HIVoices shares stories of those impacted by HIV

Written by Lexi Scherzinger, CAS communications intern

On March 1, Newport, Kentucky-based theatre group Falcon Takes Flight put on an on-campus performance of HIVoices, intended to raise awareness about HIV in the community. A set of narrative monologues was formed by holding discussions with HIV+ individuals about their experiences and the illness's impact on their lives.

The program aims to eliminate stereotypes and increase compassion, understanding, and communication between members of the community who may not be as familiar with the effects of living with HIV.

The HIVoices program is sponsored by the Cincinnati Health Board, the Northern Kentucky Public Health Department, and the Falcon Theatre. At Miami, the event was sponsored by the Department of Global and Intercultural Studies and the Department of English.

enlarged photo of audience membersHIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, if not treated. More than 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV today, but 1 in 7 of those people don't know it.

"HIVoices is born out of the conviction that there is a disconnect between what people living with HIV say and what their providers hear," stated Clint Ibele, the director of the event. "We want to normalize their illness."

"Being HIV positive still carries a stigma for a lot of people," he added. "What we think we know is far from the truth. HIV affects male and female, gay and straight, young and old, any race. It crosses lines."

The six monologues included in the event were performed by Ibele, Ted Weil, Tracy Schosterd, and Holly Sauerbrunn, who each read monologues based on the stories of actual people affected by HIV. Some had found ways to stay happy and grateful, jumping at the chance to tell their story. Others had more struggles. All of them stressed the importance of education. One had hope for a cure within her lifetime.

"If I'm going to make it better for someone tomorrow, I've got to stand up today," said a unnamed young man in one of the featured monologues. "Life is short, and life is hard. This is my time to make the world a better place for someone else. I am not ashamed, I am not embarrassed, and I am not a victim."

Matt Jones, a visiting assistant professor of women's and gender studies who is familiar with the topic from his research, also helped facilitate the event. He explained that after the Falcon Takes Flight group performed in one of his classes about the representation of HIV/AIDS in the media, he invited them back to campus to do a full performance of HIVoices.

"We think of people living with HIV as sick and alone and sad, and this really shows that people with HIV are people, with complex emotions and experiences," Jones said.

Jones emphasized that HIVoices had been brought to his attention by Joshua B. Jones, a doctoral student in English at Miami. "Joshua played an integral role, both in coordinating the campus visit to my class and in bringing Falcon back for the full performance," he said. "Without his commitment to the project, this important piece of arts-based activism wouldn't have come to Miami."

In addition to being the director of Falcon Takes Flight and HIVoices, Ibele is also a case manager with the Northern Kentucky Health Department in the HIV/AIDS program. All of the individuals interviewed for the narrative monologues were people he knows personally, some of whom he had even worked with.

"It is so important," said Ibele. "The only way to know your status is to get tested. Even if you think 'it couldn't happen to me,' just get tested."

He believes that the university age group is an especially important demographic to educate about HIV.

Lauren Miles, a sophomore and member of the executive board of Spectrum, Miami's LGBTQ+ student organization, attended the event to show her support. Spectrum promoted HIVoices as part of their awareness week.

Aspen Stein, a freshman member of Spectrum, said, "It seemed important to listen to these stories and be more aware."

Sophomore Abigail Karr was in Dr. Jones' class where Falcon Takes Flight originally performed. Afterwards, she invited the group to perform for several living learning communities in Denison Hall, where she is a resident assistant. "I am really glad I had the opportunity to see this piece in its entirety," she said. "I really admire the work that Falcon Theatre is doing in producing and performing this piece and their willingness to bring this show out into the community."

From 2008 to 2014, the estimated amount of annual infections of HIV declined 18%. The treatment that is available for HIV prevents transfer of the infection, but there is no cure.

Anyone can help by standing up to stigma, getting involved in their communities, and encouraging treatment for those who are affected.

The Women's Center in Miami's Armstrong Student Center offers free confidential HIV testing on the first and third Friday of every month. For more information, email womenscenter@MiamiOH.edu.