TAB's Student Fashion Show, brought to you by Marialexa Kavanaugh, Jon Gerald, Toni Hill, Keith Hill, Katy Gumble.


TAB's Student Fashion Show, brought to you by Marialexa Kavanaugh, Jon Gerald, Toni Hill, Keith Hill, Katy Gumble.

TAB’s Student Fashion Show, brought to you by Marialexa Kavanaugh, Jon Gerald, Toni Hill, Keith Hill, Katy Gumble.

What is the right age to have The Talk with your children? And not just about where babies come from, but about sex and AIDS? The stars of a 2008 documentary, “Please Talk to Kids About AIDS” were 6 and 4 when they accompanied their parents to the International AIDS Conference in Toronto in 2006 and interviewed top AIDS experts, gay activists, condom distributors, etc.

The film was not really for children. Its target was parents, to get them thinking about how and when to talk to young people, in this case, very young to make the point, about a serious subject – dead serious.

That conversation is something the Telluride AIDS Benefit embraces. The mission of the 20-year-old nonprofit is “Fight. Fund. Educate.” Which is why the launch of TAB’s Big Week starts at the Telluride Middle School/High School.

The Telluride AIDS Benefit officially opens for business with the Student Fashion Show, which takes place at The Palm on Thursday, February 21, 6 p.m. Later in the week however, things get a whole lot more serious.

On Friday, March 1, high school students (middle schoolers happen to be off that day) attend a student (peer educator-run) assembly, which includes student films and testimonials by young people teaching other young people why safe intimate behavior is so important.

Speakers on the 2013 program, which runs from 8:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m., include AIDS activist Whitney Johnson, a co-founder of Ubuntu Africa, TAB’s newest (honorary) beneficiary.

Ubuntu Africa provides services in Khayelitsha, the second largest township in South Africa, home to an estimated 1 million people. In addition to having high rates of HIV, the Khayelitsha community also faces high levels of poverty, unemployment, and crime. Many HIV-positive people in the community lack easy access to clinics, nutritious food, antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), and indoor plumbing, making their illness particularly difficult to manage.

Whitney, a former psychology major at Colorado College, started the program when she was only 22 and had just graduated.

(If you cannot attend the event at the school, see Related Posts on Telluride Inside… and Out to listen to an interview with Whitney during which her inspiring story unfolds.)

Also on the program, AIDS activist Laurie Herns and presenters from TAB’s other beneficiaries: Western Colorado AIDS Project, Children’s Hospital HIV Program (CHIP) in Denver, Brother Jeff of Brother Jeff’s Initiatve, a Mountain Village police officer (presenting info about inappropriate computer usage, healthy decision making) and Telluride High School peer educators.

And at the center of the conversation is Sandy McLaughlin, theTelluride AIDS Benefit’s point person on education, whose personal mission is:

“To create a heightened awareness among middle and high school students regarding how HIV is spread, healthy decision-making, outreach education to area high schools.”

And she is well qualified to do just that.

Sandy’s history with AIDS education way predates TAB.

It begins in 1985, when she and husband Doug were living in Dallas, Texas. Sandy was teaching and moonlighting at night at a popular cowboy restaurant, where many of the waiters were gay.

“The ‘virus’ had just been announced the year before, and so very few of us were aware of its consequences – certainly not my friend Tim. Four days after his diagnosis, Tim was dead. Another friend, Ernest, moved away to do an off-Broadway play. He dropped dead between scenes without ever knowing what hit him.”

In 1994, after TAB’s first director, Amy Kimberly, approached her, Sandy, whose day job is special ed teacher, started TAB’s school program. Since then, her focus has been HIV/AIDS awareness and risk reduction.

“Prevention education is of paramount importance to me. Why today? Because our kids are more worldly, more educated, more well-traveled and may be experimenting in romantic relationships at younger ages, but they don’t know all that they could know about making healthy, safer choices. We hope to provide that information when our TAB beneficiaries present the latest research and share their experiences in the field with HIV positive patients and their families from Colorado to Africa. And yes, every year our kids tell us they have listened to the information before. However, I do not just want them to listen, I want them to hear. I want them to get it. I want them to put into practice what we preach.”

The most popular segment of the half-day AIDS education program occurs when the girls and boys hole up in separate rooms to talk with an educator/advocate about whatever concerns them, warts and all.

“They know what they say will be held in the strictest confidence and never ever be repeated,” added Sandy.

Which is why all the models, even the crew, in the Student Fashion Show are such willing peer educators, a crusading army of teens who have been through AIDS advocacy training and teach prevention activities. Their trainer this year is Whitney Johnson.

The director/choreographer of this year’s Student Fashion Show is senior Marialexa Kavanaugh. Her assistant is Toni Hill. The director intern is Katy Gumble. Keith Hill returns as technical director extraordinaire. Jon Gerald is the Student Fashion Show’s artistic director. (Remember Jon? At the end of last year’s wonderful show, he came out on stage and, with his partner by his side, declared to the standing room only crowd: “I am gay.”)

Press the “play” to hear what all five young people have to say about the show and why they believe TAB and AIDS education in general is so important.

1 Comment
  • Sandy McLaughlin
    Posted at 07:35h, 19 February

    great articles and podcast with this year’s show team! Can’t wait until Thursday night! Everyone come out to the Palm on 2/21@ 6 pm to enjoy a great show, support our students and raise money to continue TAB’s great work!