By Kate Black
Activism is everywhere. From ALS Bucket Challenge videos, to colourful charity runs, new and flashy ways to raise moneyfor pressing causes are now a part of everyday life.
In Edmonton, though, with promising treatment options available to people living with HIV, it’s easy to overlook the importance of HIV and AIDS-related fundraising.
But, Laura Keegan begs to differ. With the Edmonton Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life nearing on Sept. 20, Keegan, HIV Edmonton’s Director of Resource Development & Public Engagement and organizer of the walk, talks about why events like this are still crucial in our city.
We were the first
“Our awareness ribbon was the first awareness ribbon. It’s been interesting but also kind of hard to watch other causes be more successful with their campaigns when HIV kind of has set that tone and was the leader in awareness. And of course the walks have changed a lot. The original AIDS walks were about activism. It was not necessarily to raise money — they were to raise awareness about the fact that people were dying and people were involved in the walks were living with AIDS and living with HIV and many were not well and they wanted to show society that they existed and people needed to see them.”
HIV hasn’t been beat yet
“When people are living well with HIV and there’s treatment options available and we know that it doesn’t have to be a death sentence anymore, sometimes that hope and optimism and positive side means that the urgency is lost over why we need to raise money for HIV anymore. The urgency is still there. We haven’t seen a huge decrease in new HIV transmissions, so people are still becoming infected with HIV. Those people are living longer, and they’re needing support in a different way. As far as we’ve come medically, and scientifically, the stigma and discrimination hasn’t moved.”
Stigma still exists
“The visibility of the walk is so important … I think a lot of people think that they’re not affected or impacted by HIV. When you think about other causes, people are very open to discuss. People who have survived breast cancer or other forms of cancer are very vocal about surviving something. Their families are very vocal. There’s a lot of pride in that, and there absolutely should be.
But HIV isn’t something that you survive. It’s something you can live with, but we don’t have that sense of ‘I beat it.’ People are living with it. And because of the stigma and discrimination, many, many people do not disclose their status. People think they’re not at risk and they don’t get tested and don’t even know that they’re living with HIV. So people say I don’t know anyone living with HIV, and my response to them is ‘well, are you sure?’ If you’re not engaging in sexual activity or high-risk activity with them, they have no need to disclose to you.
There are people in Edmonton that are living with HIV and the importance of the visibility of the walk and keeping that piece is that awareness is that the stigma and discrimination is still there, and the more we can get it out there, normalize conversations around HIV and sexual health and all those pieces, then we can come back and try to shift some of that stigma. Globally, it is still the world’s number-one killer of women of childbearing age and it’s still one of the globe’s top-three killers.”
Honouring our past
“For us, from our standpoint, it’s is still remembering where we came from. It’s remembering that activist movement and honouring those pieces that are so important, so taking time to honour the people that we’ve lost to AIDS but also making the event more about hope and inspiration. And that we can have a lot of fun while we’re working on a really tough and important cause. It doesn’t have to be depressing.”
Want to get involved with the walk? Visit hivedmonton.com/scotiabank-aids-walk-life for more details