With HIV infection rates among black gay and bisexual men rising in recent years, compounded by the scarcity of HIV-prevention messages that explicitly address the experience of being black and gay, AID Atlanta is turning to the source to come up with creative ways to get these men to embrace safer sex.
AID Atlanta’s “Evolution Project,” which targets young black gay men, celebrates it first anniversary by hosting the “Final Fantasy Ball” on Dec. 2 in conjunction with World AIDS Day, which is observed Dec. 1.
“We thought it was really important to tap into the community and get some of their creative input,” says Stephaun Clipper-Wallace, a community building specialist at AID Atlanta and a mainstay in Atlanta’s gay ballroom scene.
Known for their flamboyant fashion and their imaginative environment, house balls are pageants where gay “house” members compete in a variety of make-up, fashion, voguing and gender-twisting categories. Themed after the popular “Final Fantasy” video game, the “Final Fantasy Ball” features several categories inspired by the video game’s characters and themes, including who can most realistically impersonate specific characters.
The event culminates with a trio of categories where house members will apply their creative genius to come up with novel HIV-prevention messages. In one category, participants must create a two-minute HIV-prevention public service announcement, and create an outfit that incorporates their favorite brand of lube and condoms.
In another category, contestants are charged with countering the notion that safer sex is boring by creating a cleverly erotic HIV-prevention message into their appearance.
“Our goal is to put on a really good event, and one where people can learn and get information,” says Clipper-Wallace, who is also known by his ballroom name, Stephaun Elite Manolo Blahnik.
The Final Fantasy Ball, which takes place at the Georgia World Congress Center, is one of several house balls the “Evolution Project” has produced this year in an attempt to tap into an underserved population that is also the group hit hardest by HIV/AIDS, black gay men.
“The ballroom scene is a population here that is really consistent with the target population for our agency — there’s a lot of overlap there,” says Clipper-Wallace, who notes that AIDS agencies in Atlanta have not been as successful reaching out to the ballroom scene as agencies have in other large cities.
“Since the ballroom community had typically not been tapped, I thought it was something good for the ballroom scene and the community in general,” he says. “This is not just about us coming into the ballroom community, this is about us nurturing a relationship with the ballroom community.”
SEVERAL LEADING NATIONAL FIGURES in the fight against HIV/AIDS bring their voices to Atlanta for World AIDS Day. Emory University hosts a Dec. 1 networking breakfast and speeches by Helene Gayle, president and CEO of CARE USA, and former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders.
Also on Dec. 1, AIDS Survival Project hosts a “Call to Action” fundraiser featuring speeches by state Rep. Kathy Ashe (D-Atlanta) and Robert Greenwald of the Harvard Law School’s Health Law Clinic. A foremost authority on healthcare issues, Greenwald says he plans to talk about the lack of access to healthcare in the U.S., as well as recent efforts to improve a “system that is basically broken.”
“Healthcare should be a right, and not a privilege in this country, and somehow, that our elected officials have failed to make sure that healthcare is available to all is unacceptable,” says Greenwald, author of the Early Treatment for HIV Act now stalled in Congress.
“What ETHA would do is, the moment a person tests positive for HIV, if they are poor or low-income, they would immediately be enrolled in Medicaid,” says Greenwald, noting that current Medicaid rules allow many states to wait until a person has full-blown AIDS until granting them Medicaid eligibility.
Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been ETHA’s chief sponsor in the past, but that has yet to help the bill’s prospects for becoming law, Greenwald says.
AIDS Survival Project also hosts a “Call to Worship” on Dec. 2, with a special AIDS-themed service at Central Presbyterian Church, officiated by Rev. Bradley Schmeling, who is gay.
THE NATIONAL CENTER for Human Rights Education is also coordinating a faith-based World AID Day campaign, asking black churches to display panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in their churches from Nov. 28-Dec. 2.
“Ignorance, prejudice and silence are fueling the spread of a preventable disease,” says Dorinda Henry, an Atlanta lesbian serving as interim executive director of NCHRE. Some 800 panels of the AIDS Quilt will also be on display at Emory University’s Quad area on Nov. 30.
Georgia representatives of the Prevention Justice Mobilization, a national group designed to increase political awareness about the inter-connected social factors that help spread HIV, host a World AIDS Day “Speak Out” at the Martin Luther King Center on Dec. 1. The group will continue advocacy and protests throughout the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s National HIV Prevention Conference, which starts Dec. 2.
Also on Dec. 1, the Spruill Gallery in Dunwoody hosts a one-day show by gay artist Terry S. Hardy entitled
“The Lost Boxes — Mourning the Loss,” which features boxes Hardy created after his partner died of AIDS complications.
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