HIV/AIDS awareness and service organizations met at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center December 1 for World AIDS Day, a global movement to unite those in the fight against the disease, support those living with HIV/AIDS and remember those the disease took too soon.
The event began with a panel discussion and Q&A session with four locals living with HIV/AIDS. “When I received the notice … it was a death sentence,” one panelist said, as “very experimental” drugs were the sole options available at the time. “Medications weren’t evolved,” he said, sharing that his health diminished greatly before a new drug hit the market that finally made a difference. “I probably made it within the six-month window.”
Much of the discussion revolved around the stigma of HIV/AIDS, namely the common ignorance of how the virus is passed on. The CDC says HIV is spread “mainly by having sex with or sharing drug injection equipment” with an HIV-positive person, but there are other ways to contract the virus. One panelist shared her story of being infected while getting a tattoo at home, as the artist used an unsterilized needle from his resident tattoo shop. “The first thing you think is sex or drugs,” she said, saying even doctors were initially asking questions like, “How many partners?” or “Drug of choice?”
That same panelist recounted how her son reacted to the news of her positive status by buying her plastic cutlery and paper plates (the CDC says HIV is not transmitted by saliva and/or casual contact like sharing the same drinking glass) and giving her a tutorial on how to use the bathroom. “If my child is going to react like that, how is everyone else going to react?”
The dialogue quickly turned to medical support for those living with HIV/AIDS, explicitly the specific requirements one must meet to receive aid from organizations like the Health Department of Southern Nevada. While not on the evening’s panel, a member of the Sin Sity Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (an organization that provides HIV medication assistance to many in the Valley) took the mic for a moment, letting the audience know many HIV/AIDS patients will forego paying their rent or even eating to afford their medications.
Science has advanced, and organizations have popped up to provide support. But one thing was definitely clear during Monday night’s dialogue: More support, and awareness, is still needed.