National Gay Men’s HIV Testing Day Events in Tallahassee

I made some new friends for a cause I’ve long supported when I went to Neighborhood Medical Center’s STD Prevention 101 Healthy Happy Hour last week. I was there partially because I wanted to get a picture I could share on the Sept. 21 #ADayWithHIV. I got my picture:

 

And I got so much more…

I got a reminder that there are people in our community of all ages, races, genders and walks of life who face decisions every day about their sexual partners and practices. Especially among young people, some of these decisions are poorly informed (or downright misinformed). It takes candid talk, acceptance and easy access to testing and treatment options to help them make the best decisions for their health.

As I alluded to in this post, helping people be aware of the risks they face, the options from which to choose and the resources available to them takes explicit discussions (i.e., naming body parts correctly, not being shocked by the array of ways people interact with each other sexually and throwing away assumptions). It also, however, requires the intuition and empathy to understand how self-esteem plays in. A 15-year-old young woman, for example, said “I’m not going to get tested; I know my [18-year-old] partner is positive, so I’ll just get reinfected.”

It has been a long time since I was on the front lines of this particular kind of work (and even when I was, it was on the phone as a counselor/supervisor for the Florida AIDS Hotline, so my “front line” was a telephone receiver). I have so much appreciation and respect for what these people do. Additionally, I am grateful for the federal, state and local funding (Leon County Board of Commissioners, United Way of the Big Bend)  that makes it possible. The links I have shared aren’t comprehensive: my point is that it takes funding from a variety of sources and those are, in my opinion, jeopardized by our current political environment. We should advocate for them to be continued.)

National Gay Men’s HIV Testing Day

National Gay Men’s HIV Testing Day is coming up on September 27, and my new friends asked me to share information about the events that will be held throughout the week to observe it. I am happy to do so; here’s what they said:

Our community knows how important it is to maintain an active role in our own health. Starting Friday, September 28, 2018 through Sunday, September 30, 2018 Neighborhood Medical Center will be hosting our 4th Annual Health Extravaganza for National Gay Men’s HIV Testing Day. All events will take place at Hotel Duval (415 N. Monroe St. Tallahassee, FL. 32301) and will be free of charge to the general public. Below is a detailed list of the events that will take place during the 4th Annual Health Extravaganza:

Friday, September 28, 2018 Live Couch Talk
An interactive conversation with a health care team about HIV prevention and treatment options for people living with HIV/AIDS. Come hear the personal life story of one person’s HIV diagnosis and their journey to living a healthy lifestyle.

Gay Men HIV Testing

Saturday, September 29, 2018 PrEP First Drag Show
An informational health event about PrEP {Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis} with a Drag Exposé. This FREE event will provide educational components, speakers, drag shows and lots of fun with a twist.

Gay Men HIV Testing

Sunday, September 30, 2018 Gospel Drag Brunch
An event to close out the Health Extravaganza weekend. We will fellowship through food and song as we commemorate the precious lives lost in the LGBTQ community and individuals affected by HIV/AIDS.Gay Men HIV Testing

No one will leave this event empty handed or uninformed as we will have booths presented by our partner agencies: Big Bend Cares, FAMU Health, FSU CHAW, and Florida Health, amongst others. Please come out to help Neighborhood Medical Center and our partners spread the word to patients, family, friends, and community members about PrEP and HIV/AIDS.

Each of these three events is free. However, the organizers ask that you register through this link, which has a separate registration for each event.

For additional information, feel free to contact:
Mathias Sweet at (850) 688-0914 or msweet@neighborhoodmedicalcenter.org
Joseph Ward (850) 577-1562 or Jward@neighborhoodmedicalcenter.org

Gay Men HIV Testing

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Bob Walked; Everyone Grew

Saturday mornings almost always find me doing my long run. I have run several times through the trails at Lake Lafayette. A few weeks ago, my schedule changed and I was able to participate in a Move Tallahassee walk through the same area. Walking the trail took three times as long as running it would have, but since I ended up among bird lovers and conservationists, things were brought to my attention that I would have missed before: uncommon juvenile birds nestled in the aquatic plants; trash that had been left by walkers prior to us; invasive and predatory vegetation. I left the day with a heightened appreciation for the advantages of slowing down.

When I read an article memorializing Bob Hentzen, President and Co-Founder of Unbound, after his death on October 8, I learned that when he decided to relocate from Kansas City to Guatemala in 1996, he walked. That’s right: 4,000 miles!

The walk from Kansas City to Guatemala can be hard on shoes...

The walk from Kansas City to Guatemala can be hard on shoes…

I can only imagine the human rights issues Bob saw on his walk (and continued to see when he settled in Guatemala).

Did he encounter racism before he left the United States? Did he see citizens of his home country withholding jobs, the ability to rent homes, common courtesy from each other based on which racial group they belonged to?

As he headed south, did he encounter citizens of Mexico, struggling for the right to health protection amidst the HIV/AIDS crisis?

When he arrived in Guatemala, did he immediately see the challenges faced by indigenous people in danger of losing their land and/or livelihood? Undoubtedly he saw what he already knew: that women and girls were in danger of being victims of violence and the inability to get educated.

I know from spending a week on a Mission Awareness Trip in Guatemala with Bob in July 2011 that he cared deeply about the women and girls of Guatemala who needed help to learn skills that would earn them a living; who needed support to get education beyond the initial early grades; who needed protection when spouses succumbed to substance abuse or simply left.

Bob with Guatemalan children

Bob with Guatemalan children

I have so many memories of Bob that have come flooding back since I learned of his death earlier this week.

  • How a few of the kids in the group (and, ahem, perhaps some of the adults) thought it was “quaint” when he walked in for the first time with his guitar. It’s possible a few eyes even rolled. By the end of the week, we were done with that though. I’d give a lot of quetzales (Guatemalan money) to hear Bob sing again.
  • His reference to a song he heard a Guatemalan child sing (paraphrasing here….) “we sing to drown out the sounds of the guns.”
  • The way he interacted with every single Guatemalan family along the way during our week. His little notepad, where he wrote down specific needs and facts. How despite taking notes in his little notepad, those families had his full attention. I remember him asking one teenager if she went to school. She said “no.” There was no judgment coming back from him. But I think a seed may have been planted in that girl’s head. It was clear that no one in Guatemala wanted to disappoint “Don Roberto and Doña Cristina (his wife).”
  • The way he interacted with his staff. I know how short tempered I have been with staff when I supervised. When you’re all crammed together in a mini bus for a week, there’s not a lot of privacy. I listened to him give directions to the Unbound staff and had a sense of abiding, quiet, humble leadership.
  • Despite all that abiding, quiet, humble part, I know that Bob would not brook any nonsense when it came to Unbound. When he talked about charity clearinghouses and auditors questioning how he allocated funds, he was resolute in making sure as much money (and resources) got directly to families as possible while retaining the necessary cushion of financial solidity for Unbound.

Back to walking and human rights. I doubt any of us reading this plan any 4000 mile walks in our lifetimes. What we can do, however, is slow down and walk through our town, our country, or another country and observe the human rights challenges, with an eye to doing something about them.

To extend that example to Tallahassee and my home state of Florida, human slavery steals the rights of women (and some men). In the United States, pick any of a number of issues.

As for other countries, if you have an opportunity to visit and see for yourself, do it. In the meantime, there are plentiful ways to improve your awareness and make a difference.  (One of my favorites is Half the Sky.) In memory of Bob, I also encourage you to visit the Unbound site and consider sponsoring a child, giving a monetary gift, or even simply spreading awareness by sharing Unbound’s message on social media (or face to face!).

One of Bob Hentzen’s most repeated quotes is:  “Society has told them [the poor] all along that they are not capable. We are here to tell them they are quite capable. You are not alone. We are walking with you.” When it comes to the topic of human rights, I encourage you to take a page out of Bob’s book and walk …. blazing a path of awareness and compassion.

Bob and Sponsored Children

Bob and Sponsored Children

(Each year, Blog Action Day “brings together bloggers from different countries, interests and languages to blog about one important global topic on the same day.  Past topics have included Water, Climate Change, Poverty,  Food and the Power of We, with over 25,000 blogs taking part since 2007.” This year’s theme is human rights.)

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.