Panel to discuss AIDS awareness at town hall meeting

Joe Brown contracted HIV from his partner, who was the first-known person to die of AIDS in Tarrant County. Brown said he was unaware at the time that his partner had been unfaithful.

Brown, a professor of theater at Texas Wesleyan University, has talked with many of his students about living with HIV for the last 24 years.

Brown said awareness of the disease is crucial to college-age people.

“I just want young people to know that the disease is on the rise again, especially among young straight people, and young African-Americans and Latinas,” Brown said. An estimated 10,000 people in Tarrant County are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and half of new infections are among 15- to 24-year-olds, said Bob Ray Sanders, who will moderate a town hall meeting event about the subject today.

The town hall meeting will be held at the Kelly Alumni Center to encourage people to talk about the disease and raise awareness, said Sanders, an adjunct faculty member in the Schieffer School of Journalism. He said it will be one of many events over the next few months raising HIV/AIDS awareness.

The Center For Civic Literacy is sponsoring the event, said Karen Anisman, associate director of the center, along with More Life, which project manager Jan Titsworth called a collaboration of three AIDS service organizations – Samaritan House, AIDS Outreach Center and Tarrant County AIDS Interfaith Network – and the Fort Worth Opera.

“One of the ideas behind having it on our campus is one the groups that has the highest incidence of new HIV infections is young women between the ages of 18 and 24,” Anisman said.

Brown will be on the panel along with two medical experts: Dr. Elvin Adams, medical director for the Tarrant County Public Health Department, and Dr. Kathryn Cardarelli, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

Each panelist will present a 10-minute introduction, and then the audience will be able to ask questions, Titsworth said.

Titsworth said many college-age students are ignorant of the risk of contracting HIV.

“Young people feel that this is not something that affects them, especially if they feel they are in a heterosexual relationship,” Titsworth said.

Titsworth said HIV can be spread in ways that young people may not think about, like receiving tattoos and piercings from non-licensed places, and athletes who use steroids and share needles.

Sanders said people who attend should feel comfortable asking anything they want to know about HIV and AIDS.

“There are no stupid questions,” Sanders said.

Sanders said cases of HIV have particularly been on the rise in black and Latino communities, with these communities accounting for about 65 percent of new cases.

He said part of the reason for this is that there is still a stigma in these communities talking about AIDS, where it is still mostly associated with drug use and homosexuality.

Titsworth said she hopes students will learn that prevention is key to stopping the spread of the virus. She said a college campus is a good place to have this discussion.

“Students at universities are naturally inquisitive and are leaders who want to make the world a better place,” Titsworth said.

Titsworth said today’s event will be one of 60 events, performances and exhibits in the Fort Worth area going on through June to increase HIV/AIDS awareness in the community. The School for Classical and Contemporary Dance at TCU will theme its senior dance recital to be held April 23 to 26 around More Life.

For Your Info

More Life Town Hall Meeting
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Kelly Alumni Center
Admission: Free