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AIDS

[Weekly Q&A]

AFAN executive director Antioco Carrillo talks stigmas, misconceptions of HIV/AIDS

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Learning curve: Carrillo says Las Vegas has a long way to go in HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.
Photo: Leila Navidi

This week Aid for AIDS of Nevada celebrates its 27th annual Black & White Party, a fundraising bash that has become one of the city’s premier social events—a far cry from its humble beginnings as a canned food drive for AFAN clients.

As the organization prepares for Black & White and its 30th anniversary, we sat down with executive director Antioco Carrillo to discuss the nonprofit’s work, misconceptions of HIV/AIDS and what’s in store for AFAN’s future.

Can you say a little about what AFAN does? We are the oldest and largest AIDS service organization in the state, and we provide several services to the community. We have a prevention education component, and we also have services for clients that are infected and affected by HIV. We serve an average of 4,000 clients a year, and at any given time we have from 1,200 to 1,500 clients accessing services such as medical transportation, requests for assistance to pay for their rent, helping them with paying co-pays for medications, housing—when they move into a new place they need assistance of sometimes with moving costs. We keep up with their progress—if they need to go to counseling and if they need to go to medical appointments, we make sure that we are managing their case. We have social workers, they do home visits … they care hard. We are actually very active in the prevention side. We go out to civic groups, university classes, places where people want to know about HIV/AIDS and our services.

What are some common misconceptions of HIV/AIDS and those affected by it? The common misconception is that AIDS is now a curable disease, because there’s medication that make people’s health better and stabilizes them. But it really doesn’t cure anybody, so people continue to get infected. The other misconception is that AIDS is something that happened in the ’80s and ’90s, and it happened to a specific group of people. I teach at [UNLV]. I say, “Students, I don’t want you to disclose any details, but in the last six months or year, how many of you have had a one-night stand?” And when I see the hands up, I’m like, “So, did you use condoms? Did you use protection?” I don’t want to know the details, but that’s really the message that I get from the community—that it doesn’t apply to most people, especially most young university students. It doesn’t apply to what they do and they don’t think about using condoms.

HIV/AIDS has long been stigmatized as a “gay disease.” Does that stigma still exist?

The stigma that we see is really about sex, because we don’t talk about sex. We’re not healthy enough as a society to address some sexual issues people may have or questions or anything. We are really poor in terms of sexual education. I think that when you put sex and death together as a combo, it’s hard for people to even think about it. We seem to attach ideas to people that are not the most desirable in society, groups of individuals that are marginalized. And so that’s what they think: “It’s a gay disease. I’m not gay, so I shouldn’t worry about it,” and “It’s for people who share drugs. It’s for those druggies and those alcoholics. It doesn’t affect me” The reality is that many of the clients that we have do not fit the stereotype. Anybody can be the picture of HIV/AIDS.

Is there special care taken with the verbiage surrounding HIV/AIDS when speaking about someone who has been infected?

The wording is you have an immune-compromised system. That’s the reality, and it doesn’t sound as harsh as AIDS or HIV. Other people are very fine with it. “I’m HIV positive, I’m very proud of that, and I can disclose that at any time.” And that depends on how much they have integrated the diagnosis in their lives.

I’ve heard you should always say “living with” instead of “suffering from.”

They’re living with HIV/AIDS. … We try to normalize it in a sense, in that they have a normal life, all they have is a different condition. Like other people are living with cancer, with diabetes, with any other chronic disease. It’s a life, it’s a struggle; just like anybody else that is affected by any other disease. When you present it that way, it has this impact in terms of the negative connotation. One, the negativity goes away, and the other, they’re able to embrace life. All our clients deserve the dignity and respect of everybody else, despite what they’re afflicted with.

What do you remember from your first Black & White Party?

It has to be probably 1993. It was mostly attended by the gay community and the community that supported it, but it was a very small group. I have seen the progression from there to where we are right now. I want to be able to move forward with an event that is much more publicized and that we’re able to send the message of prevention, not just to raise funds.

What are AFAN’s goals for the future?

We want to obviously expand the services we provide to the great clients that we have. We really need to start looking at prevention efforts—education prevention, PR campaigns, anything that is out there where people can become aware of HIV risks. We’ve never done as good of a job as other cities have done. That’s the goal that we have, to bring the consciousness to people about HIV. Thanks to the community, and thanks to the people who continue to believe in us, we’ve managed to be here 29 years—and we’re looking forward to the 30th.

27th Annual Black & White Party August 24, 9 p.m., $35. The Joint, afanlv.org

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