GAY2BAY Sashay Raises Awareness Around HIV
In an effort to raise awareness of HIV prevention, AIDS Help Incorporated and the Florida State Department of Health are proudly launching the First Annual GAY2BAY Sashay in Key West, Florida on Saturday, September 29.
"We started the GAY2BAY Sashay in honor of the National Gay Men's HIV Awareness Day," AIDS Help Education Department Organizer Mark Buckner told EDGE. "The purpose of the Sashay is to encourage gay men to take control of their lives and be better advocates of their health."
The Sashay is a 1.25-mile walk beginning at 1:30 p.m. at the Southernmost Buoy and ending at 5:30 p.m. at Mallory Square via a stroll down Duval Street.
During the walk, Sashayers will stop at the Bourbon Street Pub to pick up a safe sex packet. Each numbered packet will include a safe sex message, three condoms and lubricant.
Numbers will be drawn at the conclusion of the walk at Mallory Square and several prizes will be awarded, including the Grand Prize, a two night stay for two at a Key West hotel with breakfast and cocktails.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are currently more than one million people living with HIV in the United States and one in five (20 percent) of those people living with HIV don't know that they're infected.
"Prevention starts when you meet someone. You have to keep putting condoms in people's hands. You have to encourage them to get tested because a lot of people have HIV and don't know it," said Buckner.
Approximately 50,000 Americans become infected with HIV each year. In 2009, gay men accounted for 61 percent of all new HIV infections in the U.S. as well as 49 percent of people living with HIV.
Florida ranked third among 38 states that reported HIV cases in 2008. Monroe County currently has the highest rate of white men living with HIV/AIDS in any Florida county and 85 percent of those men identify as gay or bisexual.
"I hope the GAY2BAY Sashay increases local gay men's sense of urgency about the epidemic," HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator of the Monroe County Health Department Cyna Wright told EDGE. "Sixty-eight percent of the people living with HIV/AIDS in Monroe County identify with risk behaviors known as MSM. We want to help them understand what behaviors put them at risk and enable them to learn how to protect themselves and others. We want to motivate them to seek testing and to access treatment if they test positive."
AIDS Help Inc, which was originally founded in 1986 by a group of concerned citizens, is a non-profit community-based organization which provides case-managed health care, affordable housing and housing assistance, food, counseling, referral and support services for HIV-infected residents of the Florida Keys. The agency also conducts health education and HIV risk reduction outreach programs aimed at reducing the impact of HIV infection throughout Monroe County, Florida.
Wright said that HIV prevention planning was a core public health activity of every health department, adding, "In the Florida Keys, we are proud to collaborate with community partners such as AIDS Help in order to achieve the best possible prevention impact we can."
"We want to raise awareness because this battle is far from being over," said Buckner. "And we're not staying in the Pink Triangle of Key West, we're taking our Sashay to the tourist areas as well because this disease doesn't discriminate. This disease just wants you dead."
Buckner's plan is to take this message to the streets, because this isn't a race. He described the event as "whimsy with a purpose," and wanted to let everyone know that gay men in the lower Keys were doing their best to take control of their health and demonstrate to bystanders that HIV remains an issue in the Lower Keys.
"There is one requirement for those who want to participate in the Sashay," said Buckner. "We want people to be goofy and have as much fun as possible, because if you're not having fun, what's the point in being there?"
The GAY2BAY Sashay is neither gender nor age specific. Whether you wear your most colorful and creative costume or favorite boa, bring your pets, friends or just yourself, everyone is encouraged to participate.
For those who are unable to walk the Sashay but still wish to participate, CityView Trolleys has generously provided a trolley to lead the way with music and well wishers.
No preliminary sign-up is required. For general information about the First Annual GAY2BAY Sashay, visit the AIDS Help website at www.AIDSHelp.cc or call Derrick Traylor at 305-296-6196.