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.