Students shouting “be aware of AIDS!” could be heard clearly over the biting winds yesterday on the Diag as the student activists handed out green, blue and pink condoms along with red ribbons to mark World AIDS Day.
“This is supposed to be an in-your-face thing to make people realize that HIV is real,” said LSA senior Brian Hull, co-chairperson of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Commission.
A chapter of the Student Global Aids Campaign gave out information from their booth while members of the LGBT Commission, part of the Michigan Student Assembly, set up an eye-catching centerpiece. They erected a tower of red cardboard boxes to give a visual aid demonstrating the number of new AIDS cases that arise a day. Flyers presenting facts and statistics were taped to the box pile, one saying that each of the 13 boxes represented the 1,000 new cases of AIDS that are diagnosed every day.
Though the first case of AIDS was documented 23 years ago, false stereotypes still remain.
Andrea Knittel, LSA senior and member of the LGBT committee, said, “There are a lot of social stigmas surrounding AIDS. Many people are under the impression that being on the (birth control) Pill will protect them from sexual transmitted diseases, but it doesn’t. Some people also have a stigma of poverty attached to AIDS, or even associate the infection with homosexuals.”
Many students walking through the Diag stopped to read facts which brokedown AIDS stereotypes, The facts were posted on the box tower, including that 200,000 people in the United States are infected, but unaware of it, that condoms are the best protection against AIDS when having sex and that 75 percent of the women infected in the United States contracted AIDS from heterosexual sex.
“There is a lot of discrimination around the issue. Many people don’t know someone with AIDS and they think coming in contact with them is an immediate death sentence. The truth is, though, that you can’t get AIDS by hugging, kissing or even being sneezed on by someone with AIDS,” Hull said.
Event participants said they felt that many people lack exposure to information about AIDS and have only a vague understanding of how it is contracted or prevented. The most common cause of HIV is unsafe sex with an infected partner. Knittel believes that people know safe sex practices, but that by having condoms it’s as if they are planning to have sex. However, if they do not have condoms, they can say that sex “just happened,” as an excuse to skirt any embarrassment.
“People may be too embarrassed to get tested for AIDS, or they might just be scared. They might think that if they don’t know they have it, then nothing will happen. Not everyone knows that drugs can be taken early on to help, and that being tested early on is an important step,” Knittel said.
Testing facilities around Ann Arbor are anonymous and confidential. Each person being tested is given a number so that not even lab workers can link identities to test results.
— Daily Staff Reporter Christina Hildreth contributed to this report.
The Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project at 325 Braun Ct., the HIV/Aids Resource center at 3075 Clark Road and University Health Services all offer free testing services.