By Ian Morton | Profiles in Advocacy
In the United States, HIV/AIDS has been at the forefront of most LGBTQ community members’ minds for over 30 years. A disease that cut through a generation of gay men in the 1980s and 90s, HIV redefined our ideas of sex and personal responsibility.
It gave rise to conspiracy theories within the LGBTQ community, while bolstering those who opposed our community on religious grounds, calling it “a punishment from God.”
It filtered into our cinema and theater, as we saw art reflecting our lives. It brought about a gravitas, as the defiant hedonism of the ’70s and ’80s gave way to devastating losses.
And, as communities do, we rallied around HIV/AIDS advocacy. Most of us know the script in San Diego County; we Walk, we Dine Out, we buy Jell-O shots at bars. Some of us ride our bikes from San Francisco to Los Angeles. We attend pool parties and bar events. We give awards, watch drag queens and kings, and cheer and cry when that “really inspirational” song gets performed.
These are the tropes that have defined HIV advocacy in San Diego for decades.
Now that “light at the end of the tunnel” for HIV/AIDS is actually visible. Through prevention strategies such as PrEP and studies which show that HIV-positive individuals who are able to reduce their virus to “undetectable,” we have the knowledge and tools to end new HIV infections locally and nationally. With this potential however, comes the challenge of bringing HIV back into the spotlight, for this last push to end the disease in the U.S. It is in this time of inspiration that we have a new effort rising: the Think Red Project, Inc.
The Think Red Project, Inc. — a local nonprofit organization — was founded by Steven Shyne and Marvin Hanashiro earlier this year. With over 20 years of combined marketing, event planning and management experience, their motto, “serious about fundraising, and serious about fun,” is exemplified by hosting events that support the local HIV/AIDS community.
“Simply put, HIV is still a thing,” said Hanashiro, who works in the HIV field at UC San Diego. “Locally, California has the second largest number of HIV and AIDS cases in the United States and San Diego County has the third largest number of HIV and AIDS cases in California. We must continue to bring awareness to how HIV affects our community, through activism and fundraising for organizations that help make a positive impact on preventing new HIV transmissions.”
The upcoming “Red Dress Party San Diego” is a Think Red concept that, while not new to the country, has never been produced in San Diego. And yes, it is exactly what you think – a group of individuals celebrating our strides in the fight against HIV while sporting a red dress. This event immediately took the social media world by storm and the ticket sales are already indicating that this will be a premier event in the San Diego social scene.
“The lineage of the Red Dress Party concept goes back, as far as we know, to Portland, which still today hosts the most well-received Red Dress Party, drawing 2,000-some attendees each year.” Shyne said. “Other cities also share the Red Dress namesake — Sacramento, Chicago, New Orleans and so on. We have nothing like this. I’d often think to myself ‘Someone should do that here!’ and finally I banded together with other like-minded change-makers to bring Red Dress Party to San Diego.”
Proceeds from the 2015 Red Dress Party will support San Diego HIV agencies and programs through the San Diego HIV Funding Collaborative (HFC). The HFC, like Think Red, was founded by concerned San Diego residents in 1990, and has issued nearly $7 million in grants since its inception.
The goal of Think Red is to grow and inject the “celebration” back into San Diego HIV philanthropy. In Shyne’s words, “Our tagline of ‘Celebrate Impact’ says it all — sure, there might be a long way to go, but we should take a moment to reflect on the achievements that have come this far and continue to raise funds, drive awareness and reduce stigma all at the same time with a light-hearted and fun-loving celebration.”
“There’s a ripple effect to anything that disrupts the norm,” added board member Vincent Dwyer. “We hope that our efforts ignite the human spirit and propel not only our future events, but inspire others to set out to make a difference big or small.”
Red Dress Party San Diego will be held on Oct. 3 at the San Diego Museum of Man in Balboa Park. Additional information and tickets may be found at reddresspartysd.com.
—Ian D. Morton is the senior program analyst at San Diego Human Dignity Foundation and produces the Y.E.S. San Diego LGBTQ youth conference. To nominate an individual or nonprofit for this column, please email the information to firstname.lastname@example.org.