Telluride AIDS Benefit 2020: Overview

Telluride AIDS Benefit 2020: 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, however, while there is cause for optimism, to date there is still no definitive cure. 

TAB’s week of awareness education and fundraising to help support hundreds of individuals and families of all demographics living with HIV/AIDS begins this year on February 20 with the Student Fashion Show. Events include the sneak peek fashion show, 2/27; AIDS Education Day (Telluride and Ridgway) 2/27 and 2/28; the gala fashion show, 2/29; wrap party, 2/29; free HIV testing at the Telluride Library, 2/29, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.; and the sample sale, 3/2. Go here for more, including tickets.

For more on TAB’s beneficiaries, go here.

To donate, go here.

The Big Picture:

In October 2019, a local TV station in Savannah, Georgia led with story about a young, straight woman (age 24) named Shavonne Jordan, who had just called it quits on a 9-year relationship – then got the shock of her life: she tested positive for HIV.

“Jordan’s diagnosis back then is part of a trend. Georgia ranks No. 1 in the nation for new HIV infection rates. In the Coastal Georgia area, the most recent numbers show the highest rates of new infection are among young people between the ages of 20 and 29, according to the HIV Surveillance Study in Georgia for 2017…, reported WTOC TV in Savannah.

“…The concerns that I see is we still have high infection rates in this community,’ said Susan Alt, HIV director for Coastal Health District. “Many of the new diagnoses coming in our clinics are in the 17, 18 to 25 age group. That tells me that we are not effectively meeting the prevention needs of that population.”

According to that news source, prevention is the reason Jordan decided to share her story.

Prevention education is key – and not just in HIV/AIDS hot spots in the Bible Belt. Prevention education is the subtext of the Telluride AIDS Benefit. In fact, to that end, TAB launched a new initiative, a summer program titled the Student AIDS Awareness Project. Advocates who went through the freshman class last summer will helm TAB’s AIDS Education Day in Telluride and Ridgway on February 27 and February 28, 2020.

Just ask Ron Gilmer all about it.

While he lived, Gilmer’s partner Robert Presley inspired the Telluride community with his generosity, his talent for design, and his wild and crazy ways. The man was universally loved. Even after his death from AIDS in 1997, Presley continued to make a difference: having had AIDS while living in rural Colorado, he helped change the way state Medicaid handled virus patients.

Ron Gilmer with Robert Presley way back when. Gilmer remains an AIDS activist & TAB board member.

What’s more, thanks to Presley, TAB’s muse, the Western Colorado AIDS Project or WestCAP was able to grow from a small nonprofit largely serving Mesa County into a much larger private institution providing resources, referral, case management, financial assistance, and support to people living with HIV/AIDS and their families in 22 counties on the Western Slope, 10 of which are the poorest in the state.

Now, nearly a quarter century, rural America needs Presley/Gilmer clones because that is where the virus is wreaking havoc.

A headline in The New York Times in 2019 trumpeted the fact that HIV was coming to rural America.

“…while robust municipal health campaigns are creating downward H.I.V. trends in some of America’s largest cities, in much of rural America, an opposite trend is emerging. There have of course always been cases of H.I.V. in sparsely populated parts of the country, but in these places far from cities, the conditions that lead to H.I.V. transmission are now intensifying — and rural America is not ready for the coming crisis…”

The growing trend is tied to the opioid epidemic, the fact that small rural health jurisdictions often lack the infrastructure to confront the crisis, local governments have killed pubic syringe exchanges (not in my backyard), and healthcare itself is relatively inaccessible.

“…a lack of transportation and stigma as the biggest barriers to testing and care. People living with H.I.V. are stigmatized everywhere, but those who live in large cities can get tested while feeling relatively anonymous in a clinic in ways rural dwellers cannot,” wrote the New York Times.

Out of sight. Out of mind?

The once buzzy disease rarely if ever makes national headlines, now taking a back seat to diseases du jour like measles, influenza, and the trending coronavirus. We saw no red ribbons attached to the fabulous gowns and tuxes at this year’s Golden Globes, SAG Awards, Oscars or Grammys. Once trendy, AIDS Rides have been run off the road for years now. And World AIDS Day? That tends to pass with a yawn.

Yet, after four decades since “the virus” was first announced in France, there is still no silver bullet: a vaccine to thwart HIV remains a Holy Grail. That said, on the plus side, a daily pill known as PrEP can be taken to avoid contracting the virus. And, for those who are infected, a pill that suppresses the virus to such low levels it cannot be spread is also readily available.

But is the Age of AIDS over?

Not on your life.

And it could be worth your life to know that.

HIV/AIDS, by the numbers:

Statistics from AmfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, report that in 2017 (its most recent fully-compiled data) 36.9 million people were living with HIV; 1.8 million people became newly infected.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in 1981, 77.3 million people have contracted HIV and 35.4 million have died of AIDS-related illnesses.

About 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV today. About 14 percent of them (or 1 in 7) do not know they are infected and need testing. And an estimated 38,000 new HIV infections still occur in the United States each year.

“CDC estimates that the decline in HIV infections has plateaued because effective HIV prevention and treatment are not adequately reaching those who could most benefit from them. These gaps remain particularly troublesome in rural areas and in the South and among disproportionately affected populations like African-Americans and Latinos,” said

Continuing (and in support of the trend in rural America): in 2018, “people who inject drugs accounted for 7% of HIV diagnoses. Men who inject drugs accounted for 4% of HIV diagnoses, and women who inject drugs accounted for 3% of new diagnoses.”

And, as indicated above, as of 2019, the trend in rural America really picked up a head of steam.

Equally alarming: “Young people are the most likely to be unaware of their infection. According to a CDC analysis, in 2017, an estimated 54.6% of young people aged 13-24 who were living with HIV, were unaware of their infection.

The good news here is that annual new infections have declined by 18% since 2010. However, AmfAR notes that this pace is “far too slow” to reach the United Nations’ Fast-Track Target of fewer than 500,000 new infections per year by 2020. And in about 50 countries, new HIV infections are actually increasing.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report published January 2019, “Sub-Saharan Africa, with more than two-thirds of all people living with HIV globally, is the hardest hit region in the world…”

HIV/AIDS & TAB, a history:

HIV/AIDS has been part of the world’s consciousness for 40 years now.

Back in 1979 and 1980, doctors in Los Angeles and New York began reporting rare types of pneumonia, cancer and other illnesses. The patients were all men who had sex with other men.

The then-mysterious disease confounded health professionals and devastated the gay community. In 1982, scientists named the constellation of diseases it led to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. A year later, they uncovered its cause, the human immunodeficiency virus: HIV.

With a swiftness that imitates the spread of the disease itself, AIDS became enmeshed in the fabric of our society. As people watched friends and family members cut down in the prime of their lives, many tried to make sense of the scourge by channeling their pain into ways to help.

Locally, A small group led by Kandee DeGraw founded the Telluride AIDS Benefit in 1994 to help a friend defray his costly medical expenses.

That friend was the aforementioned Robert Presley, a one-of-a-kind, kooky creative genius, local enfant terrible, and a man of the cloth: fabrics were his canvas. He dyed, slashed, and frayed them into submission, turning improbable materials into provocative designs.

TAB’s muse, Robert Presley, strutting his stuff at fashion show in 1997 just before he succumbed to AIDS.

Presley died from complications due to HIV/AIDS in August 1997, having walked the runway only months earlier at TAB’s fabulous fashion show decked out in lime green and wearing a sash that read “Miss AIDs,” a parasol to match, natch.

In its first year, the nascent non-profit netted about $12,000. At Robert’s request, the money went directly to the Western Colorado AIDS Project (WestCAP), a community-based referral and educational providers, which assists HIV-infected individuals and families across 25 counties in Western Colorado.

Now in its 27th year, TAB has distributed over $2.7 million dollars to organizations in the local and global fight against HIV and AIDS.

Beneficiary organizations can utilize funds in ways they deem necessary, often deploying the monies to fill the many gaps that exist for specific client needs. Examples include assistance with financial, housing, transportation, and nutrition needs, such as bus fare to/from doctor’s appointments, short-term housing solutions, and grocery cards. Filling in these gaps is key to client health, the long-term success of medication and maintaining positive lifestyles for people living with the virus.

TAB’s goal is to see zero new infections in the state by 2030.

WestCAP remains TAB’s primary beneficiary. Another at the top of a short list is the Children’s Hospital HIV Program (CHIP) in Denver, a clinic within a hospital dedicated to providing children with the HIV infection with family-centered, state-of-the art care. (Denver is one of the Top 10 children’s hospitals in the country.)

But the list of beneficiaries has swelled to include the Ethiopian Family Fund, Manzini Youth Care,Brother Jeff’s Community Health Initiative, the University of Colorado Hospital Fund,The Red Ribbon Project, and the Moab Free Health Clinic.

How has TAB managed to keep on keeping on despite economic swings that have challenged other nonprofits over the years?

In part the answer is Telluride: we are a tiny community with a big (bleeding) heart.

The rest of the answer is top down effectiveness and efficiency.

Enter Jessica Galbo.

(Go here for more on TAB’s history.)

TAB’s executive director, Jessica Galbo:

Jessica Galbo joined TAB as Executive Director in August 2019, having formerly served  as fashion show director, choreographer, and assistant director.

Galbo is experienced in and passionate about non-profit work.

She joined the TAB team with extensive experience in non-profit work, including having served as a former HIV test counselor in San Francisco.

As TAB’s ED, Galbo is responsible for working closely with the board of directors and managing volunteer groups. She is the main public contact and spokesperson for the organization and represents the Telluride AIDS Benefit in all professional capacities.

Galbo is helming TAB at an exciting moment for the organization as it continues its important work in the greater Telluride community – and the world community.

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