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LGBT Center works to break HIV stigmas

The+Appalachian+Online
The Appalachian Online

In order to break stigmas and provide education on the human immunodeficiency virus, the LGBT Center at Appalachian State University hosted the HIV Testing and Awareness Week from March 18 to 20.

The week consisted of “Wear Red Wednesday” and the Red Ribbon Carnival on March 18, free HIV testing on March 19 and an HIV awareness contact table on March 20.

The LGBT Center offered free HIV testing by partnering with AIDS Leadership Foothills-area Alliance – an AIDS service organization based in Hickory – and a United Way Program committed to improving and maintaining the health status of people living with HIV.

Ebuka Ibeziako, coordinator of HIV Testing and Awareness Week and sophomore nursing major, said 100 kits were available for testing and 50 tests were given. Testing took about 15 minutes and only involves a prick of a finger, sitting down to talk through any questions and advice is given on lowering the risk of contracting HIV.

ALFA has nine total departments throughout the state, including one in Watauga County, where free testing is available.

“The best bet is to come to the LGBT center and we can direct people of where to go [for support],” Ibeziako said. “If you go to [health services] on campus and they don’t have what you need, they’ll definitely direct you to where you need to go.”

Students were also invited to attend the Amateur Drag Show, hosted by the Sexuality and Gender Alliance, or SAGA, on Thursday.

Brittany Harrison, junior biology major and volunteer for the event, said the drag show was separate from HIV Testing and Awareness Week, but just so happened to occur in the same week.

“The show was separate, but HIV awareness is a portion of all LGBT movements, including ours,” said Jerry Yelton, junior communication studies major and organizer of the show. “It is important to understand the prevalence of HIV, so that it is understood that it is not a disease that affects only one or two populations; it can affect anyone and everyone.”

Yelton, also vice president of community for SAGA, said the proceeds collected from the show will be donated to help purchase a film for the upcoming Suicide Prevention Week.

“Awareness means bringing attention to a topic and our drag shows, SAGA and the LGBT Center are attempting to bring awareness to sexual and gender minorities as well as any issues that can afflict our communities,” Yelton said.

As of 2014, 46,594 cases were reported in North Carolina, according to the North Carolina HIV/STD Surveillance Report from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

“I think it’s really easy to advise and teach people about safe sex, but I think it’s harder to teach people how to be an ally to people who have HIV, AIDS or any kind of STD or STI,” Ibeziako said. “Here, we’re just trying to get people to not just stick to the myths that they have heard somewhere or placing a stigma on people who have these disease. We’re trying to bridge that gap between healthy people and people who have HIV.”

STORY: Chamian Cruz, News Reporter

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