The first annual Texas State HIV Awareness Conference was held Nov. 10-13 at Texas State University. The conference, hosted by a coalition of groups, consisted of panel discussions with experts, health care workers, documentary movies, and a candle light vigil, which will be rescheduled for a later date.”The biggest issue facing education on HIV/AIDS is stigma, said Texas State student and event organizer Tyler Ferguson. “We had a banner in the Quad and no one would come to the table. They don’t want to be seen around this issue.”
The conference was geared toward young people to help break through the barriers of communication when dealing with education about HIV.
“The conference has really opened up a lot of people and made them talk,” said Ferguson. “Before we started this dialogue, a lot of students saw this as a gay disease, a black disease, but it is becoming a young persons disease with increases among 13-25 year olds.”
“One-third of people carrying HIV don’t even know they have it,” said panelist, Kalia Hawkins. “Another one-third are in denial and won’t go to a doctor or talk to their partner. It is important that everyone know his or her status. ”
“Back in the 80’s when the first aids cases were discovered, people were living 1-3 months. Condoms were your best friend; people were petrified,” said Ferguson. “Now, medical care is better and safe sex is not practiced enough. Guys like magic Johnson look great. The conference was about showing people HIV/AIDS is a big deal.”
As part of the Awareness Conference, the Student Health Center at Texas State University offered free coupons for anonymous and confidential HIV testing. Testing will be done from Nov.10th-25th using a number code that does not identify the person tested. Yet, the best feedback Tyler received from a large number of students attending the conference was they were going to get tested.
“The conference has definitely made more people talk,” said Ferguson. “At every event, there was that one student that you could see on their face that they were touched. When Sarah Gonzales spoke about the psychological issues facing HIV, you could look around and see the room tearing up.”
“To change someone’s mind is great, but you have to a change someone’s heart to actually get something accomplished”
by Elisa Laraia