Telluride AIDS Benefit: Event Overview + History!

Telluride AIDS Benefit: Event Overview + History!

“The longevity of the Telluride AIDS Benefit rests on one simple fact: HIV/AIDS remains a critical public health issue. TAB is committed to continuing to raise awareness and inspire people to give to this cause until there are no new infections and those living with the disease have their basic medical needs met. TAB relies on local support and successful community engagement, while communicating HIV/AIDS news, statistics, and relevant stories – such as HIV infections are on the rise in youth populations in Colorado)” said executive director Jessica Galbo, adding, “With over 250 volunteers from the local community of 2,500, TAB is truly a community-wide effort and remains a big family, in the spirit is was started. What’s more, TAB has a wonderful, engaged Board of Directors that is very hands-on.

Key notes on the schedule include:

Student Fashion Show
Palm Theater, February 10 and February 11

Titos Patron Party (Fri/Sat ONLY)
Telluride Conference Center mezzanine”SpeakEasy,” INVITE ONLY
Complimentary Drinks + Apps
6:30 – 7:30 pm

Gala Fashion Show: Starts 8pm

Brunch With Benes (Meet TAB’s Beneficiaries), The Phoenix Bean
Saturday, February 19, 2022, noon-2pm

TAB Sample Sale, Telluride Conference Center Mezzanine “SpeakEasy’”
Monday, February 20th, Champagne + Music + Aperol Spritzers
10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Please support TAB by purchasing tickets to the fashion show, (a few remain for Thursday and Friday nights), or give generously through the new Giving Campaign.

Jessica Galbo, long time TAB supporter, now executive director.

Let’s talk pandemics.

Ron Gilmer with his former partner and TAB’s muse, Robert Presley, way back when. Gilmer remains an AIDS activist & TAB board member.

No, not that one.

Not Covid-19.

Let’s talk about the other pandemic, the one that has since dropped from the headlines; red ribbons off lapels. The one that has been enmeshed in the fabric of our global society since 1981.

Back then, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out a report about “five young, previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles” suffering from strange infections that had already killed two of them. Throughout that summer, doctors across the United States trumpeted similar cases of “GRID” (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency).

Let’s talk about HIV/AIDS – and the upcoming, annual Telluride AIDS Benefit or TAB. Since 1994, the nonprofit has been dedicated to fighting HIV and AIDS until the goal of ZERO new infections in the state of Colorado, across the country, and around the world is reached. TAB (and other AIDS crusaders) believe the goal is attainable by 2030.

AIDS by the numbers:

The conversation boils down to some startling – yes still – facts and figures. According to online sources:

• 3 people are newly infected with HIV every minute

• Worldwide, just under 38 million people are living with HIV

In 2019 alone there were:

• Approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV in the

• 34,800 new infections in the US, representing an 8% decrease since 2015

• An estimated 1 in 8 people living with HIV in the US did not know they had the disease

• 13,025 people are living with HIV in Colorado.


• Almost 1 million people die from HIV/AIDS each year; in some countries AIDS remains the leading cause of death.

• The cost of care for one person living with HIV is $3,500 per month and $42,000 per year.

Hope in a little blue pill – and in the mRNA molecule?

For some years now, doctors have treated the virus with a combination of powerful and effective drugs that keep the disease in check, a prime example being an an ovoid-shaped blue pill, brand name Truvada. That has been used for about a decade to treat HIV and was discovered to be variably effective in preventing HIV-negative people from contracting the virus.

Truvada is now indicated (in combination with safe sex practices) for pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEp to reduce the risk of sexually acquired HIV-1 infections in adults at high risk. When Truvada as PrEP is used correctly and consistently, it can reduce the rate of HIV infection by sexual activity by as much as 90%.

However there is still no cure for HIV – although antiretroviral treatment can control the affliction. Most research to date is dedicated to finding a functional cure that will permanently reduce HIV to undetectable and harmless levels in the body.

Not surprisingly – and this is where the two pandemics intersect – researchers who helped develop the paradigm-shifting mRNA are now investigating whether that same miraculous molecule can be used to create vaccines that protect against other viruses, including HIV.

Tests have already been conducted on mice and rhesus macaque monkeys with results showing that the novel HIV vaccine was safe and prompted immune responses against an HIV-like virus.

That said, as recently as January 11, 2022, Dr. Anthony Fauci had this to add:

“Despite nearly four decades of effort by the global research community, an effective vaccine to prevent HIV remains an elusive goal. (However) this experimental mRNA vaccine combines several features that may overcome shortcomings of other experimental HIV vaccines and thus represents a promising approach.”

The research team plans to conduct a Phase 1 trial of the mRNA HIV vaccine in healthy adult volunteers after further refinement and testing.

But it’s not over ’til it’s over.

Which is why the Telluride AIDS Benefit keeps on keeping on.

Enter TAB:

From the get-go, AIDS victims and their families flocked like moths to flames of hope – a miracle cure whispered here; a sudden recovery talked about there. The silver bullet everyone is seeking is the aforementioned,  still elusive vaccine.

At the same time, as people have watched friends cut down in the prime of life, they have tried to make sense of the scourge by channeling their experience into ways to help. The Telluride AIDS Benefit evolved from that impetus.

In 1994, the fledgling event was all about helping a local and friend, Robert Presley, battle the disease and pay his mounting medical bills. But what Presley wanted was to help others who faced with the same challenges he faced.

Presley died in 1997 from causes related to HIV/AIDs, but his selfless wish came true: the nonprofit he inspired, TAB, helps individuals and families dealing with HIV/AIDS on the Front Range all the way to sub-Saharan Africa through a growing list of beneficiaries. They all use these discretionary funds to support AIDS services for individuals and families alike.

To date, TAB beneficiaries include the Western Colorado AIDS Project in Grand Junction; Children’s Hospital Immunodeficiency Program in Denver; Brother Jeff’s Community Health Initiative in Denver; The Collaborative Care Clinic at St. Mary’s in Grand Junction; The Red Ribbon Project in Vail; The Moab Free Health Clinic in Moab.

For details about TAB’s beneficiaries, go here.

“To support our beneficiaries check out our Giving Program, something I developed this year. TAB has NEVER had a formal giving program until now. On the designated page, we have examples of how the funds can help our frontline partners: We have partnerships with HIV positive women becoming independent, education on HIV transmission and prevention for homeless youth in Grand Junction and so much more… also, we have a new partnership with Telluride’s Sunshine Pharmacy as well. There anyone, anytime can go pick up a free at-home confidential HIV test paid for by TAB, no questions asked. We have such an incredible impact in our community and beyond,” continued Jessica.

Since its inception TAB’s mission has remained unchanged: Fight. Fund. Educate.

TAB’s executive director, Jessica explained:

“TAB fights against stigma, lack of education and to support vulnerable communities. We fund care for people living with AIDS with unrestricted dollars. We fund education for students. We fund experiential experiences for high school students to meet frontline partners. We educate the next generation about HIV and what it means to them, and how to protect themselves.”

TAB and young people:

HIV and AIDS education was at one time very common in schools now, according to TAB, it is hardly ever talked about. Yet…

“The fastest rates of infection are in 13-24 year old age group,” continued Jessica. “It is a sexually transmitted disease that if not detected early is expensive and limiting – and a life-long issue. Testing is key to reducing transmission and the stigma still associated with the disease.“

Educator/TAB innovator Sandy McLaughlin

For years, educator and TAB board member Sandy McLaughlin headed TAB’s HIV/AIDS awareness and risk-reduction initiatives at the school, even before TAB’s inception, dating back to the time she was school principal, 1991 – 1994. Post-TAB, McLaughlin used educators from its primary beneficiaries, as well as local health authorities to teach our kids the facts of HIV/AIDS life.

If she said it once, McLaughlin and her colleagues said it a dozen times: though the Student Fashion Show marks the kickoff of TAB time in Telluride, and while the director of the show and her team are tasked with raising money for the cause, the catwalk is not the primary reason TAB produces that show.

In other words, read between the (clothing) lines.

For the Telluride AIDS Benefit, the big idea behind the clothes, the choreography, and the music is the fact the pandemic persists, largely unabated and increasingly, as mentioned above, among young people.

But prevention education does not stop after TAB week. It continues with the peer educators, a small army of crusading teens trained in AIDS advocacy to make a difference. Annually, TAB’s high school student ambassadors participate in an in-person trip to either Denver or Western Slope beneficiary organizations to learn more about HIV from prevention specialists.

“Telluride High School students tour facilities such as Karis House, a homeless intake facility for teens, to gain a broader understanding of HIV’s impact on their generation, and then bring that awareness back to the Telluride community to share with peers – and in the HIV-themed Student Fashion Show,” added Jessica.

This year’s Student Fashion Show features over 60 student models. The creative team includes: Francesca Schillaci (Director); Lily Doyle (Director); Shen Geldbaugh (Director of Choreography); Georgia Montalvo (Assistant Director); Maya Walker (Assistant Choreographer); Kaylee Gallegos (Assistant Director);  John Johnson (CFO;  Owen Doyle (Intern); Ava Osborne (Intern); Taylor Carlson (Intern).

“TAB has many organizational accomplishments to crow about, but the most meaningful are those that educate and engage the youth of this community,” explained Jessica. “We hear from local students over and over again that their engagement with TAB changes their perceptions of HIV, stigma, global pandemics and preventative health. TAB is proud of the influence its activities and educational opportunities have on promoting healthy choices, as well as the demonstrated impact it can even have on student career goals after graduation.”

TAB: Event Overview:

Every year, the Really Big Cultural Event of TAB week – and arguably of Telluride’s winter season – is the Telluride AIDS Benefit Gala Fashion Show. Last year’s show defied the gravity of the Covid pandemic – literally. The event was held at the Telluride Regional Airport, the model runway aligned with the literal runway.

“It was an outrageous success,” said Jessica.

This year #28 takes place February 17, 18 and 19. The directors are Molly Wickwire-Sante and Diina Tamm.

Molly Wickwire-Sante

Diina Tamm

Here’s what each has to say about the upcoming show:

“I can tell you that I love our playlist! It’s always music that inspires me to move. Great music, great models, great movement equals a great show! I can tell you that Covid is an enormous challenge for all of us and I’m so proud of the work everyone involved has already done to make this show happen. Our community needs this creative outlet and our beneficiaries need our support more than ever. I can tell you it’s going to be fun. That is the very best thing about the fashion show, it’s FUN!,” said Molly.

Molly involvement with TAB goes back to the start on the new millennium:

“TAB was one of the first organizations I got involved with in 2000 when I moved to Telluride from New York City. I saw the show and I wanted in. I remember wearing a shredded dress accessorized with a hat and bag made of silver duck tape in my first show. We have all come a long way. Everything has been elevated from the fashion, the production, the directors and choreographers that have worked on the show to what is asked of the models. Every year, in over 18 shows, I have witnessed local talent pushing themselves to share their energy physically and emotionally on stage and create a theatrical experience that inspires. It never gets old for me and I enjoy the process so much. Some of my favorite moments in Telluride have happened in TAB rehearsals!

“TAB, at it is best, like all good theater, connects us as individuals to our community and to a sense of purpose that is larger than ourselves. For most of us, the desire to help is always there, but providing a platform where you can channel your unique personality and talents into a project that actually does so much good for HIV/AIDS organizations is TAB’s enormous gift to Telluride.”

“And I can tell you we have a wonderful cast of beautiful, talented models and we’re very excited to bring our artistic visions on stage with them. We’re definitely grateful to be making it happen during these crazy times in the world. I think, without giving away too much, I would sum it up as the beloved tradition on a new stage, with new energy and new ideas, we definitely have some surprises in store,” added Diina.

Diina’s involvement with TAB began with a New York debut in 2014: “I loved the idea of doing what I enjoy most – dance – with a wonderful team and doing that for a good cause. As artists, we are able to tell stories that can not be put in words, and I think that aligns really importantly with TAB’s mission. “

Classically the Gala Fashion Show is a show as unique as the region itself. With a 28-year local history, this is not your average runway march: the happening is often described as a “Broadway Pop-Up” and “Cirque de Soleil meets NY Fashion Week.” The all-volunteer cast and crew spare no expense to raise money for the cause.

But why a fashion show?

When AIDS arrived on the scene almost 40 years ago it hit the fashion industry like a sledgehammer, decimating a broad spectrum of that universe. Among the famous names who died in the early dark days: Patrick Kelly, Angel Estrada, Isaia, Adrian Cartmell, Clovis Ruffin, Halston and Perry Ellis. Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos, Tina Chow, Robert Rose, Peter Lester, Tim Hawkins, Sergio Galeotti, Robert Hayes and Laughlin Barker. A full list of the famous, infamous, and mostly unknown who perished from the burgeoning epidemic would have required a compilation as thick as the New York telephone book.

Back then, AIDS was the equivalent of a medieval plague. It was a mystery at the black heart of which was one question: Who is next?

The local chapter of the story opens in 1993, when a group of friends inspired by mover-and-shaker Kandee DeGraw founded the Telluride AIDS Benefit to help a really good friend defray costly medical expenses associated with his battle against HIV/AIDS. The gala was the brainchild of DeGraw’s good friend (and a San Miguel poet laureate) Daiva Chesonis.

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

A fashion show to raise funds made sense then (and now) because TAB’s muse, the aforementioned Robert Presley, was an enfant terrible and gifted fabric artist, the life of the party and a one-man campaign for awareness education – because HIV/AIDS is 100 percent preventable either through total abstinence or, more realistically, through education about safe practices regarding drug use and sexual activity.

The first fashion show to support Presley was held on the Opera House stage in 1994 and raised about $10,000.

“I make paintings in the form of garments,” Presley once explained. “My work allows people to step into the world of art, breaking the barrier between art and life.”

In February 1997, just a few months before his death, Presley fulfilled a lifelong fantasy. He donned a tiara and a Miss America-style sash and strutted down the TAB’s catwalk in a mint green ensemble with matching parasol. Bien sur. The crowds went wild for “Miss AIDS 1997.”

TAB’s fashion show continues to be a tribute to Presley and his flair for fashion fun and high drama. Lights, color, bold, unconventional, sometimes outrageous clothes, near-nudity, music, dance –  in the words of one old friend, “an atom bomb of fanTABulousness” – conspire for the singular purpose of raising funds to support TAB’s beneficiaries.

Since 1994, largely through the Gala, TAB has managed to donate millions of dollars towards HIV/AIDS education, advocacy, clinical care, and NGOs. All that because a very hardworking group of Telluride’s best, brightest – and buffest – know how to shake what their mamas gave them.

And because they care.

“The fashions show has grown to a production that rivals New York Fashion Week events and, even though it remains trés chic, still keeps the edge that it started with and which Telluride as a region is known for. TAB’s fashion show is celebration of creativity and diversity in out community. An example is the Wearable Art line, which showcases incredible artistic local talent and creativity. Overall, the spirit is exactly the same as it was in 1994,” added Jessica.

This year, TAB moved the show to the Telluride Conference Center indoors – but seating is in pods only. Vaccinations are required for models, staff and patrons. And yes, there is an auction, but only two spectacular items per night. No more long list of options.

“Shout out to local fashion houses in Telluride for all their generosity in donating lines to the show,” explains Galbo.

More on the looks here.

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