By Edwin Folven, 11/29/2012
Events will also highlight reasons for optimism
Thirty-one years after the first cases of HIV were diagnosed. On Saturday, members of the LGBT community and groups fighting the spread of AIDS will come together to observe the annual World AIDS Day observance on Dec. 1.
A comprehensive program of events is scheduled for Saturday at the West Hollywood Library, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd. An exhibit organized by the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives runs from 2 to 10 p.m. with photographs, documents and other items from the early days of the AIDS crisis. Titled “AIDS at 31: Looking Back/Looking Forward”, the exhibit highlights the history of the fight against the disease, and the hope for a cure. There will also be screenings from 1 to 3 p.m. of films about HIV/AIDS, such as “Too Little, Too Late” (1987) and “Mother, Mother” (1989), which will be followed by a discussion with Emmy award-winning filmmaker Micki Dickoff. From 4 to 6 p.m., Dr. Michael Gottlieb will host a discussion titled, “HIV: Across the Generations”, followed by a lecture by Dr. Mark Katz titled, “Recollections and Collections: A Physician Remembers AIDS”. Musical performances with Cantor Juval Porat and Our Lady J are also scheduled.
West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran, who is HIV-positive, said World AIDS Day is a time to reflect on the crisis, and how far treatment has progressed.
“We lost about 10,000 people in West Hollywood and the neighboring Los Angeles precincts over a ten-year period,” Duran said. “It was almost like a bomb being dropped in the middle of the city. This is a day when we commemorate the incredible loss we suffered, but also a day to rejuvenate those who have been in this fight for the last thirty years.”
Duran said one of the new topics this year is treatment as prevention. Drug therapies have now progressed to the point where the levels of HIV in the body are so low that people can live much longer, and may be less likely to spread the disease. The emphasis is also on practicing safe sex, which greatly reduces the risk of spreading HIV.
“It’s a very different assessment,” he added. “The message is about, ‘save your own life, and save someone else’s life.’”
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is taking that message a step further by offering additional public testing on World AIDS Day. Alexander Goncalvez, director of mobile testing for AHF, said the organization’s “one-minute” testing van will be parked in the 8900 block of Santa Monica Blvd. from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. to conduct additional screenings. Goncalvez said AHF is also offering free HIV testing on Dec. 1 from noon to 6 p.m. at the KIIS FM “Jingle Ball Village” holiday event at the L.A. LIVE, 777 Chick Hearn Ct., downtown.
“We are testing in West Hollywood on most days, but we will be extending the hours to try to reach more people,” he said. “We typically do the tests in the evening, when it’s typically not the nine-to-five crowd. We are able to reach a population that may normally be working, and some people just feel more comfortable about testing in West Hollywood.”
Goncalvez added that the new one-minute HIV test is very convenient. Previously, test recipients would have to wait for up to 30 minutes or more for results, but the new testing allows for nearly instantaneous results. AHF also provides on-site counselors to direct people to the appropriate resources if their test comes back positive.
“We are trying to normalize HIV testing; we don’t just want to focus on the gay bars or LGBT events,” Goncalvez said. “With the new one-minute test, there is no excuse for not getting tested.”
David Giugni, social services supervisor for the city of West Hollywood, said the city is also hosting the annual AIDSWATCH. For 24 hours beginning at midnight on Dec. 1, Weho TV will display the names of thousands of people that have died of AIDS, one at a time.
Information about HIV/AIDS service providers will also be displayed twice each hour. The goal is to remind people that HIV and AIDS affects everyone. AIDSWATCH, which has been an annual observance since 1996, can also be viewed at www.weho.org/wehotv.
The public is invited to contribute names to the list at www.aidswatch.org.