We’re Still Here! A Celebration of Aging Positively with HIV

We’re Still Here! A Celebration of Aging Positively with HIV

In commemoration of HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day (HLTSAD), on June 5, 2019, The NYC Health Department and the Long-Term Survivors Wellness Coalition sponsored a one-day program entitled “We’re Still Here! A Celebration of Aging Positively with HIV.” Held at the Baruch College Vertical Campus Conference Center in New York City, the program featured a long-term survivors panel discussion and various breakout activities, including an awards presentations, movie screening (including “Last Man Standing” [A&U, May 2016]), cooking demonstrations, art exhibit and art therapy courtesy of Visual AIDS, yoga and meditation, and networking opportunities. Organizers planned, in short, “a full day of wellness ahead of us,” according to Graham Harriman, Director of the Care and Treatment Program of the Bureau of HIV/ADS Prevention and Control.

Left to right: Panelists Julia Sanchez, presenter and facilitator for The Positive Life Workshop and leader of a Peer Experience Group at The Family Center, and Octavia Lewis, MPA, activist, advocate, mother and scholar

The panel discussion, moderated by GMHC founding member Ed Shaw, featured insights from advocates Tez Anderson (founder of “Let’s Kick ASS–AIDS Survivor Syndrome and creator of HLTSAD), Octavia Lewis, Billy Fields, and Julia Sanchez. Recognizing that older people with HIV are hindered by social isolation, stigma, and co-morbid physical and mental health conditions, as well as a fragmented care system that increases the difficulty of effectively managing their health, the panel of experts explored long-term survivors’ experience of obstacles to health care services and solutions to help HIV long-term survivors to thrive.

Graham Harriman, MA, Director, Care and Treatment Program, Bureau of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control: “As long-term survivors of HIV, we know how to be strong, resilient, and advocate for our health.”

As part of the celebration, GMHC unveiled the National Resource Center on HIV and Aging, the first of its kind in the world. The Center will serve as a leading hub for disseminating closely vetted, research-based information on HIV and aging in order to improve the health and quality of life of older adults living with or at risk for HIV. Reflecting the expertise of community advisors as well as long-term survivors themselves, the Center, a program of GMHC supported by a grant from Gilead Sciences, provides texts, short videos, sponsored webinars, conference summaries, slide decks, infographics, and the most current research data available. The Center also provides a National Community Map, helping users find supportive programs and conferences.

Dr. Oni Blackstock, Assistant Commissioner of New York City’s Bureau of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control, stated in her Welcome Message to attendees, “While we look back on the past 35-plus years of HIV/AIDS activism, we also look towards the future to ensure that we continue the fight in addressing gaps while leveraging advancements to enhance care and treatment options for all people living with HIV.”

Sean McKenna, Timothy Lunceford-Stevens, attendee, Tez Anderson, and Arthur Fitting, RN

Other members of the Long-Term Survivor’s Wellness Coalition in attendance were: Stephen Karpiak, Gregg Bruckno, Timothy Lunceford-Stevens, Vanessa Gonzalez, Bill Gross, Graham Harriman, Scott Spiegler, Sarah Kozlowski, Rafael Ponce, and Arthur Fitting, RN. Fitting, who is the LGBT Program Manager at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, shared: “Helping long-term survivors of HIV—both men and women—feel confident, proud and supported, with access to the health care they need to live full and active lives is what the coalition strives to do.”

For more information about Let’s Kick ASS – AIDS Survivor Syndrome, visit https://letskickass.hiv or check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AIDSSurvivorSyndrome. For more information on GMHC and the National Resource Center on HIV and Aging, check out www.gmhc.org. For more information about the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, please log on to: www.vnsny.org.

—Reporting by Hank Trout

Hank Trout, Senior Editor, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.