Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Project Inform Spring Brunch at the Federal Building: A Dramatic Observation of AIDS at 30 Years

Project Inform is the non-profit agency that provides information for people with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C to keep them alive through awareness of drug treatments, monitor funding for health needs, and alleviate suffering. Their commemoration of the 30th year of AIDS was observed at the San Francisco Federal Building Sky Garden on May 22nd, Harvey Milk’s Birthday. The Sky Garden is a huge 3 floor maw of an opening in the structure that is keyed into the building’s green technology that uses natural light and solar power to use less fossil fuel than buildings of comparable size. The agency prefers to choose unusual and outstanding venues for their events, and the second annual Spring Brunch was at a dramatic locale with spectacular North and South views.

Project Inform’s Executive Director Dan Van Gorder and Deputy Executive Director for Development Henry Lucero greeted early guests in the immense lobby where the agency’s name and radiating spoons and forks party symbol was backlit on a wall panel. Development Manager Taylor Juel, who made a provocative fashion statement at the recent Suzan Revah-sponsored Nasty Party at the Powerhouse to benefit Project Inform, welcomed party-goers at the venue foyer.

The bright Sunday morning light combined with many of the guests’ memories of over-indulgence on Saturday night drew them to order stiff Bloody Mary cocktails. Global Gourmet Catering provided delicious made-to-order South of the Border cuisine that had diners coming back for seconds.

Executive Director Van Gorder spoke about the expansion of the agency’s mission from HIV/AIDS to include Hepatitis C and that the goal is not only to devise treatment for the two infections, but also find cures. This tied in with the people who were being honored at the event.

There was a surprise change in the program when Van Gorder introduced special guest Cleve Jones, who founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and co-founded the Names Project.

Jones had met with Van Gorder at Supervisor Harry Britt’s office in 1981 to tell him about a new disease that had been observed infecting gay men in Los Angeles, and that an alarm needed to be sounded. This was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic that has ended so many lives and dominated so many others for three decades. Shortly afterwards it was observed in San Francisco, and a Black Dawn bacchanal benefit was staged for GRID (what AIDS was called then) to help raise funds for men who had become ill with something that doctors knew little about.

Jones stated that Project Inform had kept him alive, and he thanked the agency’s founder Martin Delaney, John James and others, and said that his position at Leo McCarthy’s Sacramento office in 1981 helped him to access Centers for Disease Control documents to try to understand what was happening. Jones passionately described the huge number of deaths and the despair that it caused when the epidemic appeared to be a pandemic in the mid 1980s, and how men and women in the LGBT community and its allies rose to the occasion to help the suffering and try to treat the manifestations of the HIV/AIDS. People were falling to the ground with convulsions from brain tumors, dying days after a diagnosis of lung congestion in terrible pain, and making a last visit to a favorite cafĂ© in a wheelchair while other coffee drinkers quietly noticed the Kaposi Sarcoma lesions on their faces and hands. He also said that after all of the horrors that the community has endured, no one should dare to deny equal rights of same-sex marriage and military service to LGBT citizens.

The honorees chosen by Project Inform were the San Francisco Hepatitis C Task Force and its members Alex Randolph, Dominique Leslie, and Emalie Huriaux.

Alex Randolph founded the Hepatitis C Task Force while he was Mayor Gavin Newsom's Special Assistant of LGBT Affairs. He is now the Deputy Director of Community Affairs in the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. Randolph brought his devoted lover Trevor Nguyen who is active with the Berlin and Beyond Film Festival and the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance.

Dominique Leslie is the Task Force’s co-chair and a secretary at their meetings. She has worked on a program for new inventive awareness and treatments for Hepatitis C.

Emalie Huriaux has worked for a decade as a public health educator and is an expert on reproductive and sexual health, HIV, drugs, and homeless needs. She is involved with street outreach to homeless women and she set up a needle exchange for women.

There was detailed information throughout the event for guests, and many are generous donors. The only factor that seemed to be missing was a mention of what is a leading cause of HIV and Hepatitis C infection, which is the continuing scourge of crystal meth addiction.

Project Inform’s Director of Public Policy Ryan Clary is greatly admired for his work. He spoke about the growing need to add Hepatitis C to HIV/AIDS as a target for better treatments and eventual cures. Many clients have both HIV and Hepatitis C and the combined treatments are a devastating anguish for many of them. There is to be a narrowing of focus with medical and research experts toward cures, though the results so far have been discouraging.

The non-profit’s Director of Health Care Policy Anne Donnelly recently received a well-deserved honor at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation Dinner and it was made clear that she is effective while drawing the best from her co-workers. 

Prominent guests included donor Bob Dockendorff, former San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty with his mayoral campaign communications director Roby Chavez, Hothouse Entertainment’s Sister Roma and her smiling entourage, and the Drug Policy Alliance’s Laura Thomas who was a vision in a dress, jewelry, and buccaneer boots out of a Johnny Depp film in shades of bronze.

The next event to benefit Project Inform is A White Diamond Tribute to Elizabeth Taylor at the Castro Theatre on May 27. Taylor is being honored for her strong advocacy for AIDS awareness, funding, and compassion.

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