A different kind of affair
Posted by pozlife on July 20, 2007
Annual black HIV/AIDS event shifts gears
Friday, July 20, 2007
For eight years, the White Attire Affair, an annual HIV/AIDS event, has focused on getting the message out to local black gays about HIV/AIDS and the need to get tested.
This year, however, the message for the Affair, which organizer Clyde Penn calls a “social marketing event,” will be a little bit different.
“The purpose of the evening is to raise awareness of the need to change one’s own behavior and that’s the only thing that would ultimately help in the defeat of this disease,” says Penn, who is president of the Ummah Endowment Fund, which produces the event.
The change in message comes after research performed by White Attire Affair supporter, Dante International, showed that 99 percent of the black gay male population was aware of HIV/AIDS. Nonetheless, the research also found that a serious proportion of the men studied were not using protection during sex.
“The population was still not internalizing the threat of HIV and it was not translating into their own safer-sex practices,” Penn says. “Members of the population who were HIV positive or who did not even know their status were still having unprotected sex.”
THE DISCONNECT BETWEEN knowledge and behavior regarding HIV for black gay men has been something Ron Simmons, executive director of local black gay AIDS organization Us Helping Us, has known about for a long time.
“In a nutshell, the problem is not that men don’t know how to save themselves from HIV,” says Simmons, reiterating a sentiment he has made to the Blade several times before. “The problem is that they do not think their lives are worth saving.”
The solution, he says, is to use mental health services to work through the childhood trauma many of the men experienced, “as opposed to just saying, ‘Put on a condom.’”
Us Helping Us was the original beneficiary of the White Attire Affair, which started as a backyard barbeque event for the first several years, but the organization no longer receives funds from the Affair. The funds raised this year, which usually amount to between $5,000 to $10,000, Penn says, do not have a designated beneficiary yet.
“I don’t believe that it really helps us,” Simmons says about the Affair’s work for black men with HIV. “You put on an event that costs close to a quarter million dollars and when the smoke clears, the agency gets $10,000, and the people who are promoting it get the same. It sounds like a business partnership.”
Penn, who declines to reveal his sexual orientation, says the event now functions more as a social affair than as a fundraiser.
“We began this event as a fundraiser, but quickly realized that there was a greater need in the community,” Penn says. “The event became more and more expensive and challenged our ability and continues to challenge our ability [to fundraise]. This is a very, very important intervention, very successful social marketing vehicle.”
This year’s Affair, organized around the theme “007: The Mission,” will include a screening of a film made for the event and performances by hip-hop artist Doug E. Fresh and singer Sheryl Lee Ralph, one of the evening’s two honorary chairs. The other is Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which serves as a title sponsor of the event.
Penn says organizers are expecting about 2,000 guests at the Ronald Reagan Building, where the event is held. Many AIDS activists have slammed Reagan’s silence during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, but Penn says the event, which he described as non-political, should be held in the District and few venues can accommodate 2,000 people.