Along with protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth from bullying, HIV-prevention has been a hot topic in Utah’s community this year. In August, local activist Richard Matthews called for the resignation of Utah AIDS Foundation Executive Director Stan Penfold, saying that the foundation had drastically scaled back its prevention efforts under Penfold’s leadership. The controversy touched off a discussion about Utah’s rapidly-rising HIV infection rates — which are highest among young men who have sex with men — and what the community can do to slow the spread of the virus.
In many ways, the events surrounding Utah’s observance of World AIDS Day (Dec. 1) appear to be a response to this heightened concern. From Dec. 1–4, a number of HIV/AIDS and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups around the state will work together, and separately, to promote prevention, raise awareness and stamp out the still-prevalent stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS.
On Dec. 1, Salt Lake City’s government will honor, for the second year, those in Utah, and from around the world, who have died from AIDS-related complications since the disease’s classification in 1981. As part of vigil and lighting event (Salt Lake City) RED, Mayor Ralph Becker will read a proclamation recognizing the day, and a number of speakers will address the ongoing AIDS crisis and its impact on Utah’s citizens. The event will include two minutes of silence during which bells around the city will ring 10 times—to commemorate the five people worldwide who are infected with HIV every minute. The event will culminate in Becker giving the signal to light the City and County Building red.
“[The city] called us as well as other organizations to partner with them for this,” said Tyler Fisher, programming director at the Utah AIDS Foundation. “It was such a successful event last year, and we had such a great turn out. The community seemed to respond well to it, so we wanted to partner with [the city] again. We think it’s incredible that Salt Lake City is taking such a notice of World AIDS Day.”
(Salt Lake City) RED will take place at the Salt Lake City and County Building, 451 S. State St., from 5:30–6 p.m.
At noon on the same day, UAF and the Utah Pride Center will combine forces for “Stick it to Stigma,” an demonstration against stigmatizing and discriminating against people with HIV/AIDS that will get its point across using balloons instead of signs. At an appointed moment, demonstrators will all pop balloons labeled with the word “STIGMA.”
“We wanted to have a very visual representation of actually sticking it to stigma,” said Lillian Rodriguez, the Center’s HIV/AIDS prevention & education coordinator. Balloons, she said, appealed to her and other HIV-prevention specialists from both organizations as something that would get the message across in a striking way.
“We think that will send a powerful visual,” she said, noting that she hopes at least 100 demonstrators will join them on the northeast corner of 400 South State Street.
Stigma was an important topic for the prevention teams at both organizations, Rodriguez added, because of the way younger generations now regard HIV/AIDS. She recalled a conversation with a young gay man who called AIDS “an old gay man’s disease.”
“I’ll never forget that,” she said. “It’s like, no, no it’s not. It hasn’t gone away. It’s a lot more than just taking pills. If you are HIV positive there’s no reason why you should be shunned [and we shouldn’t] turn our backs on people who are positive. These are members of our community and this [demonstration] is a great opportunity for us to come together and join in solidarity in addressing stigma.”
Fighting the stigma of HIV/AIDS will also be the theme of the “Stick it to Stigma” Gallery Stroll, held Dec. 3 in the Salt Lake City Main Public Library’s auditorium, 210 E. 400 South. This event, said Rodriguez, will feature works created by local artists that will have one thing in common whether they are paintings, sculptures or woven art: being done entirely in the color red.
Other events scheduled for World AIDS Day will include HIV BINGO at the Indian Walk-in Center on 120 W. 1300 South at 6 p.m. and a benefit dinner hosted by Salt Lake Community College’s Pre-Med Club, Student Health Advisory Committee, Pacific Unity Association and gay-straight alliance, Coloring Outside the Lines. All proceeds from this dinner will go to the Utah AIDS Foundation. It will be held from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. in the Student Center Oak Room (2nd floor) of SLCC’s Redwood Campus, 4600 S. Redwood Rd. For more information or to R.S.V.P, call 801-739-1889 or e-mail SLCCPreMedClub@gmail.com.
That same evening, another dinner will be held in Utah County, also to benefit the Utah AIDS Foundation. It is being put together by Mike Talbot, a member of Provo Community Church.
“Our reverend is very committed to getting involved with the community,” he said. “I had mentioned something about World AIDS Day coming up and how we really should do something, and he said, ‘I’ll give you this. It’s your baby, roll with it.’ I want people to be aware that AIDS is around Utah.”
The dinner, which will be either Chinese or Samoan food, will be $25 per person and will be held at the Provo Community Church on 175 N. University Ave. (across from Zion’s Bank) at 8 p.m. Misty Thompson, a case manager with the Utah AIDS Foundation, will be the featured speaker, and the evening will conclude with a candlelight vigil. The church will also be assembling “AIDS stockings” — packages of toiletries, snacks, office supplies and games for Utahns living with HIV/AIDS.
“We really could use donations for these,” said Talbot. “If people are willing to bring [items to fill the stockings], that would be awesome.”
For more information about the dinner, contact Mike Talbot at 801-318-2950 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
World AIDS Day events will take place at a number of other venues, including the University of Utah (see accompanying story). At 6 p.m. the Northern Utah Coalition will commemorate World AIDS Day with a memorial service for Utahns living with and who have died from HIV/AIDS.
“We’re going to have some people with HIV/AIDS tell us what it’s like to deal with the disease and some of the barriers and stigma and those kinds of things,” said Project Director Sarah McClellan. The service will be held at Your Community Connection, 2261 Adams Ave., Ogden. To R.S.V.P. (by Nov. 26) contact McClellan at 801-393-4153 or email@example.com.
Back in Salt Lake Valley, UAF and the Utah Pride Center will team up for “Who’s to Blame for AIDS?” a provocative panel discussion that will explore, said Fisher, “the complexities of HIV” as it interacts with issues pertaining to race, culture, sexual orientation and class status and why, nearly 30 years after the AIDS epidemic began, HIV infections continue to spike across the nation.
“We really hope to arrive at a different conclusion than people may assume when they read the panel description,” he said. “HIV is a complex issue that doesn’t have one answer.”
Panelists, he said, will be announced soon. The discussion, which will be followed by a reception, will be held in the Salt Lake City Main Public Library’s auditorium, 210 E. 400 South, from 7 –9 p.m. on Dec. 3.
Both Rodriguez and Fisher said that they were pleased to see so many organizations working together this year to help raise awareness and end stigma.
“I think this is the year where people want to address World AIDS Day and make it visible and well known, but it doesn’t stop there,” said Rodriguez. “World AIDS Day isn’t the only day we can talk about HIV/AIDS and addressing stigma. The conversation can and should continue. I don’t see why World AIDS Day is the one day out of the year that we stop to address … what we ourselves are doing, whether that’s volunteering for an [HIV/AIDS] organization or going to clubs [to do HIV prevention education] or using a condom when you have sex. These are things we really want to push.”