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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.

Eric Rhein: detail from Leaves. Image courtesy the artist.

Eric Rhein has been working on his AIDS memorial artwork, Leaves, for nearly 20 years. As the title suggests, it is a collection of "leaves," each one created by a thin wire and representing a person he has lost to the epidemic. He adds to the piece every time someone close to him dies of complications from AIDS. As such, it is a decades-long work in progress.

Rhein has made art in New York's East Village neighborhood since 1980. In 1987, at the height of the AIDS crisis, the then-27-year-old artist learned he was HIV positive. The effects of HIV/AIDS on his community and himself can be seen throughout his work, especially in the portraits that form Leaves.

In 1996, during a fellowship at the MacDowell Colony, Rhein began Leaves while walking the grounds, contemplating his own newfound good health in the face of so many others who had not survived. "One by one, I picked up leaves until a host of kinsmen was gathered in my arms," the artist said in 1998 about the project. "In death, they continue to be the teachers that they were in life, generously sharing with me the gifts of their individual attributes." He translated the shape of each fallen leaf into wire, which he then mounted onto paper, every silhouette representing a different friend he had lost.

Eric Rhein: Life-Altering Spencer. Image courtesy the artist.

A portion of the Leaves portraits, which now number nearly 200, will be among the works presented at Eric Rhein: The Course of My Life, an exhibit of Rhein's nature-based art at the Johnson & Johnson World Headquarters in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The visual memoir exemplifies the way Rhein interprets deeply personal subjects through natural forms and materials. "Through art making, at its best, one can be a vessel to communicate with Spirit--touching the divine in ways that otherwise may be inaccessible," he says. "Through art I feel connected to a channel, a source to bring forth its wisdom."

Eric Rhein: The Course of My Life opens on World AIDS Day, December 1, and runs through January 31, 2015, at the Johnson & Johnson World Headquarters, 1 Johnson & Johnson Plaza, New Brunswick, New Jersey. The exhibit is open to the public by appointment 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. To schedule a visit, email For more information about Rhein and his work, visit his website.

Zachary Quinto, the gay actor best known for playing Spock in the latest Star Trek films, has been named Artist of the Year by Out magazine. In addition to making their Out 100 list this year, he also was chosen as one of four other honorees to grace one of their four covers. (The others are Sam Smith, Ellen Page and Samira Wiley.)

In his Out interview, Quinto weighs in on HIV among youth and PrEP:

Out100_Quinto.jpg"I think there's a tremendous sense of complacency in the LGBT community," Quinto says, citing the rising number of HIV infections in adolescents. "AIDS has lost the edge of horror it possessed when it swept through the world in the '80s. Today's generation sees it more as something to live with and something to be much less fearful of. And that comes with a sense of, dare I say, laziness."

Quinto is similarly candid on prophylactic drugs, like PrEP, which many gay people have embraced as a long-awaited panacea. "We need to be really vigilant and open about the fact that these drugs are not to be taken to increase our ability to have recreational sex," he says. "There's an incredible underlying irresponsibility to that way of thinking...and we don't yet know enough about this vein of medication to see where it'll take us down the line."

Reducing rising HIV rates among youth to laziness and linking PrEP use by some people to irresponsibility isn't making many activists too happy. 


Quinto has responded on HuffPost to the uproar over his comments excerpted above:

What troubles me -- and what I was trying to speak to in my interview -- is an attitude among (some of) the younger generation of gay men -- that we can let our guard down against this still very real threat to our collective well-being. I have had numerous conversations in my travels with young gay people who see the threat of HIV as diminished to the point of near irrelevance. I have heard too many stories of young people taking PrEP as an insurance policy against their tendency toward unprotected non-monogamous sex. THAT is my only outrage.

How gay men have sex with each other was unilaterally redefined for nearly two generations as a result of AIDS. I was simply trying to assert my belief that we need to be especially vigilant and accountable to ourselves and one another at this moment in our evolution. It is a tremendous advancement in the fight against the disease that scientists have developed this particular medication. But it's still early -- that's all.
Fifteen years post-Sixth Sense, a now-26-year-old, bearded Haley Joel Osment is poised to make a major comeback, starring in a new film out this month that's all about sex.

The micro-budget romantic comedy, Sex Ed, hits theaters Friday, November 7. In it, Osment plays a young teacher who lands his first gig at an inner-city school in Tampa, Florida. The topic he's assigned? Of course, it's sexual education.

In the film, Osment plays Ed, the awkward, charming newcomer who, coincidentally, is a virgin himself. His main foe in the film is a local pastor who has so far impeded all school efforts to teach students about sexuality beyond abstinence and scare tactics.

In a recent interview with the Daily Beast, the former child star talked about why he decided to make this film the major breakout of his adult career:

"Too many people don't get sex ed. A lot of my friends who went to all-girls high schools in California received the 'abstinence-only, masturbation is wrong'-style of sex ed, which is crazy in the 21st century. The correlation between abstinence-only education and things like teen pregnancy, STDs, etc. is remarkably clear."

We couldn't agree with Osment more. Looking forward to the actor's second, decidedly more grown-up ascent to fame.

On a recent episode of The 700 Club, television's premier destination for religious bigotry since 1966, Robertson advised a viewer that while the chances of contracting Ebola in Kenya are slim (the closest the virus has gotten to Kenya is 68 cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an outbreak unrelated to the one in Western Africa), travelers should beware of AIDS-ridden towels. What? Yes.

Lucky for us, Anderson Cooper took him to task on his "RidicuList" segment on Anderson Cooper 360.

The takeaway:

Just to be clear, if you missed all the evidence, all the research, the depth and breadth of all the knowledge garnered about HIV and AIDS over the past three decades: You cannot get HIV if you share towels.

Thanks for being the handsomest voice of reason on cable news, AC.


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