By Ian Morton | Profiles in Advocacy
Happy December, friends! Among my favorite things for this month is the A. Brad Truax Awards on Dec. 1 (World AIDS Day), where so many of the tireless workers in the HIV/AIDS field are recognized. That event always reminds me of the very first column I wrote, profiling the 2012 winner of the Truax Award, and then executive director of Christie’s Place, Liz Brosnan (now Johnson). For this reason, it is that much more heartwarming that six years later, Christie’s Place peer navigator, Jay Blount, is the 2018 awardee.
A beautiful aspect of the Truax Award, named in memoriam for San Diegan physician, researcher and individual Dr. A. Brad Truax, who lived with AIDS, is that it honors a broad spectrum of San Diegans who have contributed to the wellness of those infected and affected by HIV. Honorees have included researchers on the leading edge of science, physicians whose lives have been dedicated to serving the community, activists who push for legislation and policy, and those who assist HIV-positive individuals to access that which they need to thrive.
Jay Blount has been at Christie’s Place for eight years, but her journey with HIV began before that time. She lives in her story — the good and the painful — as it serves as an inspiration for both herself and those with whom she works.
A native Californian and the youngest of five children, Blount experienced the challenge of addiction, which eventually led to sex work. As a heterosexual woman, she was never aware of her risk factors, and was diagnosed with HIV in 1996, in Palm Springs. Her life has included high and low points through her addiction, which included homelessness, a nine-year loving marriage, and adoption of a child. When her husband passed, she “lost her support system”, and she sought solace in her addiction, losing her child to the system and the life she had worked to build.
It was family that brought her back to herself.
“One day, I was at my sister’s house, and I was high and drunk,” she recollected. “My 12-year-old niece was watching me pace the floor, and she just broke down into tears. When I asked her what was wrong, she confessed that she just didn’t know how to help me. For some reason that resonated. I realized how much I was affecting my family and I got into recovery.”
Enrolled as a client around 2007, Jay began attending “camping retreats” through Christie’s Place, and saw that there was a community of both HIV-positive individuals and allies who wanted to see her thrive.
“I had just restarted my life and it was a new chapter for me; a lot of firsts,” she said. “I was amazed by how people who were not HIV-positive embraced HIV-positive women. I’m from a small town and that’s just not something I had ever seen. Their compassion, commitment and involvement touched my heart as a woman. I felt seen.”
Blount became a peer navigator at Christie’s Place before such a position became “the norm”, and recalls the resistance she and others experienced as they worked to legitimize their roles in patient wellness.
“I experienced a lot of initial push-back from the medical community,” she recalled. “They just weren’t ready to buy into us as part of the patients’ care. We were made to stay in the waiting room while patients had their appointments. Now they see the value, and we get requested to join appointments by the providers!”
Being a women living with HIV, she feels as though she gains as much inspiration from her clients as they receive help from her efforts. She currently oversees around 65 clients, making sure that women living with HIV are empowered to live their best lives; sometimes through administrative assistance, and sometimes by demonstrating through her own “no-holds-barred” story what a path forward can look like.
Christie’s Place has been and continues to serve as a national model for women’s HIV services, and Blount is proud to be a part of the effort. She never expected to be awarded the Truax Award, and sees it as a reminder to keep working hard. As we finished our talk, she closed with these final words:
“Women are born in the struggle. From the day they arrive as babies, they are stigmatized from the beginning. As long as Christie’s Place is around, they will have a place to call ‘home.’”
On this fitting “book end” column, I am a bit sad to report that I will be discontinuing writing Profiles in Advocacy, as I dive deeper into my schoolwork. It has been such an honor to tell the stories of amazing people and organizations, and I am grateful for the experience. Many thanks to the editors with whom I’ve worked (Anthony King, Morgan Hurley and Albert Fulcher), Gay San Diego and our community. I hope my words have illuminated some of the heroes among us!
—Ian Morton has been in San Diego for over 20 years, working in the LGBTQ and HIV fields. He is currently a full-time student and works with the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition and the Y.E.S. San Diego LGBTQ Youth Conference. Recommendations for individuals and groups to highlight in Profiles in Advocacy may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.