In commemoration of the 18th Annual World AIDS Day, two local organizations are hosting events in honor of locals affected by AIDS and HIV throughout the county.
The Pacific Pride Foundation and the Interfaith AIDS Ministry — two Santa Barbara County-based nonprofit organizations that provide services and advocacy for people living with HIV and AIDS — are hosting separate events today. From 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., the Pacific Pride Foundation will host “Bridges of Hope,” an art exhibit and reception at 126 East Haley St. in downtown Santa Barbara. The Interfaith AIDS Ministry will hold an interfaith prayer service at the Unity Chapel of Light in Santa Maria at 7 tonight in honor of Santa Barbara County residents who have died from AIDS.
Pacific Pride Foundation HIV Education Director Buck Derrington said “Bridges of Hope” is a free event, but donations are welcome and most of the artwork is for sale. He said the exhibition, which features art by clients of the foundation and African villagers impacted by AIDS, is based on the theme of this year’s World AIDS Day – “Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise.”
“The purpose of the art exhibit is to raise awareness of persons affected by HIV and AIDS and to remember and celebrate the lives of those who died from AIDS,” Derrington said. “All the artwork at the exhibit was created by people who are affected by AIDS in one way or another, either living with or personally impacted by AIDS or HIV.”
Derrington said he thinks one of the most interesting and important pieces at the show is “Cupid Gone Wrong,” created by an anonymous member of the “down-low” community — a slang term for men in heterosexual relationships who also have homosexual relations with other men.
Becky Barnett, an organizer for the Interfaith AIDS Ministry, said tonight’s interfaith prayer service is another way Santa Barbara County residents are commemorating World AIDS Day. She said the service has been held annually on World AIDS Day since 1993.
“We are holding a prayer service, candlelight vigil and a reading of the names of people who have died of AIDS,” Barnett said. “We then invite anyone who has lost someone to AIDS to add that name and speak a few words in honor of that person.”
Barnett said that the American Indian Education Dancers and an African Methodist choir will perform at the service, which usually attracts members of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths.
“The service is something very spiritual and very uplifting to remember persons with AIDS,” Barnett said.
Derrington said the United Nations declared the first World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, 1988 as a day to promote education and awareness about the disease. He said approximately 247 people in Santa Barbara County are living with AIDS, and the United States Dept. of Health and Human Services estimates that as many as 25 percent of those infected with HIV do not know they have it.
Barnett said she hopes students see today as an opportunity to learn about AIDS and the importance of taking preventive measures to avoid getting the disease.
“My hope is that students learns the facts, be educated and be compassionate toward persons with AIDS,” Barnett said.
Derrington said he thinks World AIDS Day should highlight the importance of getting tested for the virus.
“HIV testing has become so advanced that a simple cotton swab test has results in 20 minutes,” Derrington said. “The Pacific Pride Foundation offers free anonymous testing by appointment.”