UC Irvine’s Health Education Center and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center hosted World AIDS Day, a joint event to increase education and awareness of HIV and AIDS on Monday November 24.
The event brought four diverse speakers to campus, discussing safe sex, STD testing, pressures against individuals and misunderstandings surrounding the HIV virus.
Hosts for the evening, Bradley Jong, administrative intern for the UCI Health Education Center and Doug Cheung, student assistant for the LGBT Resource Center were happily surprised by the turnout.
“We had more people than we expected,” Jong said. “It was nice to see a lot of people interested and for them to be informed that AIDS is reflected within our culture.”
The two agreed that the main purpose of the event had been to show how having the disease affects the cultural and social aspects of a person’s lifestyle.
“The most important thing that every audience member should take apart from this forum is to discuss how culture affects HIV and AIDS prevention in the Asian-Pacific Islander, Hispanic and African-American communities openly,” Cheung said
Jason Tran and Alex Truong, volunteers and representatives for Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team (APIT) were the only student panelists at the event, but had equally important points and purposes.
Tran opened with a discussion of the difficulties involved in breaking down the walls of communication about sex and STDs in certain cultures.
“Being Asian, you don’t talk about [HIV] in your families. I can’t remember the last time my mom said, ‘Use a condom.’ HIV has been around for years, but within the Asian and Pacific Islander community, it feels like it’s just started,” Tran said.
Truong and Tran support a message of increasing communication both within families as well as worldwide communities that do not have the same HIV-prevention and education resources.
David Bishop, director of UCI’s LGBT Resource Center, discussed somewhat of a backward trend in the discussion of HIV and AIDS due to patients’ ability to hide their disease.
“People are hiding it and not talking about it. I’ve met a number of people who are HIV-positive and do not tell their families,” Bishop said. “Where we’ve come now is that, ironically, the fact that people are living longer – physically, you can’t even see that they are HIV-positive so it is very easy for people to hide and mask that they are HIV-positive [due to various cosmetic surgeries].”
Not only is this an issue for individuals trying to keep their personal life from the public sphere, but for the LGBT community as a whole, fighting against both socially constructed stereotypes and the spread of the disease itself.
“I think that, without getting political, if you look at Proposition 8, people are still so afraid of the stigma of being LGBT and still so fearful of what it means to have HIV and the possibility of being judged and stigmatized. As long as it stays hidden, if people choose to be hidden, the disease will continue to spread,” Bishop said.
Andrea Arguello-Coulson, director of Latino Community Outreach for the AIDS Services Foundation of Orange County, described similar trends within the Latino community.
“Culturally, in the Latino community, disclosure is another issue. That is [the] stigma – the fact that they can’t even tell their own families. Other times people are afraid of disclosing, and what that creates is a larger opportunity for spreading disease,” Arguello-Coulson said.
Arguello-Coulson recounted the occasions when she brought her 12-year-old daughter and 15-year-old daughter to social events with clients where they played constructive games.
“A lot of the clients said, ‘It feels kind of weird to have a stranger hug me because nobody hugs me in my house. Because I’m dirty. I’m HIV positive,'” Arguello-Coulson said.
During her experiences with Latino clients and the Latino community, Arguello-Coulson found cultural resistance to homosexuality to be detrimental to involvement in AIDS treatment.
“In the Latino community, we do have, similar to African-American [community], the homophobia, and in a lot of Latin American countries, being homosexual is a crime. So it’s very hard for some of these people – men in particular – to have a normal life as a homosexual man. And a lot of times they are forced by their families to get married and have a family,” Arguello-Coulson said.
Dr. Tina Henderson, assistant research psychologist at UCLA, reported her National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded research named Project EBAN to show that there is a growing number of African-Americans who contract the disease, but can be controlled within her community by promoting safe sex and encouraging individuals to disclose their homosexuality.
Overall, each speaker found common ground in the cultural resistance to AIDS treatment within their community.
“The most important thing that every audience member should take apart from this forum is to discuss how culture affects HIV and AIDS prevention in the Asian-Pacific Islander, Hispanic, and African-American communities openly,” Cheung stated.
Marvin Lee, David Lumb and Kevin Phan contributed to this article.