Telluride AIDS Benefit at 25, An Overview

Telluride AIDS Benefit at 25, An Overview

The Telluride AIDS Benefit continues to wave its “Fight.Fund.Educate” banner on high – and with good reason. With regard to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, today’s political environment is, at best, a giant question mark; at worst, toxic. On the scientific front there may be cause for optimism, but to date there is still no definitive cure for the virus. The Telluride AIDS Benefit is celebrating 25 years of community involvement and dedication to the cause: raising money to help HIV and AIDS clients of its beneficiaries, literally hundreds of individuals and families of all demographics living with HIV/AIDS from the Front Range of Colorado to Africa. TAB also remains laser-focussed on prevention through education. Join in TAB’s week of events, beginning Friday, February 23, 6 p.m., with the Student Fashion Show at Telluride’s Michael D. Palm Theatre and culminating with the Gala Fashion Show at  the Telluride Conference Center in Mountain Village. All happening between March 1 – March 6.

Go here for a full schedule of events.

Go here to purchase tickets to the Student Fashion Show. Also here for reserved seating.

Go here for tickets to gala fashion show.

Go here to donate.

Go here to volunteer.

Scroll down to the bottom of the story for key dates during TAB’s week.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Off the radar; off the runways.

And therein lies a major challenge the greater Telluride community continues to face in its own unique way, an acronym: TAB (for the Telluride AIDS Benefit).

In 2018, AIDS turns 37. Or depending upon when you believe the virus was outed, it is fast approaching its 40th anniversary in the U.S.

According to Avert:

HIV originated in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo around 1920 when HIV crossed species from chimpanzees to humans. Up until the 1980s, we do not know how many people were infected with HIV or developed AIDS. HIV was unknown and transmission was not accompanied by noticeable signs or symptoms.

While sporadic cases of AIDS were documented prior to 1970, available data suggests that the current epidemic started in the mid- to late 1970s. By 1980, HIV may have already spread to five continents (North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Australia). In this period, between 100,000 and 300,000 people could have already been infected…”

Then the site goes on to say:

“In 1981, cases of a rare lung infection called Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) were found in five young, previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles. At the same time, there were reports of a group of men in New York and California with an unusually aggressive cancer named Kaposi’s Sarcoma.3

In December 1981, the first cases of PCP were reported in people who inject drugs.

By the end of the year, there were 270 reported cases of severe immune deficiency among gay men – 121 of them had died…”

In June 1982, a group of cases among gay men in Southern California suggested the cause of the immune deficiency was sexual.

In September of that year, the Centers for Disease Control used the term ‘AIDS’ (Acquired Immune Deficiency syndrome) for the first time.

The disease first made headlines in France in January 1983.

In April 1984, the National Cancer Institute announced it had found the cause of AIDS, the retrovirus HTLV-III. In a joint conference with the Pasteur Institute, it was announced that LAV and HTLV-III are identical and the likely cause of AIDS.

What goes around, comes around. As polarized as our country is today – haves v. have nots, Dems v. Republicans, white supremacists v. everyone else – it was also divided back then too, with the pandemic causing further polarization. In fact, the disease was initially called Gay-Related Immune Deficiency or GRID, with national megaphones like Jerry Falwell preaching that the virus was cosmic revenge on homosexuals for their crimes against nature.

And yet, as AIDS enters hardcore middle age, there are about 39 million people still living with the disease, with 32 percent of new HIV infections are in youth ages 20-29. According to stats from UNAIDS, 1.8 million people became infected in 2016, down from three million 10 years ago. Still, estimates are 20 million people remain untreated for HIV. And since more people are becoming newly infected than are dying, the pandemic is still growing.

It is therefore on us to help prevent another generation from becoming infected.

Which is where the Telluride AIDS Benefit comes into the picture with its emphasis on prevention through education and, through its beneficiaries, helping those who have difficulty helping themselves. (For more on who those beneficiaries are, go here.) 

Today, perhaps the greatest obstacle doctors face in the war on AIDS is complacency, a perception among young people and the general population that no one really dies from the disease anymore, that the illness is no longer a real problem in the United States because advances in treatment have enabled people to live much longer. AIDS is something exotic. Something out of Africa – or one of the sh..thole countries.

Dialing it back to those early days, the 1980s and 1990s, AIDS made headlines – and the pandemic was high in the American consciousness, in part because among the thousands of lives lost were superstars like Rock Hudson. Then there was the diagnoses of Magic Johnson and Greg Louganis,

In the good? bad? old days, red ribbons seemed to adorn every lapel; now they are pulled out of the back of drawers for annual charity walks.

And yes, it is true treatments for HIV have never been better. One pill, once-a-day for a lifetime is now the norm, with fewer side effects and toxicities. However, these much vaunted medications have nasty side effects, plus patients must follow a very strict regimen or risk developing a form of their disease that’s immune to treatment. What’s more, according to one online source:

“…these lifesaving treatments are still beyond the reach of most people living with HIV in the world. People living in poor countries in many instances must travel long distances, wait for a long time and cannot access the best drugs.”

That is not just people living in poor countries like Ethiopia and Swaziland, but many living in rural countries throughout Colorado, places with communities served by TAB, whose long arm reaches from the Western Slope to the Front Range to Africa.

The importance of Telluride’s initiative cannot be overstated. Because despite good news on survival rates due to productive interventions, despite Truvada, a pre-exposure prophylaxis, tens of billions of dollars and decades of research have not produced a cure. There is still no magic bullet to fight AIDS, no vaccine yet, nothing that will rid HIV from the bodies of the infected. Nothing that will stop all new infections.

A fact that is often gets left out of conversations about the disease is that HIV is basically an STD or Sexually Transmitted Disease. Translation: HIV is spread from one person to the next the same way gonorrhea travels, i.e., through the exchange of bodily fluids during sex. The spread of HIV took off in the 80s because people did not heed the warnings about using condoms when being intimate. They did not listen to advice suggesting were sexual partners and encounters. And fair warning, today, the number of STDs cases is exploding.

“In 2016, Americans were infected with more than 2 million new cases of gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia, the highest number of these sexually transmitted diseases ever reported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday,” reported CNN in September 2017.

Connect the dots.

TAB’s gala fashion show raises money to help its growing list of beneficiaries.

In addition to the media yawning at the subject of AIDS, soooo yesterday, and misperceptions about the disease in general, some communities have persistent taboos around sex and any discussions of the subject, so out of ignorance or embarrassment people are engaging more than ever in risky behavior.

“…Perhaps that attitude and reluctance towards safe sex conversations have led to more women contracting HIV. Approximately 75 percent of the new female cases involved women contracting the disease through heterosexual sex…,” continued CNN.

There are approximately 40,000 new infections every year. Half of the newly-infected patients, the CDC says, are under 25 years old.

“…Besides the rising number of young people with the disease, the first generation of children born HIV-positive — once referred to as ‘AIDS babies’ — are coming of age. If they are not fully educated about AIDS prevention and adherence to medication, they may only fuel a number of new cases in the coming years. And that may lead to resurgence in AIDS ribbons — for all the wrong and tragic reasons,” noted abcNews.

In the face of complacency, misinformation and the stats, conflict over what AIDS prevention messages to send, particularly to young people, remains an issue.

In general, schools are reluctant to teach about condom use. Abstinence-only education communicated to a dubious, sexually-curious teenage classroom tends to get more political support (read funding) – but has been proven not to work.

In general, Telluride bucks that trend, launching AIDS week with prevention education in local schools, including, but definitely not limited to the Student Fashion Show.

Fern Garber, choreographer and Joey Hunt, director, TAB’s Student Fashion Show, 2/23.  Both are also peer educators.

“We are headed over the falls in a barrel,” said the Washington Blade. “Gonorrhea is becoming resistant to all the current medications to treat it. Syphilis, which was on the verge of elimination in this country, is roaring back. The condom culture that we worked so hard to establish is being destroyed. Just as we did in the 80s, the only way that we can reverse this devastating trend is on a grassroots community basis, which will take courageous leadership…”

Locally for the past 25 years and counting, TAB is that grassroots organization showing courage, taking the lead.

Important Dates for TAB week 2018:

TAB student fashion show 2018, rehearsing, courtesy Joey Hunt, director.

Friday, February 23

  • TAB Student Show

Thursday, March 1

  • 25th Anniversary Sneak Peek Fashion Show

Friday, March 2

  • AIDS Education Day at THS
  • Beneficiary Meet & Greet (invitation only)
  • Twenty (x) Telluride: The HIV Edition + Reception + CHIP Silent Art Auction

Saturday, March 3


  • FREE HIV Testing + Community Q+A @ WPL
  • Patron Party (invitation only)
  • 25th Anniversary Gala Fashion Show
  • TAB After Party with DJ Salinger

Monday, March 5

  • Designer Sample Sale
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