Muskoka Pride has again partnered with The Gilbert Centre for HIV Testing Awareness Week and ahead of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.
Red scarves have been tied in downtown Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, and Huntsville. The scarves have been tied to lamp posts and trees throughout the three towns. Shawn Forth, Secretary for Muskoka Pride, says the scarves represent the red ribbons that are the international of support for people dealing with HIV/AIDs.
“It’s very important to smash stigma for people living with HIV and to bring awareness that testing is available, it’s free of charge,” says Kellie Leeder, Woman’s Health Coordinator for The Gilbert Centre.
She points out the centre offers that service.
The centre, based in Barrie, is a not-for-profit charitable organization that, according to its website, has provided programs and services in Simcoe and Muskoka for close to three decades.
Even over 40 years after the HIV/AIDS epidemic started, Leeder says some still believe they can contract the disease by simply being near someone who has contracted it.
“There is quite a lot of stigma attached to individuals living with HIV,” she continues.
Leeder says she has lived with the disease for 37 years. “If people know their status and they get on medication they can live a long and healthy life,” she says.
“We’re just normal people living with HIV taking our medication,” Leeder adds.
Forth says part of the stigma around HIV/AIDs is that it’s still attached to the LGBT+ community. “It’s about building awareness and creating allies and helping to normalize living with HIV/AIDs,” he says.
“When you engage in conversation with the community, it’s smashing stigma around people living with HIV,” says Leeder.