GV recognizes World AIDS Day

GVL / Brianna Olson
Kevin Gierman from the Red Project

GVL / Brianna Olson Kevin Gierman from the Red Project

gabriella patti

World Aids Day was commemorated at Grand Valley State University on Monday, Dec. 1 by bringing the Grand Rapids Red Project to GVSU for free HIV testing and a presentation entitled “The Low Down on HIV in 2014.”

Intersections, which includes the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center, the Women’s Center and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, hosted the event.

The Grand Rapids Red Project offered free, confidential testing. Mark Haines, an early intervention specialist with the Red Project, said that they had a great turn out of students.

“We do a 15 minute HIV rapid test,” Haines said. “It is all free. You come in, we will prick your finger, the test takes 15 minutes and during that time we talk about risk reduction and answer any questions people have about HIV.”

The director of HIV services at the Grand Rapids Red Project, Kevin Gierman, spoke along with Haines about HIV 101 and the big things that happened in 2014 concerning HIV, specifically HIV criminalization, prevention and prep.

The presentation was given to help members of the GVSU community have a better understanding of how the virus works and how it can be treated.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, meaning it can only be transmitted from one human to another.

“People don’t die of HIV, they die of the viruses that attack their immune system,” said Gierman. “You can’t get it from saliva; you can’t get it from sharing food.”

Gierman said that people can get HIV from one of three ways: child birth, sex and needles. It can be transmitted through blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk.

“HIV 101 is just the basics of how transmission occurs,” Gierman said. “HIV criminalization is talking about the laws that exist surrounding HIV, both transmission and disclosure of status, and how some of those laws are not necessarily shaped to not be in the best interest of the people living with HIV and the general public.”

Gierman said that laws surrounding HIV were created before people truly understood how transmission works. He spoke about the law in the state of Michigan.

“You are legally obligated to reveal your status to your partner before sexual penetration,” Gierman said. “You could face prison time or fines for not disclosing.”

Gierman said that because of this, many people are afraid to find out their status. He said that this is a result of the stigma surrounding HIV.

“I very regularly have conversations with people who don’t know the most basic things about how transmission occurs,” Gierman said. “We need to talk about those things first, because I think there is a lot of fear and stigma that is attached to HIV transmission.”

Gierman said that people who are living with HIV and are undetectable are at almost 0 percent risk of infecting their partners with HIV. He also said that mothers have less than a 2 percent chance of infecting their children with HIV.

Haines said that many people do not know that HIV is not just limited to gay men.

“Anyone can be infected with HIV,” Haines said. “Worldwide, it is predominantly a heterosexual disease.”

Haines and Gierman both emphasized the importance of talking about HIV and STDs with partners.

“By being open about it and not promoting stigma, people are more comfortable with disclosing if they have an STD,” Haines said.

Gierman said that people are generally ignorant of the facts that being educated and getting tested is important. He said that in order to get rid of the stigma and change laws, people need to talk to policy makers and find people who are living with HIV who can speak to the community.

“I think that will go a long way in taking away some of the stigma that is attached to the virus and recognizing that HIV is everybody,” Gierman said. “It is not just the scary stereotypes that we have in our heads.”

www.redproject.org for information about the Grand Rapids Red Project and to find out testing locations and times.

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