This Sunday, Oct. 29, ASA celebrates its 30th anniversary AIDS Walk Austin, a walkathon benefiting educational programs and the HIV-positive community.
Achievements on the national and local fronts include significant progress in advocacy as well as advancements in HIV medication, such as PrEP – the little blue pill that blocks the transmission of the virus when taken daily. Other Truvada-based drugs, for people living with HIV, have managed to stop the virus from developing into AIDS. “Originally, when we were in the beginning stages of development and response, we were holding people’s hands while they died,” ASA Chief Executive Officer Paul E. Scott told Gay Place. “Now, as we go into this 30th year – and 30 plus years of the epidemic – we have seen tremendous strides in terms of people living with HIV and having a healthy future.”
The daylong event also serves as a reminder that HIV is not a bygone of the Eighties and Nineties. As the Chronicle previously reported, Austin has experienced an increase in HIV infections over the last decade, particularly among men who sleep with men. Scott attributes the rise to a growing undercurrent of complacency as well as stigma within the communities. He sees the walk as a way to brings these issues to light and remind folks: “This is still impacting our community.”
They hope the event succeeds at bringing people together. “It’s one of the ways in which stigma gets addressed,” a volunteer explained. “So many people are afraid just to be seen at the AIDS Walk – because then what does that mean? Does that mean, ‘I have HIV.’ And what we try to say is, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ We want people to feel supported.”
The walk also provides LGBTQ youth a chance to better understand the history of HIV in and around Central Texas. According to Out Youth’s Kathryn Gonzalez, a local LGBTQ youth center and advocacy organization, “by hearing the stories of partners, families, and friends of loved ones lost, youth begin to grasp the enormity of the crisis.”
I think this is one of the important things that people need to be aware of, to make sure that everyone matters and that people do care.