I recently got the chance to attend the 18th annual Positive Living Conference in Fort Walton Beach, sponsored by OASIS (Okaloosa AIDS Support & Informational Services, Inc.).
I was fortunate enough to be able to go with a group of women that embody the spirit of empowerment and sisterhood, and all of us being able to attend together was an experience that I’ll never forget.
The conference was held in a hotel that was located right on the beach, and it was gorgeous! The main focus of the Positive Living Conference was to help, guide, teach, empower and support those that are HIV positive and their caregivers. There were many workshops offered that had to do with finding the positive side of living and being positive: motivational speaking, growing older with HIV, learning about laughter, a visual history of HIV/AIDS, etc.
The workshops that particularly interested me the most though were those that focused on the criminalization of HIV and the laws that can help perpetuate this criminalization. Florida alone has 4 different HIV statutes, and most of these seem to be aimed at targeting and punishing those who are positive. The Deep South has some of the most archaic and misinformed laws in the country regarding the transmission of HIV/AIDS.
I attended all but one of the criminalization workshops, and these workshops were put on by the Sero Project, which fights for people living with HIV and against the criminal prosecutions that people can often face for a perceived lack of HIV disclosure before a sexual encounter occurs. Hearing about these laws, and meeting and hearing the stories of people who were prosecuted under these laws, really opened my eyes and gave me a sense of what I would like to do in my life. Seeing how much these laws need to be changed really gives me the motivation to help make it happen.
The terrible stigma that surrounds HIV is not going to magically disappear one day. Laws that help encourage the stigma hurt the cause by keeping people in the dark and afraid to come out, and by furthering the spread of the disease because people are too afraid to get tested.
In conclusion, I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to attend the conference. I learned a lot, met some of the most interesting people and had a great time with the women. I look forward to attending again next year.
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