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Regina Gazelle Wells, who overcame serious struggles with substance abuse to become a committed trans activist and advocate for trans individuals affected by homelessness, substance abuse and HIV, and Elijah Palles, whose drag stage name is Eddie Broadway and is Mr. Trans USA 2020, will co-chair AIDS Walk Arizona & 5K Fun Run scheduled Feb. 19, 2022 at Tempe Beach Park, 80 W. Rio Salado Parkway.
“Having Regina and Elijah as co-chairs is important on so many levels,” said Aunt Rita’s Foundation Executive Director Jimmy Thomason. “First, the trans community and the people living with HIV/AIDS, a disease that impacts every segment and demographic of our society, have something in common: we never thought we’d have a ‘happily ever after.’ This is When. We. Rise. Second, of course, because they’re both incredibly fun!”
Regina, a trailblazer and trans activist representing the LGBTQ+ community whose stage name is Regina Gazelle, has been a long-time supporter of Aunt Rita’s efforts to raise funds.
An Arizona resident since 1975, she has been trans since she was 14. Today, at 63 and 24 years clean and sober, she has dedicated her life to maximum service to others. Regina, who is HIV negative, started one of the Valley’s first all-transgender recovery halfway houses. Among her numerous awards was being the first transgender woman awarded Echo Magazine’s Woman of the Year. She also was a former Grand Marshall of PRIDE.
"My goals and mission for this year are to raise as much funds as possible for Aunt Rita's Aids Walk. To bring more awareness to the trans community. To continue to be a voice that can penetrate this positive message to all cultures and communities," said Gazelle Wells.
During his ten years as a drag entertainer in the Valley, Elijah has held a number titles including Mister Phoenix Pride 2014, Mister USofA MI 2017 and Emperor to Reign XIII of the Imperial Court of Arizona, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to unite the LGBTQ+ and heterosexual communities through charitable fund raising through 65 chapters in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Outside of performing, Elijah is a mental health therapist primarily assisting the transgender/gender non-conforming community with their transitions and mental health concerns. He is newly diagnosed with HIV.
"Being involved in the mission of HIV prevention and treatment so soon after my own diagnosis in September 2020 is humbling. People don’t know those who are newly diagnosed because it usually takes time for individuals to come out about it," said Palles.
"My mission at AIDS Walk Arizona is to assist those who are both newly diagnosed or longterm survivors who are uncomfortable about their status in knowing that they can open up about their diagnosis and break the stigma. As a trans male, I also want to stand up and be counted. I want to help everyone understand that their voice matters."
AIDS Walk Arizona, Aunt Rita’s Foundation’s largest single event raising funds and awareness of HIV and AIDS, raised more than $150,000 in 2021 for Aunt Rita’s 14 partner agencies.
AIDS Walk Arizona and 5K Fun Run will begin with registration at 1 p.m. The Walk starts at 3 p.m. at Tempe Beach Park. The course will take walkers and runners across the Mill Avenue Bridge and entertainment will be provided throughout the route. Additional details are being finalized and will be announced in the coming months, including for an after party.
Walkers can begin registering in the fall as individuals, as a team or make donations to walkers to help reach fundraising goals by visiting www.auntritas.org.
Stay tuned for more information about AIDS Walk Arizona in the coming months.
"Those who are out about their HIV status often get asked 'That’s still a thing?' Yes, yes, it is. AIDS Walk Arizona is an annual opportunity for those in the HIV community and our allies to have a voice and use this platform to inform Arizona that the only way we can end HIV is if individuals take safety precautions – including a single pill a day regimen that prevents HIV transmission, get tested, know your status, and get treatment if needed," said Jimmy Thomason.
"Within weeks of a person finding out they are HIV+ and getting on treatment, they can be undetectable. This means that the virus cannot be transmitted to another individual and they can live a normal, healthy, and happy life. It all starts with awareness; and that’s why Aunt Rita’s Foundation and AIDS Walk Arizona will be here until HIV ends."
For more information about Aunt Rita’s Foundation, visit www.auntritas.org.
As each state has achieved marriage equality, there’s a wave same-sex couples rushing to legalize and formalize their relationships that follows.
And, if you are one of these blissful Arizona couples, you will need someone to officiate your ceremony. Here are 10 do’s and don’ts to follow as you look for a minister or officiant for your big day:
DO NOT expect that every ordained minister who is gay wants to marry you for free just because you’re gay, too. Although those who are ordained are happy to help you on your special day, it doesn’t mean you should be expected to take away time from their busy lives for free. Gay ordained ministers are professional too, and their time is valuable.
DO expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $150 for a ceremony. Some ministers charge by the hour and others by the service, so be sure to ask questions and find out up front what is customary for your minister.
DO NOT ask your minister to provide witnesses. When signing your marriage license, you will need an officiant and two witnesses to sign the document. If you do not have at least two friends who are willing to stand up with you and witness, you might reconsider getting married.
DO make friends with someone besides your Chihuahuas, your cats and your partner.
DO NOT feel insulted if the minister requires at least one pre-marital counseling session. The minister has a responsibility to the sanctity of marriage, their ordaining organization and the state to sign the certificate in good conscious that this union is viable and sustainable. It’s nothing personal.
DO get at least one session of pre-marital counseling. This small investment of time can save you large amounts of heartache, stress and money in the future. Counselors charge less per hour than divorce attorneys.
DO NOT expect your minister to plan and organize your ceremony. It’s YOUR ceremony; the minister is only there to provide a service of ceremony and documentation. Every couple is different in their ideas of what a ceremony should be. So if you don’t know what you want, don’t expect the minister to know for you.
DO get a wedding coordinator!
DO NOT ask an ordained minister to “just sign the marriage license”. They are not Notaries Public who just stamp and sign your much-anticipated piece of paper.
DO one stop shop at the Justice of the Peace if it’s just a legal document for you.
Last, but not least, DO your homework before jumping on the marriage equality bandwagon and DO respect everyone you’re involving in your marriage experience.
Whether it is her songwriting, her performances or her activism in the LGBTQ+ community, Sarah Shook is unwavering when it comes to taking chances, being honest, open and even vulnerable.
Now, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers have released a new song and video of “It Doesn’t Change Anything” in advance of their forthcoming album Nightroamer, out on February 18 via Thirty Tigers.
Watch the self-shot, walking forest tour HERE.
Sarah Shook & the Disarmers - It Doesn't Change Anything (Official Lyric Video) youtu.be
“I struggle with depression and substance abuse as so many others do and those of us who come from fanatical religious backgrounds often seem to have the worst time of both,” said the always candid Shook. “It seemed fitting to use empty religious imagery to describe the helplessness of addiction and the void of depression, both perpetuated by the same snare of trauma.”
Through critically acclaimed releases Sidelong (2015) and Years (2018) the North Carolina-based quintet built a reputation as a honky tonk, indie band with a punk rock spirit. On Nightroamer the group expands their sound with pop sensibilities and melodies without sacrificing its unflinching intensity and raw edge.
Produced by Grammy-winner Pete Anderson (Dwight Yoakam, k.d. lang), Nightroamer is a collection of 10 songs written by Shook that take a hard look at relationships, but do not claim to have one-size-fits-all answers.
Led by Shook on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, The Disarmers are a seasoned powerhouse, featuring Eric Peterson (lead guitar), Aaron Oliva (bass), Jack Foster (drums), and Adam Kurtz (pedal steel). With Shook out front, the group puts on commanding live performances that leave captivated audiences riveted.
As a group, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers continue to evolve – offering smart, inspiring and sincere music overflowing with passion and integrity, all of which come together on Nightroamer.
US tour dates
2/18 – Chapel Hill, NC – Cat’s Cradle
2/23 – Tampa, FL – Crowbar
2/25-3/3 – Outlaw Country Cruise
3/12 – Atlanta, GA – The Earl
3/18 – Greenville, SC – Radio Room
3/20 – Chattanooga, TN – Cherry Street Tavern
3/24 – Boise, ID – Treefort Music Fest
3/26 – Bend, OR – Volcanic Theatre Pub
3/27 – Seattle, WA – Tractor Tavern
3/28 – Portland, OR – Polaris Hall
3/30 – San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill
3/31 – Menlo Park, CA – The Guild Theater
4/1 – Santa Cruz, CA – The Atrium at the Catalyst
4/2 – Costa Mesa, CA – The Wayfarer
4/5 – Phoenix, AZ – The Rhythm Room
4/6 – Flagstaff, AZ – Orpheum Theater
4/7 – Santa Fe, NM – Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery
4/8 – Mantilou Springs, CO – Lulu’s Downstairs
4/9 – Denver, CO – Hi-Dive
5/3 – Winchester, VA – Bright Box Theater
6/10 – Pagosa Springs, CO – Pagosa Folk N’ Bluegrass Festival
8/17 – Stockholm, SWE – Fåfängan
8/18 – Oslo, NO – John Dee
8/19 – Falkenberg, SWE – Tryckhallen
8/20 – Kristianstad, SWE – Biljardkompaniet
8/21 – Copenhagen, DK – Ideal Bar
8/23 – London, UK – Omeara
8/24 – Manchester, UK – Night People
8/25 – Glasgow, UK – Hug & Pint
8/26 – Newcastle, UK – The Clunyl
9/4 – Groningen, NL – Der Aa Theater
9/5 – Utrecht, NL – dBs
9/7 – Bilbao, ESP – Kafe Antzokia-Kutxa Beltza
9/8 – Zaragoza, ESP – Rock & Blues Cafe
9/9 – Avilés, ESP – Factoría Cultural
9/10 – Madrid, ESP – Café Berlín
9/11 – Barcelona, ESP – Upload
In the early 1980s I encountered my first HIV patient as a young medical student in Los Angeles. He was a man in his 20s sick with fever and swollen lymph nodes.
I felt humbled and saddened in the face of a terrifying new disease we didn’t understand and didn’t know how to treat. He succumbed to AIDS not long after, becoming one of the millions whose lives have been cut short by the epidemic.
Today, when I train new healthcare providers at the Valleywise Community Health Center - McDowell, it’s hard to convey how awful those days were during the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. There are books, plays and movies that try to portray the era, but if you didn’t live through it, it’s difficult to impart the misery and despair we all felt – providers and patients alike.
Thankfully, HIV is no longer a death sentence. There is still no cure, but newer antiretroviral drugs have made HIV a survivable condition treatable with a single daily pill. And if one medication doesn’t work or causes side effects, there are many other options.
What’s more, preventive medicine is available for those at risk for contracting HIV. Approval in the past decade, pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PreP, has dramatically changed the prevention landscape for HIV.
Yet the more things change, some things sadly remain the same in HIV transmission.
Today, Maricopa County is one of 48 counties across the United States with the highest rates of new infections. More than 11,000 individuals in Maricopa County are living with HIV.
Many of those newly infected, particularly younger LGBTQ patients, don’t know about the utter horror of the early days, and simply don’t view HIV as a big deal. To those in their teens, 20s and 30s, the early 1980s is outside of their lifetimes. Further, many heterosexual patients still think of HIV as a gay disease rather than a STD that anyone can get.
Furthermore, 40 years after the first HIV/AIDS in the US, we’re still dealing with shame and stigma. Unfortunately, an infection that any of us can encounter is still perceived by some as a scarlet letter, rather than simply the luck of the draw that intimacy can bring. Only through open dialog about risk, testing, PrEP and staying on treatment can we be safe from HIV.
When I counsel patients today, it’s a much different conversation than in the 1990s when I treated HIV patients at the LA County Medical Center. Back then, it was reassurance about fighting a terminal disease; today’s it’s optimism about a long and full life –if a patient takes their medication every day.
I remember a home visit with a very ill young man in the early 90s who looked at the full moon outside the window and remarked, “I don’t think I’m going to live to see the next moon.” A month later I smelled every bloom in the hospital rose garden on my way into the hugs that greeted me in the clinic the day after attending his death at home.
It’s just one of the many stories of loss and coping that those of us impacted by the AIDS pandemic carry in our hearts forever.
Going forward, however, we can reduce and prevent new infections in Maricopa County through education around safer sex , the use of PreP and helping HIV+ patients stay in care with suppression of their viral infection. At Valleywise Health, we treat more than 4,000 patients living with HIV, and provide testing and PrEP to those at risk for acquiring the infection.
It’s important to recognize the 40th anniversary of the first AIDS cases in the US and appreciate that now a days NO one needs to get infected with HIV. For our HIV+ patients, the history begins when they get their HIV diagnosis - and that’s when we’ll be there to offer understanding and support, for many decades to come. For those not yet infected we implore you to reach out to use so we can help you stay HIV uninfected.
About the author
Ann Khalsa, MD, has worked in the field of HIV medicine since 1986. From 2006-2010 she was the Medical Director at the Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe HIV/AIDS C.A.R.E. Center in El Paso Texas which cares for over 1000 patients living on the US-Mexico Border. She held a clinical appointment as an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the Texas Tech University Health Science Center and also served as the Clinical Director at the Texas-Oklahoma AIDS Education and Training Center Local Performance Site in El Paso Texas. For the fifteen years prior to that she worked at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles as an Associate Professor of Clinical Family Medicine at the USC Keck School of Medicine where she also she served as the Director of Clinical AIDS Training for the Pacific AIDS Education and Training Center at USC, and chairperson for part of the medical school curriculum. During that time she cared for over 1000 patients at the LA County Rand Schrader and Maternal-Child AIDS clinics, and trained over 1000 local and international physicians in the care of HIV patients. She started off in the HIV field by doing four years of AIDS policy work through the Public Health Commission of the American Academy of Family Practice during medical school and residency.
Dr. Khalsa is certified as an HIV Specialist through the American Academy of HIV Medicine, has served on the national Board of Directors, the Academy’s Core Curriculum Committee to develop its “Fundamentals of HIV Medicine” self-study guide, and has authored chapters on Health Maintenance and antiretroviral therapy for treatment-experienced patients. She served on the Texas Steering Committee for the HRSA HIV/AIDS Bureau-National Quality Center Cross-Part Quality Management Collaborative, as well as on the Quality Management Committee of the Ryan White Title II Administrative Agency for the West Texas Health Service Delivery Area. She lectures on HIV-related topics to providers and patients alike, in both English and Spanish throughout the country and internationally.
She is board certified by the American Board of Family Practice, was awarded the US-Mexico Border HIV Hero Award in 2008, is a recipient of the Mead Johnson Award for Graduate Education in Family Practice, and a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society. Dr. Khalsa obtained her undergraduate degree from Pitzer College in Claremont California with honors in Psychobiology, and her medical degree from USC. She did her residency training at San Bernardino County Medical Center in California, holds master’s degrees in Biochemistry and Medical Education, and completed a Fellowship in Leadership Development at USC.