. “And it was based on a market survey of the sector and local nonprofits. We made adjustments to several positions, including Stan’s and all adjustments were still below market rates.  Prior to 2008, Stan had not received any increase in salary for more than six years.”

“I’m not saying a director isn’t worth $70,000 per year,” said Matthews, “I’m just saying that with that kind of money, we should have a passionate advocate and warrior that is the most recognizable face in the community providing education and guidance.”

Petition

Matthews has created a Facebook page to collect “signatures” at tinyurl.com/saveUAF, titled “Petition to Save the UAF — A Call for New Leadership.” So far, 180 people have “signed” by choosing the “Like” button.

“I’m asking you to stand with me in calling on the Board of Trustees of the UAF to bring in a fresh new perspective, someone with new innovative ideas and approaches,” Matthews wrote. “Young people are more empowered than ever. They’re coming out in junior high. They’re not being rejected by their friends and family. They hang out with straight friends and go to straight clubs. They don’t define themselves by gay labels.  This is a whole different gay man we need to reach. Our traditional approaches are completely irrelevant. It’s not enough to sit in a bar and pass out condoms. We can’t keep using the same old approaches that have been used for 30 years. We need new approaches to tackle a problem that we are currently FAILING to address. Actually, I take that back. Even old approaches would be adequate right now. But NO approach is not okay. Doing nothing is not okay. We are not beaten, we have not lost.”

“We are really open and accept criticism,” Penfold said. “I get that this it truly about all of us. It’s going to take every single one of us to make change happen.”

“I think it is great that we are talking about it,” he continued. “If we can get a dialogue going, we can bring our concerns and problems, and come up with solutions together. I think that’s incredible.”

Michael Aaron

Michael Aaron is the editor and publisher of QSaltLake. He has been active in Utah's gay and lesbian community since the early 80s and published two publications then and in the 90s.

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