A San Francisco-based group has designated a special day to recognize long-term AIDS survivors that it hopes will become a yearly event.
The inaugural National HIV/AIDS Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day will take place June 5. Its theme is “We’re Still Here” in recognition of those, both HIV-positive and HIV-negative, who survived through the trauma of the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s.
The lead sponsor and organizer of the day is the group Let’s Kick ASS, which stands for AIDS Survivor Syndrome. Formed last year, the grassroots organization has held a number of forums and events to bring long-term AIDS survivors together and to advocate for their needs.
“The reason Let’s Kick ASS was founded was to raise awareness about long-term survivors. This day is one more step in that evolution and one more effort to get it on the agenda,” explained Tez Anderson, 55, a co-founder and leader of the group who has lived with HIV for three decades.
The date for the observance coincides with the anniversary of the first published report of what became known as AIDS in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report issued June 5, 1981.
“Really brilliantly Tez decided that would be the day we used to make this a long-term survivor awareness day,” said Matt Sharp, 56, who helped launch Let’s Kick Ass and has been living with HIV for more than 26 years. “This was a goal we had early on. It really started around World AIDS Day on December 1.”
The day for longtime AIDS survivors is modeled after annual commemorations such as World AIDS Day and similar national days of awareness like National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (February 7); HIV Vaccine Awareness Day (May 18); and National HIV Testing Day (June 27). According to the website AIDS.gov, there are currently 13 officially recognized special days related to HIV and AIDS.
Let’s Kick ASS leaders hope to see the long-time AIDS survivors day added to the list. Anderson said he contacted the administrators of the AIDS.gov website and was told he could request official recognition once the first observance of the special day occurs.
“It was a little disappointing, but the federal government doesn’t operate very quickly,” said Anderson. “Next year will be an official day. We are already planning for 2015.”
The 2014 observance will kick off at 10:30 a.m. at the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park with a heart circle and tree planting to recall and honor those lost to AIDS.
Afterward, beginning at 1 p.m., will be an AIDS Survivor Summit at the LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street. It will feature three panels covering various topics, such as the challenges long-term survivors face, what types of services they require, and how to plan for future needs.
The organizers also plan to present a Long-Term Survivors Declaration modeled after the Denver Principles, a document drafted by people living with AIDS who were attending the 1983 National Lesbian/Gay Health Conference and AIDS Forum and felt their voices were not being heard.
“Really, our focus is the future,” said Sharp. “We want to bring people together to mobilize around what are we going to do now. Now that we have our lives how are we going to go forward? What help do we need and what is our strategy for survival?”
The event at the LGBT center will also feature an expo with tables staffed by various AIDS agencies in San Francisco. The day ends with a pre-Pride party from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
For more information about the longtime AIDS survivor day events, visit http://aidssurvivorssummit.org/.