Harm Reduction Action Center volunteers and participants along with Colorado M.A.C. Cosmetics employees met Thursday to demonstrate in observance of World AIDS Day in Denver.
“This is a time that we remember those that we’ve lost,” said Lisa Raville, Executive Director of the Harm Reduction Action Center. “We talk a lot about prevention, as well.”
The 20 or so volunteers gathered at Harm Reduction Action Center before walking down to Colfax and Broadway to post up for a couple of hours.
Demonstrators carried signs that read, “Support, don’t punish,” “Stop the silence,” and “HIV shouldn’t get in the way of love.” Despite the heavy undertone of the event, the mood was light and celebratory. Participants laughed, danced and waved at passing cars to elicit the coveted “honk.”
“Honking is very exciting,” Raville laughed.
The message of the day was stigma elimination and HIV prevention through harm reduction. In light of Mayor Michael Hancock’s Wednesday announcement that Denver met another milestone from the Paris Declaration, Raville took a moment to praise the city for its support of syringe exchange programs and other transmission prevention methods.
The Harm Reduction Action Center distributes clean syringes for IV drug users from their 231 E. Colfax Ave. location Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. And Thursday, they brought baskets of condoms to hand out to passers-by 18 years of age or older.
But the best HIV/AIDS prevention comes through eliminating stigma, according to Harm Reduction Action Center intern, Francesca Edwardsen, 22.
“People are afraid to talk to their partners [about HIV/AIDS],” she said. “We need to open a dialogue to end stigma. Don’t be afraid to talk about it.”
Most of the participants were affiliated in some way with Harm Reduction Action Center, and eight came from as far as Loveland and Boulder, or as close as Denver, to represent various M.A.C. Cosmetics stores in support of the M.A.C. AIDS Fund.
The M.A.C. AIDS Fund has been supporting the Harm Reduction Action Center with $30,000 in funding for the past few years, and Raville said the volunteers have come out to help for the past two.
“Wherever we volunteer, as long as it is 15 hours, the organization gets a check from M.A.C.,” Laura Bentancar, a Denver-area M.A.C. employee, explained.
M.A.C. also helps by donating the total selling price of any of their Viva Glam line of lipsticks to men, women and children who are living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. And while Bentancar lauded the brand’s efforts, she said volunteer opportunities help her feel more connected to the cause.
“Everyday we sell lipsticks, but we don’t necessarily get to go anywhere and have a presence,” she said. “It gets us out of our normal day-to-day and gives us another chance to help out and get the word out.”
While many there represented M.A.C. or the Harm Reduction Action Center, a few had just stopped by to get involved.
“I’ve always wanted to help in some way with HIV/AIDS awareness,” said Orlando Ortiz, 34, who came searching for more opportunities to get involved. “Being gay and growing up gay, I’ve always felt a passion for standing up for anyone going through that situation.”
Despite the chilly weather, the sun shone brightly and the occasional honk from a passing car fueled volunteers’ spirits throughout the afternoon.
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