The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt is coming to IU’s campus from Thursday, Nov. 10, through Saturday, Nov. 12. Thirty sections of the 54-ton tapestry have been selected to be displayed at the Indiana Memorial Union, Student Health Center and Monroe County Public Library between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m.
The quilt is comprised of 50,000 separate panels which represent over 110,000 people who have died of HIV/AIDS. It is considered the largest living piece of artwork in the world, according to an announcement from the Student Health Center.
Other events will accompany the quilt’s display, including speaker events, film screenings, Jacobs School of Music performances and a drag show. .Members of Positive Link HIV Services at IU Health will also provide free HIV testing on Friday, Nov. 11, along with the quilt display.
Emily Brinegar, prevention team lead for Positive Link, said she is excited for the organization’s involvement in the event.
“There really isn’t anything quite like it,” Brinegar said. “When you see the quilt panels, you can feel the amount of time, love, and heartbreak that has gone into making each of the panels, and witnessing that is incredibly moving.”
Tammy Baynes, client services team lead for Positive Link, explained how the organization works in the Bloomington community to provide resources to those living with HIV, including both medical and non-medical care. Much of Positive Link’s focus during the quilt display aims to link individuals to care, including medical insurance and medications, mental health resources, substance use care, legal help and housing status.
“Positive Link recognizes the importance of addressing HIV infection is often secondary to securing and maintaining basic life necessities,” Baynes said.
A speaker event, “Ending the Criminalization of People with HIV,” will also accompany the quilt display at the Indiana Memorial Union on Nov. 12 at 3:00 p.m. Brenton McQueary, a member of Indiana’s HIV Modernization Movement, will speak at the event.
When McQueary was diagnosed with HIV eight years ago, he said he was lucky. Medical innovations in HIV care mean that a diagnosis is no longer a death sentence.
“When I was in my formative years, everyone I knew with HIV was either dying or dead,” he said. “That’s the version of HIV that I got to know.”
In 1994, AIDS became the leading cause of death for Americans aged 25 to 44. McQueary’s familiarity with HIV’s destructive capabilities heightened his gratitude for the medical advancements that have been made in the realm of HIV/AIDS healthcare.
“The reason I say I’m lucky is because by the time I got my diagnosis, medicine was so good that I never had any kind of medical problem,” McQueary said. “I am remarkably blessed.”
One such advancement is known as “U=U,” meaning “undetectable equals untransmittable.” Individuals living with HIV can become undetectable when the prevalence of the virus in their bloodstream, or their viral load, becomes imperceptibly low after treatment. With such low levels, HIV positive individuals cannot sexually transmit the virus, according to a Harvard Medical School article.
“It’s really important for college students to know that even if you have this diagnosis, you can reach a state where you can’t pass it on sexually. But you can’t reach that state unless you get tested, get your diagnosis and get treated,” McQueary said.
Though strides like the U=U initiative have been made, those living with HIV are still fearful of disclosing their diagnosis due to the immense stigma that still surrounds the virus.
“It’s something that’s so scary and stigmatized that a lot of times we don’t even want to think or talk about it,” McQueary said. “But it’s that same stigma that keeps people from getting tested and treated, which is why I talk about it openly.”
There were 540 new HIV diagnoses as of January this year, making Indiana’s HIV positive population 13,900, according to a report from the CDC. Though many consider the HIV/AIDS epidemic a relic of the past, it remains detrimental for Americans aged 25 to 34, ranking as the ninth leading cause of death for the age group in 2019.
The quilt display and speaker event aim to provide education and resources to college students, some of whom fall into this at-risk age group.
Genevieve Labe, director of health and wellness at the Student Health Center, explained the importance of the quilt’s return to Bloomington after it was last displayed in 2017. Students have expressed a lack of knowledge regarding the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the quilt itself, according to Labe.
“It's important for students to learn about as a part of U.S. and global history, but also to understand it through the lens of public health, politics and disproportionally affected communities,” Labe said.
McQueary and Indiana’s HIV Modernization Movement aim to address these factors, specifically in reforming outdated laws that disproportionately punish individuals who are living with HIV, according to the movement’s website.
“A lot of the laws surrounding HIV are 30 years old – so they’re based on 30-year-old science,” McQueary said.
Current Indiana codes stipulate sentence enhancements for HIV positive individuals for offenses that would be deemed less severe for those without HIV. Indiana codes for malicious mischief, battery, and transferring contaminated bodily fluids specify misdemeanor charges for those without HIV, yet escalate to felony charges for those with HIV for commission of the same offenses.
According to the HIV Modernization Movement, these laws are outdated. Yet, they still influence policy and legal decisions for those with HIV.
“These laws aren’t archaic – they actually come into contact with the legal system once every two weeks in Indiana. People living with HIV are punished for laws that maybe matched up with science in 1990,” McQueary said.
The Quilt’s display along with other events in November will provide students with important education and prevention resources in a directed effort to prevent misinformation surrounding HIV/AIDS.
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