HCL promotes the healthy choices people can make to reduce their risk of getting or spreading HIV/AIDS. mission is to reduce the harm associated with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C for all individuals and communities that we serve.
We invite you to sign up for the 2019 Scotiabank Marathon taking place on Sunday, May 26. The race is for all ages and intensities, and is open for registration for single runners as well as teams.
After registration, you will be able to choose HIV Community Link as the charity you support, and any funds raised from your run will go directly towards our programs and services. It’s quick and easy to register, so sign up to be a part of the 55th celebration of this amazing event and support our organization on the way.
The day originated in 2001, when over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India for a sex worker festival, despite efforts from prohibitionist groups who tried to prevent it taking place by pressuring the government to revoke their permit. The event was organized by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a Calcutta based group that has over 50,000 sex worker members, and members of their communities. Sex worker groups across the world have subsequently celebrated 3rd March as an annual, international event: International Sex Worker Rights Day.
Sex workers’ rights are human rights. This includes:
the right to non-discrimination – sex workers experience a high degree of stigma and discrimination and often choose not to disclose their sex work to even their closest friends and family members (Benoit, 2017)
the right to life, liberty and security of the person – sex workers have many barriers to accessing police protection and reporting violence, and reports from sex workers are not always investigated (Benoit, 2016)
the right to health – 40% of Canadian sex workers report having unmet health care needs and are three times less likely to access the health care they need (Benoit, 2016)
the right to working conditions that are safe and healthy – the criminalization of sex buyers forces sex workers to work in isolation and secrecy, and consequently limits their ability to work safely
the right to freedom of expression and association – Canadian law forces sex workers to work alone and limits their ability to communicate with clients and effectively negotiate the terms of service
the right to freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment – sex workers have up to a 75% lifetime risk of physical or sexual violence (CPHA, 2014), and are 60 to 120 times more likely to die by homicide than non-sex workers (Stats Canada, 2007)
Upholding sex workers’ human rights is key to ending violence, exploitation and discrimination against sex workers and people who sell or trade sexual services.
How can you help?
Language reinforces stigma – use the term sex worker rather than other options that are less respectful
Maintain confidentiality – avoid ‘outing’ someone as a current or former sex worker, it may be unsafe for them
Be the change – learn about issues that affect sex workers, support sex workers in your community, and get involved!
About Shift Calgary
Using a harm reduction and human rights based approach, Shift provides support, outreach, education and advocacy services for adults currently or formerly working in the sex industry with the goal of building capacity, promoting mental health and increasing social inclusion. Find out more at www.shiftcalgary.org.
This blog post is a candid story of a sex worker supported by HIV Community Link’s Shift Program. She has been in the industry ten years, and exited the industry one year ago.
She wanted to share her story of stigma to advocate for the human rights of sex workers, in honour of International Sex Worker Rights Day. We invite you to read her story and help support sex workers’ rights.
Shift has a harm reduction and rights based approach to sex work. This means that the safety and human rights of sex workers are our focus. We recognize that sex work is a choice for many in the industry, and we respect the rights of adults to make this choice. We also recognize that not everyone has active choice in sex work. For some, outside forces such as poverty or exploitation can force people into situations where they don’t have control. Shift’s services will meet you where you are at – whether you want to stay in the industry, get out of the industry, or anything in-between.
I started working as an escort when I was 24. I was in the middle of a separation/divorce and struggling to make ends meet with 2 small kids and a mortgage. I knew I didn’t want to take out loans or ask my parents for help, I was too proud, but I didn’t really know what else to do. The only jobs I was qualified for paid minimum wage, which at the time was $8 an hour. That just wasn’t going to cut it, especially since I was going to school, I could only work part-time. I had lived a life with a drug dealer; we never had to worry about money problems, ever until the day he decided tol eave me.
I thought about all my options, but it didn’t seem like I had very many. I couldn’t bring myself to do porn, and I knew wasn’t talented enough to be a stripper. I figured I could try being an escort. I was personable, thin, pretty and I was funny. It turned out to be pretty easy work for me, and I only needed to see clients one or two days a week to cover my expenses, which was great, spent time with my kids and focused on school. I learned a new way of life and living. With every call, came more confidence, which ultimately led me to fail school.
“I wish I could feel proud of who I am and what I do.”
I think though, I’ve internalized the societal hatred of escorts. I am sometimes embarrassed to be an escort , even though I like my job, I’m really good at it, and I’ve made exceptional progress in my career over the past few years. Not many people can say they’ve built what I have and survived hell and back along the way. Despite all my accomplishments, I still feel like a loser sometimes. Sometimes, I jokingly refer to myself as a “whore” or a “hooker” to try to re-claim these derogatory terms, but I often find myself thinking of myself as “just a whore.”
After almost a decade of doing this work and hearing all the negative messages about sex workers and getting bad reactions from people when I tell them what I do, I sometimes wonder if there is something wrong with me? Maybe everyone is right?Maybe I am deranged?Maybe I am unlovable or crazy?
I wish I could feel proud of who I am and what I do. I’m tired of feeling embarrassed and ashamed. I wish other people could see me for everything that I am, and not focus so much on this one aspect of my identity. There are so many things that make me who I am. I love my kids and animals, movies, and going on road trips. I own my house, car, I have my own things. I’m passionate about cannabis , I’m interested in politics and current events. I love my life , I read sometimes, and I stay in close touch with my family and friends. But these traits are overshadowed by the fact that I am an escort. I don’t feel like anybody cares about any of these characteristics – all they would see is a ” whore “.
“At first, I was a bit open about my job.”
At first, I was a bit open about my job. When I met people at parties and the “so, what do you do?” question came up, I’d be honest. I told people that I was a full-time student and a part-time escort. Reactions were so negative, however, that I quickly realized I needed to be more selective about revealing this information. I was young and blind about the world, after 13 years with the same man. I had no idea what I was doing anymore.I was too open in the beginning about my job, this I quickly realized because of how harsh people became after finding out about me. It was brutal.
In my first few months of working as an escort, I was met with enough raised eyebrows, grimaces of disgust, and looks of pity to last a lifetime. Sometimes I received lectures about how I was enabling the Industry by choosing to be a sex worker. I was derided and called selfish for choosing a line of work that encourages sexism against women, and I was accused of being a traitor to the feminist cause. These were by close friends, so I became very secretive about my life.
On many occasions, I was asked intrusive questions like “has a client ever hit you?” and “what’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever had to do for a client?”. Believe it or not, my clients treated me better than any of my boyfriends did. They were more genuine people than all my boyfriends and somehow, had a greater respect for me. I was never treated badly, at all, if anything my clients gave me a purpose and confidence. I adored my clients. I received more gifts from my clients than any boyfriend ever gave me; from handbags, designer shoes, crystal candle holders, lingerie, gift cards to go shopping, flowers, and chocolate You name it,I got it.
“I had an incredibly fortunate upbringing – just about the best any child could possibly hope for.”
People ask about the families behind escorts, I had a happy childhood, that was completely devoid of abuse of any kind. I grew up in an upper class family. We had a very nice home, my parents cooked dinner for me every night, helped me with my homework, and told me they loved me every single day. My older sister was my best friend and my younger sister was always included in everything, we had a good sisterly bond. My parents are the most wonderful people in the world and I adore them, 36 years they’ve been married, have I seen them fight. They are the true definition of love, I still believe in love because of them.
I believe, I had an incredibly fortunate upbringing – just about the best any child could possibly hope for.
However, everyone in my social circle came to think of me as deranged and messed up. I eventually grew apart from those friends. As I met new people, I kept my work a secret. I had become uneasy around strangers. I didn’t trust them. Experience had taught me that people would judge, pity, or lecture me if I was open and honest about my life, and after years of enduring these reactions, I didn’t have the energy to cope with them anymore.
Today, people are shocked when I tell them I used to be an extrovert; I was always the life of the party and the center of attention. I was the person who introduced people to other people. I cracked jokes and goofed around. I sang out loud, laughed ridiculously, and danced wildly. I was outwardly happy and I felt free to express myself. I was never self-conscious.Now, I go out of my way not to draw attention to myself. I try to blend in, fade into the background. I don’t want to have to explain myself. I don’t want people to know who I am, to find out my secrets. These days, people describe me with adjectives like “quiet” and ” reserved.” I keep to myself a lot.
“Lately, I’ve really been struggling with the stigma”
Sometimes, the negative images about sex work in the media I watch, and that only makes me feel worse.
Sometimes I can shrug a lot of this off. It’s not like I’m depressed all the time. I have three really supportive friends in my life who know what I do and accept me the way I am. I also have a handful of “work” friends that can empathize with my struggles and offer helpful advice. I can go months at a time without getting down about any of this. But lately, I’ve really been struggling with the stigma, and I’ve been feeling hopeless and uncertain about my future
Lately, I’ve been wondering how I could ever date someone again. Now, I’m afraid to tell potential partners about what I do, because I’m nervous that they will make all kinds of awful assumptions about me, as I was just shown by the man I loved the most. I worry that they will think I’m some kind of hyper-sexual nympho (I’m not), that I’ll sleep with them on the first date (I prefer to take it slow), or that I’m damaged and need to be treated like I’m fragile (which would be terribly patronizing and unpleasant).
I also wonder what any potential boyfriend would say to his friends and family about his relationship with me. How would the conversation go?
“I’m dating this girl I just met. She’s pretty great.”
“Oh, cool. How did you meet?”
“Nice. And what does she do?”
“Oh, you know. She’s a consultant and an escort ”
“People have scared my heart with the words they’ve called me.”
I know I don’t have to come out as an escort, and I don’t think I ever will again, my life’s been a nightmare since I did. I do have a cannabis part time job. I use it as a cover, so that I don’t have to reveal my occupation as an escort, unless I feel comfortable doing so.
I pretend that my part time job makes me feel like a superstar, I’m feeling lost there and can’t seem to figure it out fast enough.
When I do muster up enough courage to tell people about my escort work, I notice myself glossing over it very quickly and hurriedly steering the topic of conversation toward my other businesses instead. I hype it up and draw attention to it, as if to say, “Yes, I’m a whore, but I’m also smart and normal, really, I promise”! I find it pretentious and annoying when other people talk excessively about their university educations, and I hate it that I have become one of those people. However, I feel an urgent need to communicate that I am more than “just a whore.”
In my darkest moments I am desperately overwhelmed with feelings of despair, and fear that I have made myself unlovable. Sometimes I think the only way out of this mess is to stop working as an escort and leave the sex industry behind. It would be hard to quit, (I’ve tried though) , because the work is relatively easy, my schedule is flexible, and I make ten times as much money doing sex work , as I could doing any other job I’m qualified for.
Besides honestly, I can never take back what I’ve done. I will always have a history as an escort, call girl, prostitute, hooker, whore and whatever else people have called me. My photos will never be removed completely off the internet, I’ll always have that stigma attached to me. Always.
People have scared my heart with the words they’ve called me, more than I will ever show, but it weighs on me heavily and I carry it in my heart. Very closely, it affects my mental health tooI will always be seen as damaged goods, whether I am a current escort or a former one. Everyone is going to judge me, regardless.
“Remember to be gentle with yourself, you’re amazing.”
It was hard for me, but I reached out to the Shift program about 14 months ago when I started to think I wanted to make an exit from the industry. I did my research and found that Shift was appropriate for my situation. After my first meeting, I didn’t feel I was ready, it takes a lot of courage and I wasn’t prepared to go through with it. I decided to continue on my journey.
A few months passed and I had made the exit on my own, but choosing to have no one help me and guide me.
I had made the choice to finally exit. I struggled internally with everything, I had just changed the only thing I knew.
I struggled with finances, identity, self-image, and PTSD. I hated the transition I was in, I didn’t know if I could actually follow through and break my cycle. I became depressed, lonely, isolated and suicidal. I powered through the tough times, sometimes not leaving my house for days and staying in bed. I self-medicated to make it through those days. I became even more depressed and lonely.
The thought of going back to the industry, it scares me because I’ve worked so hard to reach my 1 year exit, but it’s also my “back up plan“ if things didn’t pan out.
I reached back out to Shift, I couldn’t do it alone anymore and immediately they welcomed me back and I had another intake meeting booked the same week.
I met with my case manager and instantly felt a sense of connect and warmth. We chatted for long while and I left there thinking, “ Ya, I can get through this”. I found someone I could just puke everything out with, someone who doesn’t judge me, if anything supports me and my journey. I went back a week later, and again, I just felt this sense of connection with her. She listened to me, she didn’t judge me, she didn’t offer her opinion, she just let me talk.
At the end of the second session, she told me about some programs that were available to me through different agencies, ones that I had never even heard of. I’m happy to say, I’ve enrolled in different therapy options and I’m getting the help I deserve.
I realize I’m not alone in this journey, I have so much external support, resources and people that care, with no judgement.
I hope that if you’re reading this, you will realize that there is so much available to you, all you have to do is make the choice.
Love yourself enough, do what’s right for you, and when you do…. they will welcome you and you too can finally feel safe and not alone.
Remember to be gentle with yourself, you’re amazing.
International Sex Worker Rights Day is a day where we advocate and acknowledge sex workers’ inherent human rights. Upholding sex workers’ rights is key to ending violence, exploitation and discrimination against sex workers and people who sell or trade sexual services.
In response to the escalating overdose crisis in Medicine Hat, the city’s primary harm reduction service provider, HIV Community Link’s Safelink program, is implementing Supervised Consumption Services (SCS). The location of this vital, evidence-based public health service will be 502 South Railway Street SE. A lease agreement has been finalized, with the onset of services anticipated later in 2019.
The Medicine Hat Coalition on Supervised Consumption, (MHCSC) has led a comprehensive needs assessment and community engagement process since 2017, after an exponential increase in opioid-related overdose and overdose death in Alberta. As a result of this process, the MHCSC received feedback from members of the community, business owners, elected officials and service providers, which has been taken into consideration in the choice of location and in the planning of services. “HIV Community Link is committed to working with the City of Medicine Hat, the community and the other members of MHCSC to proactively plan and implement services that respond to the needs of people at risk of overdose, while minimizing any potential impacts to the surrounding area,” says Leslie Hill, Executive Director of HIV Community Link and chair of the MHCSC.
Pending final approval from Health Canada, the SCS in Medicine Hat will offer a safe space for people who use substances to reduce the risk of overdose and overdose death, while also providing wraparound services such as supportive counselling, connections to housing programs and referrals to addiction and mental health treatment. Health Canada has approved multiple SCS locations throughout the province, and where a need in a particular community is identified the provincial government has committed to working with service providers and the municipalities to establish services.
According to Alberta Health, 18 fentanyl-related overdose deaths have occurred in the city of Medicine Hat since 2016. The rate of overdose and overdose death continue to climb in the community every year. A recent study from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) indicated that Medicine Hat has the fifth-highest rate of hospitalizations related to opioid overdose amongst smaller cities across the country. Evidence shows SCS save lives, reduce transmission of infections and increase community safety by reducing public substance use and incidence of publicly discarded injection equipment. SCS also reduce the pressure on local hospitals and first responders (EMS, Fire and Police) and increase access to treatment services.
Do you have questions about SCS? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (587) 393-4095.
To read the Medicine Hat Report Back to Community, click here.
December 17th is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (IDEVASW). This day is a day that joins sex workers, allies, and advocates around the world in recognizing violence committed against sex workers globally. This day demands attention to the violation of sex workers human rights. Together we remember those we have lost, and renew our commitment to advocate for and support sex workers.
International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers was first recognized in 2003, as a memorial and vigil for the murdered sex worker victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle, Washington. Research shows that the murder rate for sex workers in Canada represents approximately 60 to 120 times the murder rate of adult women in the general Canadian population (Stats Can, 2007). Overall 45-75% of sex workers have a higher lifetime risk of experiencing physical and/or sexual violence (CPHA, 2014).
In Canada it is important for us to come together and recognize the intersections of marginalized communities within sex work. Often marginalized groups within Canadian society are amongst the greatest at risk for experiencing violence due to vulnerability. The intersectionality between sex work and already marginalized populations puts these minority groups at greater risks of violence, these include; transgender, people of color, migrants, and Indigenous communities (Benoit, 2015). Indigenous women still remain disproportionately affected by violence in Canada. International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers is also a day we remember the victims identified in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry, and recognize that women continue to go missing and murdered.
Current sex work related laws in Canada continue the increased violence towards sex workers in our communities. Criminalization of prostitution in Canada limits sex workers ability to work in a safe environment and protect themselves. The fear of criminalization also limits sex workers ability to screen dates, communicate with other sex workers about dangerous situations, communicate with clients, or even negotiate safer sex. 40% of Sex workers report experiencing work-based victimization in past year (Benoit, 2014). These factors contribute to sex workers increased vulnerability to health risks and experience violence. Sex workers deserve basic human rights, today HIV Community Link continues to advocate for the decriminalization of sex work. The current sex work-related laws included in Bill C-36 are a violation of constitutional human rights and perpetuate the threat of violence against sex workers.
HIV Community Link provides support to adults currently and formerly working in the sex industry through the Shift program. The Shift program takes a harm reduction and rights-based approach to sex work, and we recognize that sex work is a choice for many, and respect the rights of adults to make this choice. We also recognize that for some, factors such as poverty or exploitation can put people into situations where they don’t have control. Shift and HIV Community Link continue to be committed to the on-going struggle for empowerment, visibility, and rights to all sex workers.
Content warning: some content may be upsetting to some readers, or may contain potentially traumatic subject matter, discretion is advised.
In honour of International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, Shift asked sex workers “What does this day mean to you?”.
Read three stories submitted anonymously to Shift from different perspectives below.
I’ve been a Pro Domme off and on for about 15 years, the last few years have been full time and I love it so much. The financial freedom it allows the ability to move my time around to help friends, are all perks to loving what you do. I love how much joy I bring to my subs lives, they truly are better in all areas. People hear “sex worker” and instantly make all types of assumptions. That all sex workers have sex with their clients, that they do it out of desperation, that they are damaged human beings. Wrong! There are so many types of sex work and all are valid and equal. I want people to understand this and remove their assumptions and stigma. Thank you.”
-Submitted Anonymously to Shift
I’m a 42 year old female that started at age of 14 in the sex trade. Appalling right? I know. As a kid I went from foster home to foster home, I was hurt at age 14 and ended up on the streets. I had no known family and I was a loner in school due to the abuse at home. I needed money and “voila” the sex trade became my escape. I know I was young, but I felt out of options and that was the one I knew. I have escorted periodically over the last 15 years and I think that the sex industry has various angles. If you are in it and want out, Shift can support you in this. If you’re in it and want to stay in it, Shift will help in any way they can. Know that you don’t have to do it alone and Shift is a great agency for many things. Shift saved my life in 2014 and I am great full for this amazing group of people. I know things can be crazy in the sex trade but it doesn’t have to be, Shift is a non-judgmental place and hope that it continues.”
-Submitted Anonymously to Shift
“To me this day means that there is a whole day devoted to brining awareness to the general public [about] the continued challenges facing sex workers, but also a celebration of the way in which sex workers from the beginning of time have been, are a group of really resilient people. It’s special to me because it means that it opens up the conversation beyond just the intimate group that it often remains inside of to a bigger group. For myself, I have flowed in the gamut between consensual and non-consensual sex work. One of the things that can remain so difficult about that, it regardless if it was my choice or not because of how society regards it I always feel ashamed of that experience. Days like International day to end violence against sex workers addresses that stigma. Not only helping with my healing, to release myself of that shame and move on in a way that is healthy, it will then intern allow help me help other people understand better what sex work is, and the merit of way how it effects a whole bunch of different people. If I feel better I can help other people to feel better.”
–Submitted Anonymously to Shift
December 17th is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
This day is a day that joins sex workers, allies, and advocates around the world in recognizing violence committed against sex workers globally. This day demands attention to the violation of sex workers human rights. Together we remember those we have lost, and renew our commitment to advocate for and support sex workers.
The Shift program takes a harm reduction and rights-based approach to sex work, and we recognize that sex work is a choice for many, and respect the rights of adults to make this choice. We also recognize that for some, factors such as poverty or exploitation can put people into situations where they don’t have control. Shift continues to be committed to the on-going struggle for empowerment, visibility, and rights to all sex workers.
The following blog was written by Mark Randall, HEAT Program Coordinator at HIV Community Link, and it presents Mark’s personal story of living with HIV.
It is very surreal to be sitting down and thinking about what to write for World AIDS Day 2018. There are a number of reasons that have me experiencing moments of nostalgia, pain, loss, fear, survival and celebration as this particular World AIDS Day draws closer.
It was 30 years ago when I acquired HIV during my New Year’s Eve celebrations, and it was 30 years ago in October that I received my HIV diagnosis. There were no treatment options, I was told get my affairs in order and that I would likely be gone in the next 3 – 5 years. I went home, told a couple of friends and kept it secret from family and friends as shame and guilt prevented my ability to share this diagnosis at the time.
It was a time of loss, grief and despair, all while putting on a brave front and going about my days as if nothing was wrong and I would just wait and deal with things when they happened. Medications to treat HIV began to emerge, some with harsh side effects and some with minor improvement in delaying the process of HIV replication.
In 1994 – 1995 I began to show the early signs of HIV treatment failure and an AIDS diagnosis soon followed. I was on a number of medications upwards of 40 pills per days for treatment of HIV and prevention of opportunistic infections. I had to start making serious and emotionally draining decisions for my future.
I told my family and friends as I could no longer hide the illness and impact it had as I fell ill and onto disability no longer able to work. Depression, addiction and isolation were more the norm as I watched my relationship with my partner slip away through all the challenges the illness was having on us.
I started making my final arrangements, saying goodbye to people and preparing for the worst.
In 1996, weighing 95 lbs and barely able to climb the stairs, I received a call from the Southern Alberta Clinic about a new clinical trial using “protease inhibitors”. They felt I was a good candidate so I took the tests and began treatment. This added another 18 pills to my day, but my options were this or nothing.
In 45 days, my weight increased to 175 lbs, I was able to do many things that just weeks before I could not, including walking my dog and shoveling the walk and driveway. You never know the joy of shoveling snow until you no longer can; like many things in life. My family, friends and health care workers were amazed at the response I had, as was I. Is this the cure?, I thought to myself cautiously optimistic at the possibility.
This all led to my returning to work and community as I felt a need to give back. I got involved with AIDS Calgary (now HIV Community Link) as a volunteer; however, I did not disclose my HIV status or register as a client.
This connection to the agency and people living with HIV was the catalyst for the new life I was about to embark on – one of self-discovery, new learnings and direction, and a move into the world of activism and advocacy for other people with HIV. This led to more work-related positions over the years in the field of HIV education and prevention.
As I take the time to write this I cannot help but remember all the people who have been part of my journey from diagnosis to near death to the new life I have today and think of all that has changed for the better:
• Testing has improved and been made more readily available where people need testing to happen
• Treatments developed have improved to the point where people living with HIV, on treatment and with an undetectable viral load are no longer transmitting HIV to sexual partners; we are excited about #UequalsU
• Support for people living with HIV has grown and the voice of people living with HIV moved to the front
• Compassion and Understanding about HIV and the people living with continues to improve in communities we live
• Health service delivery continues to diversify and provide competent and more respectful care
• Vaccines are in development and clinical trial are looking better
• There are many prevention tools, with PrEP emerging as an incredible option for HIV prevention
• People living with HIV are having families, getting their education, enjoying their careers and lives in a way I would never have imagined 10 or 15 years ago.
In all this amazing stride forward to address HIV, there remain funding and resources challenges for those doing the work and one overarching challenge of HIV stigma based on homophobia, transphobia, racism and other issues including the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure.
I still hear and see people living with HIV treated as “others” or “those people” by not only services and providers that should be there to support and assist, but also by their own family, coworkers, friends and communities they identify with. The situation has improved greatly over the years but we can all continue to do better, learn and grow.
In my 30 years of living with HIV I have witnessed it all; from we have no treatment so make your final arrangements, to HIV treatment works and can prevent the transmission of HIV to sexual partners while living a full and productive life.
I could never have imagined that 30 years later I would still be here and able to share this message of Undetectable = Untransmittable.
In recognition of the people; many no longer here who have been part of my journey, treatment, losses, care, support and recovery.
Without you all, I would likely not be here today.
In gratitude for every day…
Join us at Community Voices for World AIDS Day
December 1st, 2018 is the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day. The annual Community Voices event honours World AIDS Day, the first global health awareness day ever created by the World Health Organization. World AIDS Day is an opportunity to show support for people living with and affected by HIV and to pay tribute to those we have lost to AIDS-related illnesses. Every year, Calgary’s landmarks are illuminated in red to demonstrate solidarity and support for this international campaign.
This year, HIV Community Link presents Community Voices for World AIDS Day. This annual event brings Calgarians together in support and remembrance. On Friday, November 30th, from 6-9 pm, the Thompsons Restaurant in the Hyatt Regency downtown Calgary will become an amazing musical destination.
Our partners at Front Row Centre will be providing a show-stopping musical theatre performance of select numbers from the Broadway musical, Rent. Our long-standing supporters at the Calgary Men’s Chorus will also be setting the tone for a fantastic evening with their uplifting choral talents. These entertainers will perform while guests enjoy a cash bar, silent auction and appetizers. The host will be Pam Rocker, activist, award-winning writer, spoken word poet, musician and speaker. This year is extra special, as HIV Community Link is also celebrating 35 years of excellence in prevention services, support and advocacy in Calgary and Southeastern Alberta.
Bill just turned 50, and has been living with HIV for 28 years. He grew up in a home where his family faced multiple challenges: his father struggled with his alcohol use, his sister had disabilities, and relationships with his parents were strained. Bill remembers how his close relationship with his mom was impacted when he came out. “When I came out at 19, my mom told me I needed to go to church. For years, she prayed and tried to convert me to being straight. It was probably ten years ago when she realized that’s not going to happen.”
Bill’s mother, who is his best friend, cut him out of her life for a year after he came out. When she came back, Bill was living with his partner. The relationship lasted for a few years until his partner broke up with him, leaving Bill with an HIV diagnosis. Bill was 22 when he tested positive for HIV, and his diagnosis had a profound impact on him. “I just totally went numb. I was walking around like I was the only living being on earth and everything else was just props on a stage,” Bill remembers. Filled with resentment, he took his ex-partner to court. “He was my first love,” says Bill, recalling his broken heart. He quit his job and left school. Ending up on social assistance, Bill eventually returned to his parents’ home for a place to live.
Bill’s diagnosis was in the middle of the AIDS crisis. He recalls that people were dying “left, right and centre” and he lost a lot of friends. Some of them couldn’t cope with the fact they were HIV positive, and with how it impacted their relationships. Many turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. “My own family told me they didn’t feel sorry for me, that I knew what I was going into when I chose this lifestyle. I will never forget those words.”
But Bill went on with life. “It took me two years to come to the grips with it somewhat,” he recalls. Years later, Bill also came to terms with his anger toward his partner, remembering how he finally asked his lawyers to close the case against him. He started rebuilding his life and got a job at a grocery store, where he worked for the next 23 years.
This work provided him with a reason to continue on, but the shiftwork took its toll on him. His doctor provided him a note for his employer, revealing that Bill had an “underlying condition.” From that moment on his employer tried everything to find out about his condition, as his health continued to deteriorate. “In 2004, I was on my death bed. I was anorexic, in really bad shape. I got blood transfusions. When I went back to work, I could only work part-time shifts,” he remembers, saying that employer finally found out about his status. “They knew better not to fire me, but they refused to give me work. I went to arbitration. I won and got my job back. For the next two years, they made my life so miserable that I was on and off short-term disability. I was segregated; they would make rude sarcastic remarks. I would work all alone because people were afraid to get HIV.” Bill went on long-term disability in 2008 and says that losing his job was a heavy thing to deal with. He adds that he would still be working, had he been treated properly.
Bill started coming to HIV Community Link almost two years ago. At first, he received supportive counselling with our social worker and more recently he has been participating in Friday lunches and other social activities. He enjoys coming to the drop in space to spend time with peers. This summer, he achieved a major milestone for himself when he walked in the Pride Parade in Calgary for the first time holding a U=U (Undetectable = Untransmittable) banner.
Bill believes that the most important thing when dealing with a chronic disease like HIV is to be able to reach out to your friends and family for support. “Yes, I am physically alive and I am here. Mentally, the effects of being HIV positive go far beyond than taking a pill every day. Being HIV positive is so much more. I was afraid to let people know my secret; I have educated my family and will continue to do so. I take care of my sister. I want people to know that we are all humans, we shed the same tears, and that stigma is greater than the diagnosis.”
Join us for Community Voices for World AIDS Day and show your support for people living with HIV:
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 300 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B or C worldwide. However, less than 5% of these people have been tested or are aware of their diagnosis. On World Hepatitis Day, 28 July, people and organizations around the word raise awareness and join in the quest to find the “missing millions”. Read a blog about viral hepatitis below.
Viral hepatitis is a group of infectious diseases, namely A, B, C, D, E- affecting hundreds of millions of people around the world. According to World Health Organization estimates, 325 million worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) or chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV). Viral hepatitis alone caused 1.34 million deaths in 2015, a number similar to deaths caused by tuberculosis and HIV combined. Unlike the relative success for preventing deaths from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, the number of deaths related to viral hepatitis is on the rise.
In the total, HCV and HBV account for more than 90% of deaths in Europe and Americas. HBV is a vaccine preventable condition. However, there is currently no vaccine for HCV. The good news is, HCV is curable, the new treatment options are more than extremely effective.
HCV is a blood borne infection commonly transmitted through sharing injecting equipment, transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products, and reuse of inadequate sterilization of medical equipment especially in healthcare settings. Less commonly, HCV can also be transmitted sexually, or from a HCV positive mother to the baby.
It is NOT spread through breast milk, food, water or by casual contact such as hugging, kissing, and sharing food or drinks with a person living with HCV.
Following an initial HCV transmission, approximately 20% of individuals clear HCV from their body without treatment, remaining 80% will develop chronic HCV infection. People living with chronic HCV can pass the virus to other. A large proportion of people with acute or chronic HCV infection do not exhibit any symptoms. They can however transmit the virus to other without their knowledge.
The only way to diagnose if someone has HCV is thorough two steps testing. The first step is to identify if someone ever had HCV infection by detecting of anti-HCV antibodies. If the test is positive for anti-HCV antibodies, a second HCV detection test will confirm if that person is currently have HCV or not. Without diagnosis, people living with HCV cannot take very important steps needed to prevent transmission and protect themselves from further liver damage. If left untreated, HCV can cause serious liver damage including liver scarring, cirrhosis, and cancer.
The most recent statistics from Public Health Agency of Canada indicates that nearly 1% of Canadians have been infected with HCV in their lifetime. Of those, 43% were people who inject drugs or formerly injected drug and 35% was found in foreign-born populations.
Annually an average 30 HCV cases are reported for HCV per 100,000, with significant provincial variation. In Alberta, the annual reported rate of HCV is higher than the national average (34.6 per 100,000). Currently, up to 246,000 Canadians are living with chronic HCV, while an estimated 44% them are unaware of their HCV status. Perhaps the greatest challenge to effective response to disease is public awareness and tackling stigma. Hepatitis C is more prevalent among people who inject drugs than in any other group.
HIV Community Link exists to support people living with, or at risk of HIV and hepatitis C. We educate communities, give non-judgmental support, tools and information, and offer harm reduction programs and services to populations in Calgary and Southeastern Alberta. In 2017 alone, our Medicine Hat site distributed nearly one quarter millions of safer injection supplies to clients who use drugs.
New treatment options cure almost everyone with Hepatitis C. The only way to know if you have HCV is through testing. We encourage following group of people to get tested for HCV,
current or past used injection drugs (even once),
born outside Canada,
received healthcare services in places where infection prevention and control practices are not great,
received blood transfusion before 1992,
were born to a mother who is HCV positive,
shared personal care equipment with someone who is HCV positive,
have HIV infection, particularly men who have sex with men.
If you are affected by HCV or would like to know more about HCV contact us at email@example.com.
We want to thank you for your support of the 6th Annual Splash of Red benefit. Together with our approximately 250 people that attended the event, we raised HIV awareness and $69,124 for our prevention, education and support programs in Calgary and across Southeastern Alberta.
From stilt walkers, to live neo soul music, Splash of Red Masquerade filled May 5th with an evening of entertainment, fundraising and dancing. Thanks to our supporters and friends at BassBus, Splash of Red offered performances from Rondel Roberts Band, ManUp, Girls on Decks DJ Collective, and burlesque shows from the Bombshell Brigade. We also want to thank Shauna Starr, Krystal Starr and Sister Visa DeKline for their amazing drag performances. Our exclusive TV and radio partners were Global Calgary and 770 CHQR. Thank you to TD, our Silver Sponsor, and to our Bronze Sponsors: Global Public Affairs, McLeod Law LLP, and Twisted Element.
A special thank you to our Splash of Red Volunteer Committee, who worked hard to provide an amazing experience, and to the artists, donors, patrons, volunteers and staff who helped make this event possible. We raised $18,340 from our silent and live auction, featuring work from local artists such as Amy Gaulin, Jason Carter, Ella and Emilia Charette, and Albert Decruyenaere, a live art piece by Rich Theroux, and some fantastic experiences. The event was supported by incredible wine donors.
We were pleased to have welcomed the Honourable Brandy Payne, Associate Minister of Health, Brian Malkinson, MLA for Calgary-Currie, Michael Connolly, MLA for Calgary-Hawkwood, and Deborah Drever, MLA for Calgary-Bow. We would also like to thank Deputy Mayor Evan Woolley for his words and attendance at Splash of Red.