World AIDS Day event educates community on prevalence of virus

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BDN file photo Cass Downing, known in the entertainment industry as Cass Marie Domino, performs during Madison's 2017 pride rally. Downing will be the keynote speaker at the Beloit Public Health Initiative's annual World AIDS Day event on Dec. 8.

BELOIT - Learn about the prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as local resources at Beloit Public Health Initiative's (BPHI) sixth annual World AIDS Day event.

The free community event connects the community with local health organizations and resources at a health fair. There's a dinner, giveaways, free testing and the chance to learn more about the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and STIs in the Beloit community.

The World AIDS Day event is from 6 - 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 a the Beloit College Science Center, 801 Pleasant St.

This year's key note speaker is Cass Downing, a Madison woman who has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. Downing is now a Certified Nursing Assistant, spends time working with the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin and the Beloit-based LGBTQ nonprofit Yellow Brick Road. As a HIV positive transgender woman who is a former addict, Frew said Downing will speak on moving past the stigma and discrimination she and people with similar experiences and identities face.

There will also be a community art project called body mapping, or painting a life-sized representation of one's experiences.

Katylyn Frew, BPHI head coordinator, said BPHI was started to address HIV rates in the gay community and recently decided to expand, and the organization would like to keep up that momentum.

"There's not a whole lot of sexual education resources for young people in Rock County," Frew said. "There are not a lot of resources in the high school, for example, for teens who would like to be educated about sex ed."

Frew said the STI rates in Rock County have remained stagnant.

According to a survey done by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2012, more than three decades into the HIV epidemic, HIV remains a serious issue for teens and adults ages 15 to 24. Nearly three times as many black youth, and twice as many Latinos, say HIV/AIDS is an issue that personally concerns them, as compared to the white population.

Overall, infection rates are going down in Wisconsin. However, when looking at the demographics, infection rates of younger gay men of color are rising in a virus that disproportionately impacts people of color.

Frew is hoping to spread a message about prevention.

"We're hoping (attendees) can get in contact with community partners and can gain knowledge on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS," Frw said.

The health fair partners include: First Choice Clinic & Community Action, AIDS Resource Center Wisconsin (that will be providing free testing), HealthNet of Rock County, Family Service's Sexual Assault Recovery Program and Beloit Domestic Violence Center programs, Rock County Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Task Force (Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change), Yellow Brick Road, the Stateline Boys & Girls Club, Beloit Health System, the Rock County Health Department and the Beloit College Health and Wellness Center.

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