Community shows support for those with HIV
SCOTTSBLUFF — Every year, on Dec. 1, the world gathers to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died from AIDS complications.
For nearly two decades, the Calico Spirit Group and the Nebraska AIDS Project has been hosting a World AIDS Day event in Scottsbluff where friends, families and loved ones unite in support of Nebraska and Wyoming families living with HIV.
This year’s theme is “Saving lives through leadership and partnerships,” which focuses on the gratitude for having life-saving treatments and the need for equal access for all in need.
“We want to focus on equal access to all people who are in need of health care,” Young said.
The event, which is open to the public, lasts about 75 minutes, a short amount of time to show support.
“It’s really a visible symbol of your support,” she said. “That’s what we’re wanting.”
The event allows supportive people to come and share time with those people whose lives have been impacted by HIV. It helps to let people know there is not a big difference between one person or anyone else in the room.
“It’s a nice way to do tribute to folks who lost children, a brother, sister or a spouse,” Yound said. “To those folks, it’s an outward symbol of community support.”
The Nebraska AIDS Project fights to overcome HIV/AIDS and its stigma through education, supportive services and advocacy. World AIDS Day is part of that overall strategy.
“That’s one of the reasons we do the event is so people know the service is here and that others are also impacted,” Young said.
NAP assists with access to a variety of services, including housing and medical care as well as emotional support services.
Young said she has seen an increase in accessing services over the past few years, but she is not sure if it is because of the increased visibility of NAP, more education, medications that have greatly improved the lives of those living with HIV or a combination of both.
“We have had an increase in the number of people getting services now than any time in the 20 years that I’ve been here,” she said.
Not all of those people are newly diagnosed. They move to the area for work, family or other reasons.
With medication, HIV no longer impacts the quality of life as much as it did in the past. With more people accessing care, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent have switched to recommending people begin treatment right away instead of taking a wait and see approach.
Education is another key component of NAP, which helps to reduce the stigma associated with HIV. Education also helps to eliminate the idea that people fit into specific groups, thereby making it easier to eliminate funding for access to care or stigmatizes a group because of perceived differences.
“Any time that becomes the general norm, less people will want to step forward to get help,” she said.
Young said in the current political climate, there is a pervasive stigma rising against the LGBTQ community. Stigma has a lot of power, she said. Even when a person has access to care, they may still feel they cannot go. For Young’s clients, if there is a perceived stigma against them, they will internalize it and feel unwelcome regardless of whether it’s blatant or not.
“If I go to that doctor, dentist or psychologist and I feel they will judge me for being gay or having HIV, I’m not going to go,” she said.
The entire concept of World AIDS Day and the events surrounding it is to create a community of support for the person with no family to the person who has generations of support. The sense of community is so that no single person or family is made to feel they are alone in the process, even in western Nebraska.
“We are trying to create that sense of community so if they are facing difficult situations or stigma, they are not doing it alone,” Young said. “They can know that they can trust a portion of this community to be understanding or advocates.”
The Calico Spirit Group and NAP will host a World AIDS Day event on Saturday Dec. 1, at the Hampton Inn in Scottsbluff. The event begins at 6:15 p.m. in the Red Rock room. The free event includes time for sharing, entertainment, refreshments, slide show and a candlelight memorial. RSVPs are not required, but are helpful to have an idea of how many people will be attending.
For more information and to RSVP, contact Jill Young at 308-672-0794.