AP NEWS

30 years on, organizers say AIDS benefit vital

March 24, 2019

For 30 years, After Dark nightclub’s annual AIDS benefit has raised money for Fort Wayne’s Positive Resource Connection.

Saturday was no different as hundreds gathered at the Masterson Avenue club for the event, which featured live and silent auctions, as well as performances from some of Indiana’s favorite drag queens. As of 7 p.m., the event had raised almost half of its $30,000 goal.

The annual benefit has raised more than 1 million over 30 years.

“It’s a hell of a party,” said Della Licious, a local drag queen who helped organize the event. “If we know how to do anything, we know how to have a party.”

Much has changed since 1989, Licious added.

“People still need to be educated against stigma and educated about how to prevent the spread of HIV,” Licious said. “I think there’s a lot more acceptance for the people who are living with HIV and AIDS. It’s not like it was in the ’80s when Cracker Barrel fired all of its gay employees.”

This year was Licious’ 17th year participating in the benefit. The benefit is important, she said, because it’s possible to eradicate the HIV epidemic.

“I want it to be that HIV is eradicated, and it’s very possible with medications like PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis); it can be done,” Licious said. “The importance to me is all of my friends who are living with HIV and have passed from the complications. I do it for them.”

There are many in the community who need help, and the benefit is about giving back and lending a hand, Licious said. The Positive Resource Connection, she said, brings help and hope to those who need it.

“There’s more than 400 people in Allen County who are living with HIV, and that’s just who the Positive Resource Connection helps,” Licious said.

Timothy Price, the Positive Resource Connection’s biomedical prevention coordinator, said the annual fundraiser makes a big difference for the organization, but not just because of the money.

“Whenever you do something like this, you can really see the real nature of what people are like, because they get around those fears and reach out to help in any way that they can,” Price said. “It really is encouraging.”

Licious said she hopes people continue to educate themselves about HIV/AIDS and reduce the stigma that surrounds the disease.

“Everybody needs a hug, everybody needs love,” Licious said. “And that’s something I’ve always held on to.”

Price agreed, adding that ending the epidemic is absolutely possible. There are pills that can be taken to prevent HIV, Price said, as well as medications that treat the disease and prevent it from spreading.

“If we put our minds to it, we could end the epidemic today. Not tomorrow, today,” he said. “We have the tools already. Right now, in Fort Wayne.”

Putting our minds to it, Price said, means focusing on the truth, rather than fear, to end the stigma and by trusting the science.

“It’s an awareness of the science that is the next step,” Price said. “It’s the next move, rather than just awareness of the existence of the disease and reach out and do something about it. It’s now awareness of the science that will make the difference.”

Donations can be sent to After Dark AIDS Benefit c/o Welch’s Ale House, 1915 S. Calhoun St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802.

dgong@jg.net