Friday, November 7, 2008

10th Anniversary Bash for Pride Alive

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #351, November 7, 2008)

Pride Alive, a program of the Minnesota AIDS Project, is ten years old. To celebrate, they’re having a 10th Anniversary Bash on Saturday, Nov. 15, 7-9 P.M. at Intermedia Arts (2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis) You’re invited.

The 10th Anniversary Bash is free and is billed as an evening of “food, drink and drag”—and I’m sure it will be an evening of memories as well. Hostess and mistress of ceremonies will be Helen Back. Performers will include Evie Black, Gosh Alice Jones, Cee Cee Russell and a host of other talent. Food will be catered by The Independent. There will, of course, be birthday cake.

Pride Alive is the gay, bi and queer men’s health initiative of the Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP). Their outreach is to adult men who have sexual contact with other men, whether or not they identify as part of the LGBT community. (Another MAP program, Positive Link, is outreach specifically to men who are HIV-positive.)

According to their mission statement, Pride Alive “is gay and bisexual men and our allies working together to stop the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases by creating and sustaining a healthy sexual community. We empower individuals to participate in their health through social, political and civic involvement. By serving as leaders, mentors, and partners in the fight against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, homophobia, and heterosexism, we envision an empowered queer community that promotes healthy choices.”

When Pride Alive was created in 1998, many men had lived through years of education, sexual behavior changes and dedication to stopping the spread of HIV. But now there were new treatments for HIV that, in many people’s minds, made AIDS a “manageable disease” instead of a terminal illness. Many men had started to let their guard down, and the rate of AIDS infection had started to increase again.

MAP’s response was to create Pride Alive, a program intended to be much more than “latex only.” During its ten-year history Pride Alive representatives have been out and visible on the streets and at area bars, coffee shops and public sex environments providing information and distributing hundreds of thousands of safer-sex supply kits (some of which were distributed to delegates at both this year’s political conventions.) They’ve done thousands of HIV tests at area bars. They’ve hosted many intimate group discussions about sex, sexuality and health centered around, but not limited to, HIV. They’ve presented more formal educational seminars, including their current SaferZone workshops, in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota, as well as special presentations like the recent “Beyond HIV: What gay and bi men should know about their sexual health.” They’ve even held a “Guess the Lube” contest.

Every week Pride Alive has volunteer nights at Queerspace, their comfy drop-in-and-hang-out area on the second floor of the MAP building (1400 Park Ave., Minneapolis). Volunteers gather to eat, talk, watch a movie and do activities such as assembling the safer-sex supply kits mentioned above. (Take a small plastic bag and insert one or two condoms, a packet of lube, a piece of candy and a decorative and educational printed liner).

Pride Alive has created many ’zines and other publications and increasingly is moving into doing outreach online in internet chat rooms and on social-networking sites like gay.com, manhunt.net, MySpace and Facebook.

Pride Alive also builds community through social events. Andy Birkey, a Health Education Coordinator with Pride Alive, recalls some of those events from the last ten years: “Gay Day at Valleyfair, the Hand Hold In at the Mall of America, paintball with the Pink Pistols, thousands of HIV tests done in the bars, hundreds of thousands of condoms distributed, Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Saloon, dozens of camping trips, an iPod giveaway at Pride, trips to Pride festivals in Duluth, Fargo, Mankato, and Rochester, hosting Kyan Douglas of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Liquid Discourse, Cafe Chats, the Bachelor Auction, Orphans’ Thanksgiving, hundreds of LGBT voters registering to vote, protests against ex-gay ministries and Focus on the Family, and many, many more memorable moments.”

Pride Alive is producing a keepsake that will be distributed at the 10th Anniversary Bash: a yearbook with writeups about every activity Pride Alive has done over the last ten years, and with photos of participants in some of those events. The object of the evening, in the words of Keith Pedersen, another of Pride Alive’s Health Education Coordinators, is to “gather up anybody and everybody who’s been a part of Pride Alive over the last ten years. It’s a celebration of the program’s history and successes and an acknowledgment that the fight against HIV isn’t over.”

For more information about the Pride Alive 10th Anniversary Bash, about attending other Pride Alive educational and social events, or about volunteering, contact Pride Alive or visit <www.pridealive.org>.