Getting to Zero

World AIDS Day events aim to raise awareness, unite community

By Laura Latzko - Nov. 20, 2014

The impact of HIV and AIDS is not limited to the lives of positive individuals; it reaches families, circles of friends and entire communities.

Which is why World AIDS Day events continue to gain momentum and visibility with each passing year.

Celebrated since 1988, World AIDS Day takes places globally Dec. 1. And, according to, the international theme for World AIDS Day from 2011 to 2015 is “Getting to Zero,” namely zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.

Around the world, some 34 million people are living with HIV and AIDS.

According to RJ Shannon, a member of the Aunt Rita’s Foundation board and 2012 and 2013 AIDS Walk Phoenix and 5K Run chair, it is important to change political, economic and social disparities for communities affected by HIV and AIDS in order to address the issue and have a chance to stop the spread of HIV.

“These are folks least likely to have their rights recognized, and we can’t be truly successful until we change that,” Shannon said. “We need to create an environment for all people that creates equity.”

Shannon said that World AIDS Day brings attention to progress such as the increasing access to HIV treatments and testing services, but it also shows the need for continuing education, change and community involvement.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we are doing better than we were. That’s something to be celebrated on World AIDS Day,” Shannon said. “I can tell you from a personal aspect, I’m not burying as many friends as I was in the late ‘90s … I’m not going to the number of funerals I did in the late ‘90s, and that is a big deal.”

Shannon worked for a decade with communities with HIV as the Minority AIDS Coordinator of the Arizona Department of Health Services. She first interacted with patients with HIV and AIDS in the 1990s through AIDS Project Arizona.

Shannon said her initial work in the community made her see the importance of teaching others, spreading awareness about HIV and AIDS and helping to reduce the stigma of HIV and AIDS.

Shannon said that even within the LGBT community, gay men living with HIV can feel excluded and unwanted.

“The gay community around the country has been trying to remove itself from the virus, and they can’t do that. They need to stop. It creates their own stigma, and there are people living with the virus who are gay who feel they aren’t wanted within their own community, and that’s never ever ok,” Shannon said. “I hope the LGBTQ community really opens it arms again and realizes that HIV folks need them, that their only sense of family shouldn’t just be other folks who have HIV.”

In an annual effort to raise awareness and unite community, a walk and candlelight vigil is scheduled to take place in central Phoenix on World AIDS Day. The event will pay tribute to those who have lost their lives and provide an opportunity for attendees to share their own personal stories or experiences or make others aware of issues impacting people with the virus and disease, Shannon said.

Members of community organizations such as the Joshua Tree Feeding Program, Aunt Rita’s, the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS and Phoenix Pride have come together to organize the event, but it is ultimately community-driven.

The walk leading up to the vigil starts at the new Phoenix Pride LGBT Center, stops at the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS and ends at Margaret T. Hance Park, the proposed future site of an AIDS memorial.


Phoenix AIDS Candlelight Vigil

6 p.m. Dec. 1

Meet at Phoenix Pride LGBT Center, 801 N. Second Ave., Phoenix

Ends at Margaret T. Hance Park, 1202 N. Third St., Phoenix

Other World AIDS Day events in Phoenix, Tempe and Tucson:

Paint for Peace

Dec 3. 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Hayden Lawn, ASU Tempe

On Arizona State University’s Tempe campus, HEAL International continues to engage students and the wider community about topics related to HIV and AIDS through its annual Paint for Peace Event.

During the event, participants incorporate at least one red ribbon, the international symbol for HIV and AIDS awareness, into their painted canvases to honor people who have been infected or died from HIV/AIDS or have been affected in some way.

Mia Wright, program coordinator for HEAL International, said last year, 500 people took part in the event, creating more than 300 canvases. And painters can take pictures with their canvases at an onsite photo booth.

This year, the organization plans to donate the canvases to organizations such as Terros to be displayed.

Similar to previous years, participating campus and community organizations will have interactive spinning wheels, trivia and other games for attendees.

Wright said the event gets ASU students and community members to engage in conversation about a larger global issues impacting people of different ages, nationalities, races and sexual orientations.

“AIDS is a huge epidemic that affects the planet, but it is not talked about often, and it’s not something that people really know about,” Wright said. “This is a good way for people to be gently reminded that this is a big deal. This is something we should talk about and be aware of.”

World AIDS Day Service

6 p.m. Nov. 30

The night before World AIDS Day, Phoenix First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1407 N. Second St., Phoenix, will host interfaith service to bring community members together for renewal, remembrance and recommitment.

Rev. Nancy Elsenheimer, a minister who has worked with AIDS/HIV education efforts, will lead the service. Barb Brados from Logan’s Playground, a Southwest Center for HIV and AIDS program, will give a speech during the event.

Additionally, community choirs including Voices of the Desert and Phoenix Metropolitan Men’s Chorus will perform. And during a portion of the ceremony, participants can light a candle and call out names of loved ones who have died or are living with HIV/AIDS.

“You just hear this cacophony of names,” Elsenheimer said. “They have a moment of healing and reverence to their grief.”

World AIDS Day Tucson

4 to 9 p.m. Dec. 1

The annual observance of World AIDS Day in Tucson will focus on awareness, education and the celebration of cultures around the world.

Inside of the lobby of Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St., attendees will find a holiday tree decorated with red ribbons and tributes to people lost to or living with HIV/AIDS.

Additionally, the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation will display panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt with ties to Tucson community members.

A variety of Tucson’s HIV organizations, including, SAAF, Positively Beautiful, TIHAN and AIDS Ribbon Tucson, will have tables at the event. And The Pima County Health Department will provide rapid testing for HIV.

According to Moureen Drury, SAAF events and marketing coordinator, the Tucson event brings attention to the fact that HIV exists and continues to be a threat.

“People have a hard time talking about sex and drug use. This is how people get HIV – through those methods,” she said. “People sometimes have a shamed approach to talking about them, which is really unfortunate. We try really hard to humanize it as much as possible because it is a human experience more than anything else.”

Intended for all ages, the event will feature performances by local slam poets, LED dancers, the Fire Opal belly dancing group and local choruses. Face painters and a Life Plus Project photo booth will also be on hand for the event.

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