Although research since the discovery of AIDS in the early 1980s has illuminated understanding of the virus, a stigma has largely remained static.
Benjamin Holdaway, HIV prevention lead for the Utah AIDS Foundation, says a rash of misinformation continues to plague the public’s understanding of HIV/AIDS, particularly regarding how it can be transmitted.
“People still think that you can get HIV from kissing,” he says. “They think you can get it from tears or spit or saliva. You can’t get it from hugging. You can’t get it from kissing. That’s a big stigma that exists.”
For World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, the Utah AIDS Foundation has put together a jam-packed day it hopes will help erase erroneous notions about HIV/AIDS.
The event kicks off 9 a.m. at the Salt Lake City Library where attendees can get free HIV and Hepatitis C testing. There will also be risk-assessment counseling, and references on where to get pre-exposure prophylaxis services (PrEP). “This last year, the AIDS Foundation has been building a big list of doctors to refer clients to that are at risk for HIV,” Holdaway says. Testing will continue throughout the day.
At 1:30 p.m., folks will meet at the City Creek TRAX station for the “Read My Lips” kiss-in and “Stick it to Stigma” rally. The group will hop on the train and ride it for two stops, getting off at the courthouse station. The idea is to board the train “and be kissing all the way along,” he says. This demonstration will be an attempt to educate the general public that people do not risk the threat of contracting HIV simply by being in the same space as a person who is infected with the virus.
“We want people to feel that they can show affection and love, too,” Holdaway says. This demonstration will conclude by popping balloons in the library atrium.
The event is cosponsored by the Utah Film Center.
The first of three free movie screenings will take place at 3 p.m. in the library auditorium. While a film adaptation of the popular Broadway musical Rent plays, audience members are encouraged to sing along. Lyrics will be displayed on the screen for those unfamiliar with the songs.
“It’s going to be raucous, so feel free to bring kazoos for the New Year’s Eve scene,” he says. “Bring pretty props; dress up.”
A RED Party starts at 6 p.m. at the Bodega on Main Street. For $45, partygoers get a free drink and entry into a raffle for two nights at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. Holdaway says the cocktail party is to raise money for the AIDS Foundation and give people an opportunity to meet new foundation team members.
Those who don’t want to attend the RED Party can see Blood Brother, a 2013 Sundance film that took home the Audience Award Documentary prize, as well as the Grand Jury Prize Documentary. It runs from 6-8 p.m. in the library auditorium.
After the party, people will filter back to the library. At around 8:30 p.m., a remembrance presentation will begin and then the screening of a documentary titled Remembering the Man.
On Wednesday, Salt Lake City passed a joint resolution declaring support in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“World AIDS Day is a time to pause and reflect on the impact of HIV/AIDS on our world and on our lives here in Salt Lake City,” Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a prepared statement. “Many of us have lost family members and friends or know people who are living with HIV/AIDS. As a community, we must work to eliminate the stigma that still exists against people living with HIV, and to support education, prevention, treatment and the work toward a cure.”