Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 | 2 a.m.
In 1986, with much of the country still trying its best to ignore the growing AIDS epidemic, a small community-minded gesture would lead to an event that has continued for nearly three decades.
It started as a small birthday party, where instead of presents the guests brought canned goods to donate to the Aid for AIDS of Nevada (AFAN) food bank, founded two years earlier. The event's name: The Black and White Party, a reference to the labels on the cans of generic food.
Today, as AFAN prepares to put on the 28th edition of the annual party, the event has grown to 3,500 guests and generates approximately $140,000 in donations for services to the organization’s 4,000 clients. AFAN provides food programs, prevention and education programs, housing assistance, mental health services and community outreach.
The annual AIDS Walk sponsored by AFAN has become the organization’s premier fundraising event, bringing in more than $400,000 each year, but the Black and White Party was the first. Guests strictly adhere to the black-and-white dress code, but there are few other guidelines, making the party a scene for creative clothing — or lack of it.
Black and White Party
Where: Hard Rock Hotel and Casino
When: 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Aug. 23
AIDS by the numbers
1.1 million American are infected with HIV
16 percent of people with HIV are unaware they are infected
50,000 people in the U.S. are infected with HIV each year
17.7 — Nevada’s 2011 HIV diagnosis rate per 100,000 residents, 17th highest in the country
When AFAN began operating in 1984, AIDS was still publicly perceived as a problem only in the gay community, and there were few resources for HIV and AIDS patients. After a surge in public awareness and education campaigns in the late '80s and early '90s, AFAN’s executive director Antioco Carrillo said it is time for a renewed focus on AIDS prevention.
Nevada ranks 18th in the country in HIV infection rate. According to state health data from 2012, nearly 8,800 people in Nevada are living with HIV or AIDS, and there were 344 new infections in 2012.
About 50,000 new HIV infections are reported in the United States each year, and while the infection rate has dropped to 16.1 per 100,000 people in 2011 from 24.1 in 2002, the rate among gay and bisexual men between 16 and 45 has increased.
In the lead-up to the Black and White Party, Carrillo spoke with The Sun about the history of the event and the biggest challenges today in combating HIV and AIDS.
What are your biggest challenges right now?
Right now, we don’t have funding for prevention from the state or (federal) government. We have to actively look for additional funding that is not related to the government. Because if we get some of those funds not related to the government, we can be innovative and racy, and create different images that create a different impact.
With current funding we have, there are specific regulations. You cannot use specific language; you cannot use graphic pictures of anything, or (be) suggestive. It has to be as if you are reading a book.
Why isn’t there funding for prevention services?
It is so difficult to prove prevention. How do you prove that your strategies for prevention are effective? How do you prove that what you present really caused people to not get infected?
In terms of HIV prevention — there’s always that stigma. You shouldn’t be having sex. You shouldn’t be doing this, and that’s the reason you get HIV. That’s the reason that you get STDs, because you are essentially acting out your sexual urges. Come on, really?
If you think about it, prevention for other areas like drugs and alcohol is a little more prevalent and OK. For HIV, it implies we have to talk about sex, and talking about sex is something the community is still not really comfortable talking about.
What has made the Black and White Party an enduring and special event?
Every year it’s more exciting than the previous year, and every year it’s a different party. But what never changes is how people have fun when they go.
You see people dressed in black tie, and you see people wearing barely anything. … I remember one year seven guys went in as the Victoria’s Secrets models with bathing suits and wings. It was just funny. We encourage people to be creative and to have a good time.
How have things changed in terms of combating HIV and AIDS in Southern Nevada between 1984 and now?
Now, we have a great history and track record of providing services, of how legitimate our organization has been and how many people we have helped over the years. So now when we ask people in the entertainment industry for help, they are very good about responding when they are available. ... In the past, that was not the case.
The issue we have right now is that although we have a lot of awareness with sponsors and entertainers and the community at large, we are beginning to lose control of the epidemic; we are beginning to understand that people are getting infected at higher rates, specifically minority women … and young men, gay and straight.
What does Nevada need to do better in HIV and AIDS prevention?
We need more education and we need to encourage people to get tested. The sooner people get tested, the sooner they find out their status and the sooner they’ll have opportunity to access medical care. Once they do it they can lower their viral load, the amount of virus they have, and the likelihood of transmission with a lower viral load is a little lower.