Reminder: AIDS Is Alive And Well In Montana

Kim McGeehan wrote an article for the Bozeman Magpie about HIV in Montana- and shared some of my story along the way. Excerpt:

English: HIV-1 particles assembling at the sur...

English: HIV-1 particles assembling at the surface of an infected macrophage. Français : Des particules de HIV-1 s’assemblant à la surface d’un macrophage infecté. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I wasn’t diagnosed because I was scared. Now, I have memory issues and damage to my joints. HIV attacks soft tissues in the body—gums, brain, liver—even if you don’t have outward symptoms, the virus can still be doing damage,” Smith says. “At first, there were no treatments. Now there is a lot we can do. We can stop it or slow it down. You can live a healthy life. If you are on your meds and have a low viral load, your risk of transmitting the disease can be as low as 4%.”

That isn’t permission to take behavioral risks, but information that should encourage people to take advantage of the services offered by AIDS Outreach. Those services include fast, free, anonymous HIV tests, an HIV-positive support group, educational literature, and condoms condoms condoms.

Americans will soon be able to purchase an over-the-counter, rapid-response HIV test, but Smith worries that dealing with a positive result alone will be challenging for folks: “Denial is such a strong force in the human psyche. I remember it in myself. I’m worried that someone might test positive and not tell anyone, not get counseling or medical care.”

Read the rest:

http://www.bozeman-magpie.com/perspective-full-article.php?article_id=502

Watch Our Mardi Gras Interview On KBZK

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Pride Foundation: Big Plans for Montana

By Caitlin Copple, Montana Regional Development Organizer, Pride Foundation

During new Executive Director Kris Hermanns’ inaugural visit to Montana, the state’s Leadership Action Team volunteers convened at a retreat center in Red Lodge January 28 to assess the first year of Pride Foundation’s regional expansion in Montana and to help set the course for 2012.

“The Montana retreat recognized, created and harnessed some of the most encouraging energy I’ve been a part of in a long time,” said volunteer and monthly donor Greg Smith of Bozeman. “There is a unity of purpose and vision among us that’s palpable, and we are absolutely committed to LGBTQ equality in Montana.”

Added volunteer and donor Mary Stranahan of Arlee: “It was a good whirlwind of networking and making connections across the state, and I am very glad to have met Kris.”

Among the highlights were the notable increase in the number of LGBTQ events around the state, feeling more connected as a statewide community, giving away more money than ever, and feeling like we are working to create a better world through social change.  Wishes from team members included the need for more political and legal change, more visibility to reach people outside the “choir” of progressive and LGBTQ activists, and to diversify in fundraising strategies.

LAT Members with Pride Foundation's Amy White

The team, which functions much like a statewide board, decided to split into three subcommittees focusing on fundraising, visibility and communications, and leadership development.  The fundraising committee, co-chaired by Aaron Browning of Billings and Ginny Furshong of Helena, will focus on major donor and monthly giving development and donor retention, as well as connecting with Montana’s many “expats” who have left the state for either coast but remaining committed to social justice here.

The communications committee will develop Montana-specific “talking points” about the impact of Pride Foundation and its grantees in Montana, and work to present to businesses and service clubs.

The leadership development committee will focus on power-building by providing capacity building and technical assistance to grantee organizations and allies, as well as providing greater volunteer support to grantees, especially those focused on advocacy and education.

“Volunteering with and donating to Pride Foundation means being a part of something bigger than myself without losing my individual identity – or my voice,” explains LAT member and monthly donor Greg Smith of Bozeman. “In fact, Pride Foundation amplifies my voice because it is the vehicle for change in the Pacific Northwest for all LGBTQ persons and our allies, urbanand rural. Pride Foundation’s investment in my home state of Montana couldn’t be clearer- it’s professional, it’s consistent and it’s becoming stronger every day.”

Moving forward, the Leadership Action Team plans to meet quarterly in person and monthly in subcommittees.  If you have feedback or suggestions for how Pride Foundation can better serve your community, please contact Caitlin@pridefoundation.org or one of your local LAT members.

‘Montanans With HIV’ makes the paper

Map of USA with Montana highlighted
Image via Wikipedia

The Great Falls Tribune yesterday did a featured story on HIV in Montana with several sidebars on testing and the classification of the disease from AIDS to HIV stages 1-3. Along with Trisha Gardner of the Cascade County Health Department, Dean Wells of the Yellowstone AIDS Project and an anonymous man living with HIV in Great Falls, I was interviewed for the piece, which, among other things, focused on the stigma of persons living with HIV in the state.

Excerpt:

On average, about 20 Montanans are diagnosed with the disease every year, said Trisha Gardner, community health education specialist and HIV case manager at the Cascade City-County Health Department.

“The number of newly diagnosed cases has held pretty steady every year,” Gardner said.

Overall, the number of people in Montana living with HIV is increasing because they are living longer, she said.

While that number is on the rise, most in Montana never publicly disclose they have HIV, Gardner said.

“They don’t have to,” she said. “For the most part it’s kept a pretty private issue.”

Many who live with the disease in Montana fear losing their jobs, friends or family, and even becoming a social outcast.

“My view is that the stigma definitely reduced over the years, but it’s still there,” said Dean Wells, executive director of the Yellowstone AIDS Project in Billings. “Many of our clients live in fear of someone finding out about it.”

John, a pseudonym because he fears losing his livelihood, was diagnosed with HIV eight and a half years ago.

Trying to be honest and open after his diagnosis, John told his employer.

“It wasn’t a week later, they asked me to find another job,” he said.

Fear and stigma is still with us but there’s a lot of hope in current HIV treatment and prevention.
The key is to get tested. HIV unsuppressed in the body does damage- sometimes very significant damage- which  cannot be reversed by treatment.