By Katelyn Jacobson
Accompanied by an enthusiastic west wind, Santa Cruz walkers wound down the Municipal Wharf and up to Natural Bridges on April 19. When they were finished, the 200-plus participants were worth about $18,000 in sponsor money, a sum that went to fuel AIDS/HIV benefits programs backed by the Santa Cruz AIDS Project.
Saturday’s march came on the heels of the April 6-12 National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Health Awareness Week. All seven days worked to raise awareness about wellness issues surrounding the LGBT community, the most conspicuous of which is the proliferation of HIV.
The Lionel Cantú GLBTI Center celebrated the week by hosting the reception of an art show called “Think Positive,” which focused on African-American gay AIDS/HIV victims. UCSC student Kyle Fanthorpe was the mastermind behind the show.
“I’m calling it ‘Think Positive,’” Fanthorpe said. “The point is definitely to humanize the HIV virus, and show that [an AIDS patient] can still live a full, healthy life.”
He enlisted the help of the Black Brothers Esteem group (BBE), a branch of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation that focuses on helping African-Americans with AIDS.
AIDS patients who are part of the BBE took the images that were displayed in the Cantú center. Their project signified an attempt at greater visibility on behalf of the gay black community, and development manager Micah Lubensky expressed pride at how much the artists — often HIV/AIDS patients and former drug users — had done for themselves.
“Some people have been involved for a long time and some people for a short time, and it’s very peer-to-peer,” Lubensky said. “The project makes people say, ‘Wow, these non-typical role models are demonstrating how to take care of my health.’”
Students have also been hit personally by the AIDS epidemic sweeping the planet, and an attendant at the “Think Positive” reception reflected for a moment on past experiences with the virus.
“I was close to a girl with it last quarter,” a student who requested to remain anonymous said. “It feels very important to accept someone despite their HIV status, but at the same time, she and her boyfriend have had scares before. It must be a very lonely life.”
In addition to working at dispelling the stigmas surrounding AIDS patients, the gay community is also trying to raise awareness about less-publicized health concerns.
Tam Welch, Cantú Center programs director, brought up the fact that students who identify as LGBT often have to deal with insensitivities and stigmas when interacting with medical personnel.
“Lesbians are asked if they need birth control, and if there is anything that a lesbian may potentially need, it’s not birth control,” Welch said.
She brings up the fact that LGBT ad campaigns have recognized the LGBT community as a target demographic, due to the fact that California Department of Health Services Tobacco Control Section has identified LGBT as a group which smokes more than the population at large. The health risks are no less than that of the non-LGBT affiliated, yet the large numbers falling prey to nicotine are worthy of concern and increased awareness.
A third health issue is that the UC Santa Cruz student insurance policy (USHIP or GSHIP) does not cover costs incurred by transsexual surgery or any treatment leading to or in connection to transsexual surgery, an absence that leaves queer-friendly UCSC trailing behind UC San Diego.
“If somebody really feels that their body doesn’t fit with their gender identity, I think they should have the ability to become whole,” Welch said. “And if medication can give that wholeness, I think it should be provided.”