It's been an interesting year of fundraising for the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation. This December will be our 2nd Anniversary of the POZ-TO events. My husband and I have worked really hard to keep this event going. The simple idea of an event where HIV-positivepeople can come and socialize with their friends (poz or not) in a safe space without judgement or prejudice seems like it would be a no-brainer. But the stigma of being HIV-positive and the fear of what others will think keeps many people away.
When we made the transition to our current space in the Zone at Toronto's Crews & Tangos, we lost some regulars because of the central location. Many are afraid of being seen at the event because others may think they are HIV-positive. Supporters who will attend our other events like SUNDAY NIGHT FEVER at Zipperz on the last Sunday of each month would not want anyone seeing them in an event that has the word POZ associated with it.
For a couple of months, I started a third fundraiser called HAUS 101 at Wayla Bar. Unfortunately, the owner of the venue has decided to close on Sundays until the spring, so this House Music based event will have to take a hiatus until April or May of 2015.
Between watching people avoid our POZ-TO event and others insisting that I change the name, I started thinking about what I needed to do to draw attention to our cause. I even had someone who I thought was a good friend tell me that his other friends were telling him to stop coming to our events and even talking to me because both were making him a pariah in the dating pool. Word was getting out on hook up sites that he was seen at the POZ-TO events and he was getting frustrated that he could not find a date. If this wasn't an example of the stigma that we fight so hard to get rid of I don't know what is!
But I think the thing that really pissed me off was when I was told that some people of our diverse gay community won't support my events because some don't like the fact that I only support the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation. If anyone had checked, they'd know that I have tried to work with many different organizations. But unfortunately because the way the system is set up here in Toronto each organization is competing for funds from the government. So, that doesn't leave much room for each group to work together or supportieach other.
When I first arrived in Toronto, PWA was the only organization that actually helped me and my husband. And this is why I have decided to make this organization my priority. I would say for those who are boycotting my events because they think I should be fundraising for their favorite, I hope that you are working as hard as I am for your organization. Perhaps Toronto would be an even better place with everyone supporting their causes.
So, a couple of months ago I decided to do something about this. I began a campaign to raise awareness about the subject of being HIV-positive or having AIDS. I wanted to shine a spotlight on getting tested and talking about it with your partners. I want to show that not only the POZ Community come to these events. I want to get everyone's attention on donating time and money to PWA.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the great and brave people who have stepped up and joined our campaign. From the newly crowned Miss Continental, Brooke Lynn Hytes to award winning playwrights like Brad Fraser to very out and proud HIV Activists like Dwayne Bryk, we are seeing folks from all walks of our community coming forth to get the word out.
And the best things about this campaign is that it is completely voluntary. No stock photos of models - these are actual people from our community that you see every day. I believe that has more of an impact on getting the message across.
Hopefully this campaign will make people think differently about what attending a POZ-TO event means and says about them as well how important it is to help PWA. Because you never know when or who may need their services one day. And most importantly we hope that everyone will start talking with their friends and sexual partners about getting tested and knowing their status. Knowing is half the battle.
Our next fundraisers are Sunday October 26th at Zipperz - SUNDAY NIGHT FEVER (our monthly traditional Tea Dance with Old & Nu Disco) and the following week in the Zone at Crews & Tangos - POZ-TO #24 (our monthly video dance party and raffle at midnight).