Monday, January 24

40 years after the 1st AIDS diagnosis, an Ohio World AIDS Day event aims for remembrance & restoration

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As the COVID pandemic continues to dominate our lived existence, December 1 is quickly approaching, reminding us of a different epidemic that continues to affect so many LGBTQ+ lives across Ohio.

Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day. The event provides an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV and to lift up the voices of those who are living with HIV/AIDS and who have died from an AIDS-related illness.

This year, a coalition of organizations are coming together to host an All-Day Community Resource Fair for World AIDS Day, with the event being dubbed, “a day of remembrance and restoration.”

Equality Ohio, OSU Wexner, The Ohio Health Modernization Movement (OHMM), Central Ohio Restored Citizens’ Collaborative, and Stonewall Columbus are coming together with 28 different providers to assist with everything from housing and mental health resources, to substance use support, to identification documents, to legal advice, all with the goal of providing much needed resources so that all Ohioans can survive and thrive.

The Buckeye Flame spoke with Delaney Barr, legal clinic staff attorney at Equality Ohio, to put this year’s World AIDS Day in perspective and to learn more about this unique event.

Delaney Barr

How do we convey a sense of urgency about HIV/AIDS in 2021?
This the 40th anniversary of the first diagnosis of AIDS and what really is the urgent piece right now is that there are some laws in Ohio that unfairly criminalize folks living with HIV. We need to modernize those laws and there is a trend across the nation that is pushing for that modernization. Change starts with reducing the stigma of folks living with HIV/AIDS and taking into account current law and current science.

That’s part of what we’re doing for our event on December 1st. We are providing a safe and affirming space for people living with HIV and people who are not. That means encouraging everyone to get tested, for people to know their status, and for everyone to know their options to be safe and healthy.

There are two themes of the World AIDS Day Community Resource Fair: remembrance and restoration. Talk to us first about remembrance.
So what we’re doing at the event is creating a space where folks are able to remember those who they have lost and share memories and celebrate the lives of those who have lived.

We have partnered with OSU MATEC to have a viewing of the Ohio AIDS Memorial Quilt, which features a sampling of the folks we have lost for people to view and remember and commemorate. We also are going to be doing a candlelight vigil for those we have lost and that is going to be happening at the end of the night for folks to hold space for those very deep emotions that come with this epidemic.

And how will the event tackle “restoration”?
We definitely want to make sure that we give people the opportunity during COVID and during this ongoing hardship in the world to get the resources they need to survive and thrive.

So what we’re doing is pulling together many different providers across the spectrum to address needs: starting at HIV testing and COVID vaccinations. And then services all the way to career counseling, starting your new business, getting a free phone, getting free legal advice, and more. We want to really restore people’s abilities to be uniquely themselves and thrive here in Ohio.

Here we are in the pandemic of COVID trying to get people to talk about the epidemic of HIV/AIDS. How do we make sure that HIV/AIDS are on the tip of everyone’s tongues as they should be?
The HIV/AIDS epidemic is actually much in line with what is happening with COVID. Some of the new science that is going on right now—the MRNA vaccinations that have been useful to combat COVID—are actually being used and developed for people living with HIV as a new medication.

We can use that momentum that everyone has pushed for—to be safer, to be in community, to be together—to push to end the AIDS epidemic through science, through ending stigma, through ending discrimination, and with more understanding that this is a chronic condition and not a death sentence. HIV is not something to be feared by hugging someone or breathing the same air as someone.

There’s this sentiment going around that feels like, “What the hell? We came up with a vaccination for COIVD so fast. How are we 40 years past HIV/AIDS without a cure? Why isn’t this a priority?” How do we respond to those frustrations?
I think that starts with more knowledge and more understanding that HIV has the ability to impact everyone. It is not just one population or another. The more that we eliminate the concept that this just for the LGBTQ+ community or just for a certain minority, the more we are able to say, “Hey, this affects everyone!”

We ought to be addressing this holistically like we have with COVID. HIV/AIDS are ongoing. They have been around for 40 years. We need to develop more resources, more community outreach, and really push for the end of the epidemic by reducing stigma, and by developing abilities for our community to talk about this and support one another. 🔥

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About Author

Ken Schneck is the Editor of The Buckeye Flame. He is the author of "Seriously, What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew" (2017), "LGBTQ Cleveland" (2018), "LGBTQ Columbus" (2019), and "LGBTQ Cincinnati" (2020). In his spare time, he is a professor of education at Baldwin Wallace University.

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