CHARLOTTE — The issues faced by people living with or affected by HIV and AIDS are often boiled down to faceless, emotionless medical stats and numbers. The Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN) hopes to change that this World AIDS Day with their Voices Project.
On Dec. 1, RAIN will share the stories of Charlotteans living with HIV. The group has enlisted the help of community leaders and storytellers from across the city including activists, journalists, faith leaders and artists.
“HIV is still a very big deal in our community,” says Maggie Thomas, RAIN’s development and marketing assistant. “There are more than 4,000 people in Mecklenburg County who are HIV-positive. There’s still a lot of stigma and a lot of people may not know that they know someone who has HIV. We hope to bring attention to this issue that is affecting our community and trying to bring our community closer together, getting everyone involved.”
The event will be hosted at the Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte, 650 E. Stonewall St., 7 p.m., Dec. 1. Leaders and storytellers will share pre-written testimony and experiences from some of RAIN’s clients. The event is free and open to the public, though tickets to a VIP reception and reserved seating can be purchased for $75 online at carolinarain.org/voicestickets.
Thomas expects the event will be powerful and touching.
“We want these stories to belong to the community,” she says. “That’s why we are having different people tell the stories. These are public figures telling a story that could belong to anybody.”
Local activist Roberta Dunn is among the speakers who will participate. She says reaching out and supporting all segments of the community is important.
“Everyday I walk out the door, I look at it as an opportunity to reach out and help educate someone on something they know little or nothing about,” she says. “In my case, it’s being transgender. We need to clue in everyone in the LGBT community on how important it is for people to understand other people and other people’s problems, especially in the medical arena.”
As a transgender American, Dunn says she knows what it is like to face marginalization. She feels a sense of solidarity with HIV-positive people. Many people infected with the virus face discrimination and prejudice even among supposed, natural allies in the LGBT community.
“We have to be concerned about other people,” Dunn says, recounting her first time meeting a person with HIV. “I had to take a step back for a second. But then I was so happy for that person. He was so full of energy and love and happiness. Everyone has something that might make them a little different than someone else but we still need to love and accept them.”
Other storytellers at the event will include PRIDE Magazine’s Nepherterra Estrada, Fox Charlotte’s Morgan Fogarty, Matt Harris of 107.9 The Link’s “Matt & Ramona Show,” Unity Fellowship Church Pastor Tonyia Rawls and artist Scott Weaver.
Thomas says the Voices Project event will help knock down barriers and empower those living and affected by HIV.
“We are trying to give a voice to HIV-positive people,” she says. “Often, these voices are silent and people are afraid to talk about it. We’re bringing these voices together.” : :
info: Learn more about the Voices Project event at carolinarain.org.