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By Kate Ferguson (Editor-in-Chief, Real Health / Senior Editor, POZ)

REDPOWER_cover_flyer.jpgWhen I attended the recent Red Pump Project program on Tuesday, March 10th, I was looking forward to listening to the discussion at an event that's held each year on this date. Red Pump Project programs recognize National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

Six years ago two women launched Red Pump Project as a social media campaign that eventually blossomed into this nonprofit organization. The mission of the Red Pump Project is to educate women and girls about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and reduce the stigma associated with the virus. The event on this wonderfully, finally snow-free evening was a program that featured a panel of dynamic women who are veteran HIV/AIDS experts, activists and advocates committed to continuing the conversation about a disease that still has yet to be eradicated.

RED PUMP_PANEL.JPGFrom left to right: Deborah Bosier; Aletha Maybank, MD, Chareeah K. Jackson, Hydeia Broadbent, Rowena Johnston, PhD, and Deborah Levine

Watch highlights from the event:

The panel of women included Dr. Aletha Maybank, the assistant commissioner at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; HIV/AIDS activist and Ampro ProStyl brand ambassador Hydeia Broadbent; Chareeah K. Jackson, the lifestyle and relationships editor at Essence, Dr. Rowena Johnston, VP of research at amfAR, Debra Bosier, a program manager at Iris House; Deborah Levine, executive director of Love Heals, the Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS Education and communications director of the National Black Women's HIV/AIDS Network; and Lolisa Gibson, an HIV/AIDS advocate and educator.

The event took place at the Time and Life Building in New York City. When you stepped off the elevator on the eighth floor and swept through the doors into a reception area, finger foods, sweets and information about community events beckoned from small tables where they lay waiting. I loaded some of this and that on a plate and scooped up flyers and glossy promo cards then walked into the discussion area. This area was for the panel set up on a stage that faced rows of chairs in a formation that invited open forum-style sharing from the audience. It was the kind of safe, supportive environment that the Red Pump Project strives to create for its programs.

As women milled about, some wandered in to find a seat, or to sit with friends and acquaintances, where they chatted in between bites of food. The evening assumed the air of a mellow, laidback gathering humming with good vibes.

Unfortunately, I didn't wear my red pumps. (Actually, I'm not sure if I even have a pair.) But as the hosts of the event reminded the audience several time, the message of the Red Pump Project is more than about fashion and style. But I sure didn't mind being treated to the fashionable display of interesting red pumps and shoes every which way I looked. (Some even pulled a few unexpected ooohs and aaahs from my mouth.)

HYDEIA_1.JPGHIV/AIDS activist and Ampro ProStyl brand ambassador Hydeia Broadbent

Then the evening kicked off. As the speakers were introduced and spoke, a clear focus emerged: Women should put themselves first and get tested for HIV/AIDS so they know their status. Maybank stressed that this agenda must continue being pushed because there is still so much misinformation and ignorance about the virus. She also warned that women have to regain their sense of being a "collective" by reaching out to other women and girls.

"Some people are thinking if I don't have vaginal sex, they can't get infected," Levine said. She suggested that a supportive approach can be as simple as women and girls sitting around the "kitchen table simply talking about these issues."

Bosier stressed that, at Iris House, her conversation with women is focused on letting them know they do have choices when they need to make decisions. "No glove, no love," she advised. Bosier also said that she works with a lot of younger women and too many of them think they're invulnerable. At Iris House, she said, one of her favorite discussions is the "condom talk" she gives women. "I say to them that prevention is power," Bosier said.

HYDEIA PUMPS.JPGOh yes, we can't forget those red pumps! Hydeia Broadbent rocked these classic cut-out styled heels.

Broadbent and Gibson spoke about their experiences as women living with HIV/AIDS and discussed how the virus has affected their lives. As a single woman living with the virus, Broadbent discussed the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and how she's negotiated relationships and dating. Gibson talked about meeting her husband and how they handled their relationship as a serodiscordant couple. She also discussed becoming a mother and giving birth to an HIV-negative child.

Johnston discussed how antiretroviral treatments have changed during the past few years. She also reiterated the message about the importance of getting tested for HIV. "Get tested and continue getting tested," she said. "Get educated about the virus, and if you're negative stay negative."

She also discussed the role gender inequality plays in the home and at work and how this contributes to the transmission of HIV. Women must make themselves a priority, she said. In addition, she believes it's key for women scientists to do more research on the effects of pre-exposure prophylaxis, a.k.a. PrEP, on women who are HIV-negative.

In general, I thought this annual Red Pump Project event and panel discussion was an exceptional program. But as I looked around the room and on the stage, I thought how great it would be if programs like this one could also include male voices.

When the issue of relationships and HIV are discussed, educating and empowering women are certainly worthwhile goals. But women are just one-half of the equation. Many of us are in relationships with men, so, given that reality, discussions like these seem like missed opportunities when men aren't reflected in the conversation and seemingly aren't actively engaged in sharing the mission to do their part to also raise awareness about the effect of HIV/AIDS on the women and girls in their lives.

Remembering Vinny Allegrini


By Jennifer Morton (Managing Editor, POZ/AIDSmeds/Hep)

POZ is saddened by the loss of our dear friend Vinny Allegrini, who died on March 4, 2015, at age 66. He is survived by his beloved husband of nearly 20 years, Mark de Solla Price. (Mark was a technology consultant for POZ from 1998 to 2006.)

Diagnosed with HIV in 1989, Vinny played a part in the pages of POZ history. In our February/March 2001 issue, Mark chronicled the couple's journey for a liver transplant in the feature "Liver Lovers." After years of living with HIV and chronic hepatitis B, Vinny had developed cirrhosis of the liver and a transplant seemed to be his only option. (At the time, only 13 HIV-positive people had ever received a liver transplant.) His friend Gregory volunteered to donate part of his liver, "Because Vinny is an amazing person."

Gregory Dean (left) with Vinny (seated) and Mark

Amazing indeed. Vinny had a strong soul. Although he ended up not getting the liver transplant, the former hairdresser spent more than 25 years staving off one health condition after another. But Vinny was the true comeback kid: He fell down and then got up again and again and again.

Vinny was also featured in the August 2006 POZ article "Vital Signs," which highlighted individuals who had survived the odds despite great adversity. Vinny had this to say about his long-term survival:

"Giving up has never entered my mind. More than once, my doctors have said, 'Your chances aren't good.' Each time, I've said, 'I'm not going to let this get in my way. One day at a time,' I say. Today was a good day. Tomorrow's another day. I dream each day of returning to my passion of cutting hair."

Vinny Allegrini 2

Vinny lived his life filled with passion, and his survival was an inspiration to many. When I saw him at various events over the years, I was always amazed by his strength. And amazed by the tales of his latest health battle.

Luckily, Vinny had another amazing person by his side: his husband, Mark. The couple got married before gay marriage was legal, and then did it again when they could make it official. They wrote their vows in Central Park's Strawberry Fields. They supported each other in sickness and in health--and dealt with a heck of a lot along the way. But their love for each other only grew stronger over the years. Mark and Vinny shared their touching love story in our January/February 2013 article "Heart to Heart."

But Vinny's best moment in POZ history probably had to be when he bared it all on our May 2004 cover. For our 10th anniversary issue, POZ asked the artist Spencer Tunick--known for his large installations of naked people--to create an image for our cover featuring HIV-positive individuals. Vinny and Mark (along with 78 others) gathered at Florent restaurant in the West Village on a cold, February morning and dared to reveal it all. Not only was the moment captured on our cover, HBO made a documentary film about the event, Positively Naked, in which Mark and Vinny were one of the featured couples.

And that was just one of Vinny's many adventures. He truly lived a wonderful life.

Rest in peace, Vinny. Your struggle is over.

A Celebration of the Life of Vinny Allegrini
Sunday, March 22, 2015, at 3 p.m.
First Unitarian Universal Congressional Society of Brooklyn Heights
48 Monroe Place
, Brooklyn
For more information, click here.

Let There Be Love


By Jennifer Morton (Managing Editor, POZ/AIDSmeds/Hep)

artists at LPW event-2.JPG

A couple of weeks ago I attended one of three papermaking valentine workshops in New York City hosted by Visual AIDS, the Fire Island Artist Residency, Dieu Donné and the International Community of Women Living With HIV (ICW). Last week, more than 100 handmade valentines were sent to women with living with HIV around the word as part of an ongoing project called LOVE POSITIVE WOMEN (LPW).

artists at LPW event-1.JPG

LPW was created in 2013 by Jessica Lynn Whitbread, an HIV artist and activist who is also the community relations and mobilization manager of ICW. 
The project is an international series of grassroots events that uses Valentine's Day as a backdrop, creating a platform for individuals and communities to engage in public and private acts of love and caring for women living with HIV.

artists at LPW event-3.JPG

This year the theme of LPW is "Romance Starts at Home" and the ICW is encouraging individuals and organizations to publicly show how they love positive women. Here are some suggestions:

  • Host a valentine-making event and send them to women living with HIV.

  • Host a potluck dinner and movie night for positive women.

  • Record a video message declaring your love for positive women and put it on YouTube.

  • Make an e-Valentine for positive women and post it on Facebook.

  • Bake cupcakes and take them to your local AIDS service organization.

  • Make a donation to ICW.

LPW poster.jpeg

The annual project is a call to action to show how women living with HIV can practice self-love, support and care, and also how allies can show their love and support for HIV-positive women on Valentine's Day.

"Taking the time to do something for someone else is really beneficial to society as a whole," says Whitbread. "Don't underestimate the value in something as simple as sending a valentine to a stranger."

jennifer at LPW event.JPG

So spread some love this Valentine's Day. I know how good it felt to make those paper valentines.

To find out more about the campaign, visit LPW on Facebook.

By Casey Halter

On Friday, February 6, POZ checked out the opening of Lust for Life, a new HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness campaign celebrating NYC street artists.

Put together by ONE Condoms, Urban Outfitters and renowned graffiti artist Billi Kid, the exhibit features 22 artists who have been working hard over the last few weeks to transform replica stop signs into powerful messages about HIV prevention and safer sex.

The striking works of one-of-a-kind art are being auctioned off online to benefit Lifebeat, a national nonprofit organization that provides HIV outreach and support to young people in urban communities. ONE Condoms is also using the designs to launch a new condom line that will be sold across the country to benefit HIV outreach.

lustforlife1.JPGLust for Life's kickoff party took place in the heart of Manhattan's Herald Square and featured live graffiti art, turntable beats, and free beer from local distillery Brooklyn Brewery. While navigating the crowds at the very hip, very crowded event, we caught up with the exhibit's main artist, curator, and idea man, Billi Kid, to talk about the campaign:

 POZ: How did you get involved in HIV/AIDS awareness and this project with ONE Condoms?

Kid: It goes back to my years in school here in New York. I went to Parsons and I was good friends with Ali Gertz. She was a wonderful designer, very smart, very affluent girl and she was one of the first women activists to talk about HIV/AIDS. At the time it was a gay disease, and she was one of the first activists to kind of promote the idea that HIV/AIDS does not discriminate. That was kind of my first introduction to this terrible disease. And then throughout the years in New York and my career in advertising post-Parsons, I've had many friends and colleagues who have succumbed to HIV/AIDS.

I've done my part wherever I can, contributing either at work or with money, but I've never done something where I took initiative. This project came out when I met ONE Condoms and decided that there was still one pocket that needed awareness, which is the urban community. I'm a curator, I'm a street artist and I work with a lot of other street artists. Our concept was that if we created a peer-to-peer program, we might cut through the clutter of communication and actually make a difference.

POZ: How did you curate the group of artists who are contributing to the show today?

Kid: Most of them are based in New York. These are the artists that I come to time and time again: great friends, super-talented people that can take a concept and actually run with it.

[The line-up of artists who contributed to the Lust for Life campaign include Shiro, Skewville, Street Grapes, URNY, Veng RWK, Cope2, ChrisRWK, Col Wallnuts, The Dude Company, Chris Stain, Joe Lurato, Gumshoe, El Sol 25, Chris Uphues, Fumero, Raquel Echanique, Peat Wallaeger, Cake, Cern, David Cooper, and Elle]

POZ: What types of messages are you guys trying to put out with these stop signs?

Kid: In a lot of the work that I do as a curator, I like to provide the same canvas to the artists: I love to see what the outcome is when everyone is given the same assignment, the same blank paper. In this case it's a stop sign, and I think that symbolism, in itself, already has a message. So I didn't want them to focus on a particular "Stop AIDS" message, but instead, really focus on their art and then use social media and their social networking skills to get it out to their peers. I think the main goal of it is that if you succeed in reaching these people, then maybe the stop sign will take a different symbol. Next time, perhaps when you see a stop sign, you'll think of this program.

POZ: Why street art? What's the benefit of using this medium to help raise AIDS awareness?

Kid: In terms of urban communities, this is one area that really hasn't been well-marketed to in terms of safe sex and sex messaging. There's still a stigma around the use of condoms and I think our use of creative talent in the urban communities creates a new peer-to-peer program, so it's basically talking to our younger brothers and sisters.

POZ: How can people, both in NYC and elsewhere, get involved with Lust for Life? 

Kid: One of the great things that our partner, ONE Condoms, is doing is that it took some of the artwork and created condom packaging with it. Those will be distributed across the nation at urban clinics, along with safe-sex messaging. Our hope is that if the campaign grows--and it's already getting a lot of buzz on social media--that other partners will come into the fold and we can follow suit in other cities, San Francisco perhaps, or Chicago, and then to go beyond Life Beats and reach out to other organizations that cater to HIV/AIDS awareness in the urban communities.

lustforlife4.JPGThe Lust for Life stop signs will be on display at the Urban Outfitters store in NYC's Herald Square through Friday, February 20. The online auction for the signs ends that day at 5 p.m. Visitors to the store are encouraged to post photos of the artwork on social media using #LustforLife #DonateOne and @onecondoms. For every post, one condom will be donated to an urban HIV outreach program.

For more information about the HIV/AIDS awareness initiative, check out ONE Condoms' Lust for Life campaign on the web.
Living Well Retention in Care peer counselors (from left) Andrew Ballard, Lester Wallace and Debra Richardson (image courtesy Living Well Retention in Care).

Debra Richardson, Lester Wallace and Andrew Ballard want to help Alabamans living with HIV get connected with care and stay on treatment. As peer counselors with AIDS Alabama, they work through the organization's Living Well Retention in Care program to help their clients fully engage in their HIV care.

Here are their stories.

Debra Richardson, mother of five, grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of one, has been living with HIV for almost 20 years. She is a peer support specialist at AIDS Alabama and a house mentor with The WellHouse. Debra began telling her story at Narcotics Anonymous meetings. The experience, Debra says, "empowered me, giving me the courage, giving me the strength to stand no matter what happens in my life."

Lester Wallace, a 71-year-old father of two and grandfather of nine, has been HIV positive since 1983. Lester, who holds a doctor of ministry degree and is retired, was a special educator and chaplain; today he is a peer support specialist at AIDS Alabama and a pastor. He has also volunteered at 1917 Clinic and Birmingham AIDS Outreach. "People try to hide [HIV/AIDS] under a rug or a cloak, but I try to give them hope, sharing with them my life's journey," Lester says of his work in the community.

Andrew Ballard was diagnosed with HIV in October 2003; he had just purchased a car and was closing on a house when he learned he was HIV positive. Eleven years later, the 45-year-old works as a Peer Support Specialist at AIDS Alabama. "The greatest resource is peer support," says Andrew. "Most of our participants are looking for someone just to talk to, to listen to them, to understand where they're at."

The Living Well Retention in Care program, which recently celebrated its second anniversary, provides services to people living with HIV/AIDS in Jefferson County, Alabama. These services include linking or reengaging the client with a medical treatment team, creating a personalized treatment plan, matching clients with one of the peer support specialists to help them adhere to treatment (for example, by accompanying clients to appointments), and connecting them with further community services.

For more information visit AIDS Alabama's website, or visit Living Well on Facebook.

2014 Good Gift Guide

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The holidays are here again, meaning it's time to find the perfect presents for our loved ones. But don't worry; the POZ staff has you covered with these gifts that will make everyone on your list happy and benefit groups that raise funds and awareness for HIV/AIDS.

GGG-thirtythirty.jpg30/30 T-Shirt, $25
The 30/30 Project is the brainchild of Julie Lewis, who appeared on the September cover of POZ and is the mother of Grammy Award-winner Ryan Lewis. Julie marked 30 years of living with HIV in 2014 by pledging to build 30 medical facilities in communities affected by HIV/AIDS across the world. One hundred percent of the proceeds from this bold, graphic shirt (designed by Ryan) benefit the project.

GGG-pwn-mug.jpgPWN Travel Mug, $20
The Positive Women's Network (PWN) seeks to empower women living with HIV by changing policy, eliminating stigma, mobilizing advocates and building leadership. You can help them accomplish these goals with this limited-edition hot-and-cold travel mug. Sip in style while supporting strong women.

GGG-red-moleskine.jpg(Moleskine)Red Special Edition Notebook, $24
This handsome notebook by (Product)Red offers classic Moleskine style while benefitting the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Shopping for a social butterfly or a traveler? Check out the entire Moleskine (Product)Red collection, which includes a special edition planner, a pen and a luggage tag.

GGG-joan-bracelet.jpgJoan Rivers "I Love You" Bracelet, $45
Tell that special someone how you really feel with this charming bracelet, sales of which go to God's Love We Deliver (GLWD). Joan Rivers was a board member since 1994, and GLWD was her charity of choice when she competed--and won!--on Celebrity Apprentice in 2009. The organization cooks over 4,000 meals each weekday and brings them to people living with life-altering illnesses, including HIV/AIDS, in the five boroughs of New York City, plus Newark and Hudson County, New Jersey. We're sure the fashion police would approve.

GGG-elaine-stritch.jpgElaine Stritch: Shoot Me, $25
Star of stage and screen (big and small), the late Elaine Stritch was a national treasure, and Chiemi Karasawa's documentary celebrates her storied career, sharp wit and amazing legs with a look at the hardest-working octogenarian in showbiz. The lady sings, dances and offers hilarious, hard-won life lessons as she dashes around Manhattan, never once deigning to wear pants. Part of your purchase of the DVD goes to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which to date has raised more than $250 million for AIDS and family service organizations nationwide.

GGG-tote.jpgJean Paul Gaultier Summer Tote, $40
Though the northern hemisphere may be in the depths of winter, the sun's always out somewhere. Seek the sunshine with this breezy, classic beach tote by acclaimed fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier. The entire purchase price benefits amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, which has been working to end the global AIDS epidemic for nearly 30 years.

GGG-happy-socks.jpgGiles Deacon Happy Socks, $79
Giles Deacon designed this set of seven pairs of socks for Swedish brand Happy Socks, and they certainly live up to their name. Sold exclusively as a limited-edition box set for the Elton John AIDS Foundation, these cheery socks (in men's size medium/large only) will brighten even the gloomiest day.

GGG-flower-ornament.jpgAfrican Flower Ornaments, $4.99 each
The Mwayiwathu Women's Group, a small collective of Malawian women living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, has crafted these beautiful fabric flower ornaments in a variety of textiles and colors that will brighten up your tree. Sales from all five brilliant color combinations help the women who created them get medications, send their children to school, and invest in their own small businesses to improve their lives and livelihoods long-term.

GGG-believe-honey-bar.jpgBelieve Honey Bar, $10
Wash your cares away and leave skin smooth and soft with Noodle & Boo's Believe Honey Bar, which cleanses and moisturizes with honey and shea butter. Even better, 100 percent of the sales of this beauty bar go to the Circle of Love campaign, which raises awareness and funds for programs in Africa that work to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS and to give the HIV-positive mothers the care and treatment they need.

GGG-liza-ornament.jpgBroadway Legends: Liza Minnelli Ornament, $55
This ornament features Liza at her most fabulous--sparkling in red sequins that evoke her 1978 Tony-winning turn in The Act. It's so fabulous, in fact, that it's been backordered until January 2015. But that just means you'll have the perfect gift for next Christmas! As always, proceeds of the sale of each glamorous Liza go to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which funds AIDS-related causes around the nation.


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