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Inside Story
A Chat With Jim Pickett as the First HIV Research for Prevention (HIV R4P) Conference Looms PDF Print
Tuesday, October 28, 2014’s Julie Davids interviewed the AIDS Foundation of Chicago’s Director of Prevention Advocacy and Gay Men’s Health Jim Pickett on the first HIV Research for Prevention (HIV R4P) conference, which he is currently attending in Cape Town, South Africa. Read the full interview here.jpickett biennial

Jim Pickett is a one-man example of the blurring lines in HIV prevention. The longtime advocate became an early champion of rectal microbicide research as one of the founders of International Rectal Microbicide Advocates (IRMA), but is quite fluent in the language of vaginal rings and contraception. He's now logged many hours in the world of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), from on-the-ground demonstration projects of Truvada (a coformulation of the antiretrovirals tenofovir and emtricitabine) to interest in the early research on long-acting injectables. And as a gay man living with HIV, he's deeply immersed in the realities of sexual health and human rights that can affect the perception, reach and use of HIV prevention. As one of the planners of the first HIV Research for Prevention (HIV R4P) conference, coming up in South Africa, Pickett was packing his bags to join other crosscutting prevention researchers and advocates when he took a few minutes to talk with about why he thinks this conference could float all the boats of prevention technology.

I'm talking with Jim Pickett of International Rectal Microbicide Advocates and AIDS Foundation of Chicago. You're about to get on a plane and fly to South Africa. Where are you off to, and why?

I am headed to the first ever HIV Research for Prevention conference (HIV R4P). This is the first time that the biennial microbicide conference and the annual vaccine conference are coming together and sharing space. So it's the first time this field has really had a unified conference that's covering new prevention technologies broadly. It's pretty exciting.

It does sound exciting. Why is it important to have a unified conference?

Mainly, the different modalities, the different strategies are all starting to blur. So we're thinking about long-term injectables for PrEP. We're thinking about vaccines that are given with PrEP as a starter to make sure you have some protection before the vaccine comes into play.

Read the rest of the interview here.


Keeping stars like Glenn bright through HIV fundraising PDF Print
Friday, October 10, 2014

Haunted House gives more than scares to the community in partnership with AFC

fearcityYou have likely heard of trick-or-treating for charitable causes (see: UNICEF), but at Fear City Haunted House in Morton Grove, Ill, the team is turning thrills, chills and screams of terror into charitable dollars. Behind the special effects and creepy characters that give you goosebumps, the haunted house has a history of giving back to its host community since its inception in 2011. In the same spirit of benevolence, this year Fear City is donating part of its ticket sales on LGBTQ Night to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

With a diverse cast and crew of more than 120 individuals behind the production of Fear City, the motivation for community giving is deeply personal for staff members. Mark Matz, part of the Fear City marketing team, shares his story about why Fear City chose the AIDS Foundation of Chicago as the beneficiary of LGBTQ Night.

His friend, Glenn Scott Cooper, died of AIDS 20 years ago; the two worked together in the Chicago broadcast media business.

“Glenn was a superb singer and actor; he performed in local theater and as a cantor for his synagogue,” recalled Matz. “I miss his humor, his wisdom and his advice — but so do many others whose lives he touched, least of which was his partner, David.”

Glenn is memorialized in the AIDS Memorial Quilt with his cantor’s shawl from his congregation in Sacramento, where he moved after leaving Chicago.GlennAIDSQuilt

“I believe Glenn would have enjoyed attending and probably being involved with the production of Fear City if he were with us today,” said Matz. “By helping the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, in a small way, he is!”

Glenn’s story does not end with his death but rather continues on through the lives of his friends and loved ones—and now the spirit of Fear City! Shrieks and laughter have the power to change lives this Halloween thanks to the collaboration between the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and those who carry on stories like Glenn’s at Fear City Haunted House.

Are you ready to face your fears to help put an end to HIV? Join AFC at Fear City Haunted House on Sunday Oct. 19. To sweeten the deal, Fear City is offering $3 off your tickets purchased online with the code ‘LGBTQ’ at

We Are Here blog tour: "When Resilience Isn’t Enuf: Black Lives Matter" PDF Print
Wednesday, October 08, 2014


“We Are Here: Black Gay Men in the South,” is a blog tour curated by the Counter Narrative Project and the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance to amplify the voices of black gay men in the South. Each day for the next week, a new piece will be posted. For more information, feel free to contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


When Resilience Isn’t Enuf: Black Lives Matter

“Stop calling me RESILIENT. Because every time you say, ‘Oh, they’re resilient,’ that means you can do something else to me. I am not resilient.” – Tracie L. Jackson, Louisiana Justice Institute

Five years ago, on the same day that my cousin Derek, another young Black gay Texan, died of kidney failure after years of poisonous therapies like AZT, a teary-eyed twenty something college student told me I was living with HIV. I had seroconverted and officially joined an epidemic. In the chilly spring of 2009, while squatting a foreclosed home in Chicago, I become one of the thousands of young gay/bi men of color that year who were part of a rising wave of the new infections that continues to this day. The five years following have only seen more new infections, deaths, heartaches and few victories.

For communities of young gay/bi men of color (particularly young Black gay men) in this country, we’re still living in the days of DonteSmith“RENT” and “Normal Heart.” In some U.S. cities, 50 percent of black gay men are living with HIV, and a young Black gay men under the age of 25 has a 1-in-4 possibility of becoming HIV positive. “By the time he is 40 years old, the odds a Black gay men will be living with HIV is roughly 60 percent. One can scour the world and struggle to find a population more heavily affected by HIV/AIDS than Black gay men in the U.S.” (Black AIDS Institute). While the rest of this country can look back at the devastation and sorrow depicted in films, like Normal Heart, and breathe a sigh of relief that those days have passed, for young black queer men like myself the “Plague Years” haven’t ended yet.

For the past 5 years, we’ve been hungry, parched for more Mississippi babies, Zimbabwean sex workers, and Timothy Ray Browns. Here we sit waiting for rectal microbicides, origami condoms and tenofovir gels as the cases of new infections rise and the body count continues. In the same way that the 80s and 90s saw HIV activists utilizing their bodies and the streets of public opinion to push for life-saving medications, community mobilization presents us with opportunities to do more than just waiting. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I lay awake and envision a reemergence of public demonstrations where young Black gay men reenact the direct actions of groups like ACTUP on the streets of the 12 cities infamous for their staggering HIV prevalence rates. As I dream awake, I see us in brilliant colors finally expressing the fear, sadness and pain in public that so many of us have carried in our private lives.

With the recent press around the senseless deaths of Black youth like Trayvon Martin, Renisha MacBride, Islan Nettles and Mike Brown, popular culture is (re)membering the sad reality that the lives of Black youth are indeed, “endangered.” We continue to exist in a state of constant attack from a wide variety of sources. We have plenty reasons to be pissed. Our lives are on the line. Anger can motivate, shift stone and shake institutions when it’s concentrated and well directed.

Consider this: This year saw two disturbing instances of black organizations in the struggle against HIV being directly disenfranchised by governmental institutions.

As Phil Wilson of the Black AIDS Institute points out:

“On March 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) awarded $115 million over five years to 21 organizations to provide technical assistance (TA) and capacity building to health departments, AIDS service organizations (ASOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs) implementing high-impact prevention and improving outcomes in the care continuum for people living with HIV/AIDS. Not one of the new CDC grantees is a Black organization. The effect of this decision is that Black organizations have been locked out of leading technical assistance and capacity building in this country for the next five years.”

Back home here in Illinois, the Windy City Times reported in September of this year:

“In July, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) informed 20 [HIV] service providers that money to those agencies for FY 2015 through the African-American HIV/AIDS Response Act would not be allocated to them. Those agencies were awarded the money through a request for proposal process, and most made budgeting decisions based on those awards.”

It seems Illinois legislators and the Illinois Department of Public Health never allocated a revenue stream for the African-American AIDS Response Act after literally taking the funds and channeling them to other state projects. All of a sudden these 20 HIV service providers who sought to address the Black HIV epidemic were suddenly scrambling to stave off staffing cuts and, for some of them, the threat of permanently shutting their doors. How else are Black communities to view this other than clear indicators of a systematic dismantling of our communities’ power in addressing the HIV epidemic? Calling me resilient, while systematically starving and disregarding our communities of resources reeks of institutional duplicity.

A Public Health Crisis on the Horizon             

It’s a joke that I live in one of largest metropolises in the world and that the some of the only free STI testing and treatment clinics in this grand city only see 10 clients a day. It’s pathetic that these clinics are the only free options in some of the highest HIV prevalent neighborhoods. A National Coalition of STD Directors survey found that 69 percent of state and local STD programs reported funding cuts and 39 clinics supported by such programs had to close their doors between 2008 and 2009.

And yet the planet (and definitely this country) stands on the edge of a looming public health crisis: multidrug-resistant gonorrhea is spreading and we could easily be facing a global crisis on our hands.   Note the three populations the National Coalition of STD Directors lists in its in FY2015 Funding Fact Sheet as the most impacted by this potential epidemic:

“While this issue is a grave for all sexually-active people, drug-resistant gonorrhea will hit certain populations harder than others, including men who have sex with men (MSM), blacks and young people.

  • Men who have sex with men (MSM) already have the highest rates of gonorrhea resistance across the country.
  • The rate of gonorrhea among blacks is 14.9 times the rate of gonorrhea among whites.
  • Young people aged 24 and younger account for 58 percent of the new gonorrhea cases every year.”

I hate to be an public health harbinger of doom, but imagine how expensively devastating multidrug-resistant gonorrhea could become for young black MSM across the U.S. Considering the dearth of free and low-cost STI treatment services within this country, the fact nearly half of all STIs go untreated each year, and that living with other STIs makes one more susceptible to HIV, antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea could certainly lead to hundreds of new infections of young black MSM and feed into the current rising numbers. And, without an appropriate government response, I can’t help but consider it premeditated murder by institutions that care little for the lives of young black gay men like me.

As a Southern black queer man, governmental and cultural indifference feels all too familiar to me. As a child in Texas, the only gay men I knew were a crew of my gay cousins and uncle who I was discreetly warned not in stay in a room alone with or drink behind. These men lived in silence until a series of “accidents” (car crashes, health problems, and suddenly lost lovers) forced them to become public about their sexualities and HIV statuses. Even as I watched them age, raise children, battle sickness, and lead church choirs, they were rarely celebrated or even recognized as whole beings. Even now, my Southern family relegates my partners to “my special friends,” their names forgotten. Often our families and communities expect that we will operate as pallbearers for our blackness, silently carrying their religious biases, patriarchal expectations, and quiet disdain, all the while keeping our mouths shut and heads down. For generations of Southern Black gay men, silence is our legacy; it’s something we’ve passed on like genetic predispositions to hypertension and arthritis. But as the bodies pile high, that silence must end. No wonder I smell revolt in my dreams.

For us to turn the tide on this epidemic, we have to start by proving to young black gay/bi men that we genuinely care about their lives, not just their HIV statuses. I would love to see organizations and individuals who serve and care for folks living with HIV embracing hashtags, like #BlackLivesMatter, as less of a slogan and more like an organizational mantra in the struggle against HIV. As a reminder that we are not just your clients/consumers, or simply numbers for your grant scopes or units of service to validate someone’s salaries; we represent nearly half of this epidemic in this country, our lives matter and we’re more than resilient.

Originally from Houston, Texas, Donté Smith is a sexual health educator, community organizer, and deejay currently living in Chicago, Ill. Smith is also a former member of IL ASAP (Illinois Alliance for Sound AIDS Policy) and a current member of the HIV PJA Steering Committee at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and is currently the Youth Outreach Coordinator for the Center on Halsted.

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About Inside Story

Do you ever feel there are critical advances in HIV/AIDS prevention that aren't being properly covered in the mainstream media? Or that there are complex HIV/AIDS-related healthcare and funding issues not being clearly explained? Or that there are powerful HIV/AIDS stories here in Chicago just waiting for someone to tell them?
We feel that way, too!

At the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), we’re committed to changing the story of HIV/AIDS. Inside Story aims to take you inside that story, to give you an intimate look at how AFC, and other Chicago and national organizations, are fighting HIV/AIDS through medical, housing and support services; cutting-edge research into prevention and treatment methods; and advocacy for stronger HIV-AIDS public policy from legislators.

If you have questions or blog ideas, please contact Brian Solem, Communications Manager and Staff Writer, at


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