Pridelines, which has served South Florida’s LGBTQ community since 1982, last week hosted a conference “Bridging Generations Through Dialogue,” a first for the youth organization that now also focuses on HIV and elder issues.
Tremaine Jones, a staffer at Pridelines and conference chair, put together the Sept. 24 event with different breakout sessions throughout the day. Topics included coming out for health, successful aging with HIV, and breaking the stigma associated with the virus. Jones said a program like this was needed because people should be able to speak with their peers without the fear of judgment, and in a supported environment.
“Part of the reason I wanted to create this conference is that we need to bring the communities together,” Jones said. “I feel that a lot of times we have conversations separately, but we’re not bringing the conversation together in a way that is constructive and talks about what we need to change or things we need to create a community to shift what is happening.”
Pridelines was one of the first community-based HIV testing sites in Miami-Dade County and provides resources such as support groups, transgender, homeless youth and HIV/STI services. The conference in Northeast Miami was an extension of the United States Conference on AIDS, which took place Sept. 15-18 in Hollywood.
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The free public Pridelines event welcomed hundreds of people who showed up with their partners, supporters, and allies. People shared their stories and personal experiences of living with the disease and finding hope after diagnosis. Vanessa Mills who has the virus, is CEO of Empower U, a community health center in Miami.
“I think that we’ve reached a point where we think the epidemic is over and that conversations have shifted, but the Miami-Dade County Health Department said new data is indicating there is an increase in infections among the younger and older generations,” Mills said. “That gives us scientific information to know that the conversation needs to continue to happen until we reach everyone who needs information about how to prevent infections and if they are infected the importance of accessing health care for HIV.”
A major component of the conference was to bring together different members of the community to talk about HIV medications and prevention resources. Treatments include PrEP or pre-exposure prophylaxis, which is a pill that also keeps HIV-negative people from contracting the virus.
Mario Schauer, an LGBT Latino activist from Honduras now living in Miami, wrote a book about his experience living with HIV and the process of finally accepting his diagnosis.
Schauer contracted HIV from a partner who didn’t know he was infected. He said once he found out he had HIV, he felt like his life was over. But living with his diagnosis has given Schauer a new purpose and view on life to help others like him who have once felt alone on their journey.
“People are afraid to be infected, but don’t have the awareness they need to take care of themselves,” he said. “We’re still getting infected even though we have the information. People don’t think it’s going to happen to them. They don’t want to know the information until they get diagnosed, and those are the things we need to work on. HIV or AIDS is not a death sentence; it’s an invitation to learn to live better.”
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Pridelines is located at 6360 NE 4th Ct., Miami. For more information, call 305-571-9601 or visit www.pridelines.org