Published November 30th, 2020 at 1:30 PM
There was a time when coming out as gay to the straight community was one of the most challenging experiences an LGBTQ+ person could have. But as that has gotten easier there is a new challenge — coming out as HIV-positive to members of their own community.
According to Eric Thomas, board president of the AIDS Service Foundation of Greater Kansas City (ASFKC), the diagnoses is now more of a life sentence than a death sentence. For the rest of that person’s life they will have to take medicine, be connected to care, know their status and get tested. And that means there will come a time for the need to reveal to a potential partner that you are HIV-positive.
“People generally have negative feelings and reactions when someone discloses their status,” Thomas said. That fear of rejection causes some people to avoid testing or treatment altogether, which leads to possibly infecting others and dying of AIDS.
Tackling this stigma became the subject of a mural commissioned by the AIDS Service Foundation. The mural adorns the KC Care Health Center building at 3515 Broadway.
Although a mural was not part of the original plan for their 2020 ASFKC World AIDS Day event on Tuesday, it became the highlight when COVID-19 changed everything.
For a group that raises funds that directly support AIDS service organizations assisting about 5,700 people affected by this disease in metro Kansas City, not holding an event was not an option.
Sandy Geduldig and Chadwick Brooks, ASFKC World AIDS Day event co-chairs along with Michael Lintecum of the Lintecum Group, put their heads together to create a new way of expressing their theme, “Activism Through Art.” They quickly decided on a mural.
“Art can often convey emotion better than words,” Thomas explained. “Why not commission a piece of living art?”
A request for proposals went out detailing the intention of the project, which was to speak to the many faces of HIV/AIDS and to eliminate HIV stigma. Jared Horman was selected from among many applications.
Horman is no stranger to painting murals. He has worked on several indoor and outdoor pieces throughout Kansas City. What became the centerpiece of his design for ASFKC was something he had written years ago.
Horman wrote those words when he noticed that he had friends who were older than 60 and younger than 40. The gap represented a generation that had been lost to AIDS. Horman fears that if we don’t shed the stigma of being HIV-positive we could lose another generation.
“U=U” (Undetectable = Untransmittable) was part of Horman’s original design. But after talking it over with Brooks, “Stigma = Hate” was used because it might be easier to understand. It also gets to the crux of the matter, which is people suffering in silence rather than telling even their closest friends that they are HIV-positive because of the reaction they might receive.
Horman’s mural has several nods to the past, such as the pink triangle and the Keith Haring style. But it also features an idea that Horman has been playing with in his own work — people as chess pieces. Horman’s personal favorites are the pawns.
“There are so many of them and they seem insignificant,” Horman said of pawns. “But as they progress across the board they can change and end up being the leaders.”
Horman’s hope is that the people of his generation will join him to take on that challenge and become the leaders for the next generation.
“It’s just words and paint on a wall, right? But it means so much more,” Thomas said.
The mural on the side of KC Care is expected to be seen by about 10,000 people a week. While painting, Horman had many employees and patients of KC Care stop by and tell him how important the mural was to them. That is exactly what the ASFKC was seeking — something that stimulated conversation.
Thomas explained that before you can tackle getting people tested and into treatment there needs to be awareness. And there can be no awareness if there is no discussion about HIV.
Horman feels that communities are some of the most powerful tools for change. “When queer people are together and excited and empowered to work together there is nothing we can’t do,” he said.