Love, empathy and understanding filled the air during the Judge Not! campaign event in honor of National Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day at Depot Park on Saturday.
Let’s Talk About It, an advocacy and support program of the Rural Women’s Health Project, hosted the community event to engage in discussions around HIV stigma, with personal storytelling through photo stories, performances, and educational booths.
“We need to always stand strong,” LTAI Program Coordinator Robin Lewy said. “The celebration of women no matter the status is our goal.”
Health P.L.U.S. worker Pattie Reo attended the event to bring awareness about the resources in Alachua County that women can use regarding HIV and their health.
“Many walk around with it positive and don’t know about it,” Reo said.
Health P.L.U.S. (Providing Linkages for the Underserved to Services) is a program of the Rural Women’s Health Project to assist in improving women’s health by making them aware of the resources in the area. RWHP was founded in 1991 to work with rural communities to strengthen their capacity to overcome barriers to health justice and to assist communities in strengthening their understanding of health and community issues.
The event included free health screenings, HIV Testing and vaccinations. It gave the community an opportunity to celebrate women and the roles they play in their communities and in ending the stigma surrounding HIV.
LTAI member Angela Pretto has been a part of the program since it was created eight years ago, and she said the program has helped her and others find their voice after being diagnosed.
“It helps with building their voices to not define themselves by the disease,” Pretto said.
Pretto has been living with HIV for 36 years and she wants others to know that life is not over after being diagnosed with it.
“Don’t give up,” Pretto said. “There’s life after HIV. There’s support out here. You’re not alone.”
Deborah Johnson attended the event and she appreciates the amount of information that is available regarding HIV.
“The resources are tremendous from what it was in the ’70s,” Johnson said.
The performances consisted of a praise dance from Jessica Turner and a singing performance by a trio of sisters who are Pretto’s grandchildren. They sang “Read All About It” by Emeli Sandé and “Rise Up” by Andra Day.
“It’s very uplifting,” Turner said. “When talking about stigma, it can be something negative. But they showed it’s something positive. It’s nice to be a part of it.
Two pastors spoke at the event to advocate for erasing the stigma of HIV. Pastor Catherine Dearlove of Trinity Metropolitan Community Church in Gainesville and Pastor Mary Mitchell of Bartley Temple United Methodist Church in Gainesville.
Mitchell shared a poem titled “Judge Not,” which highlighted the misconceptions regarding HIV.
“Take the time to get to know the person who is living with HIV,” Mitchell said while reciting her poem. “You will find they are human, they have feelings just like you and me.”
For more information about LTAI, visit www.rwhp.org/letstalk.html or contact (352) 372-1095.