Six honored for HIV/AIDS work at Red Ribbon Awards

The Penn Center for AIDS Research (Penn CFAR) will honor six people at the 13th-annual Red Ribbon Awards Dec. 1 for their work on HIV/AIDS causes. Penn CFAR’s Community Advisory Board (CAB) presents the awards based on nominations from the community. 

“It’s not often that somebody outside of your boss can say to you, ‘Good job,’” said Tiffany B. Dominique, CFAR CAB coordinator. “Your boss can say, ‘Good job,’ and you can see that in a paycheck sometimes. But for the community to say ‘I see you [and] I recognize what you’re doing’ is very powerful because it shows that oftentimes people don’t realize the impact they have on other folks, and this is a way for us to give them thanks.”

David Fair, 64, will accept the Pioneer Award, an honor CAB decided on internally, in tribute to Fair’s longtime work in the HIV/AIDS field, including as the founder of the first Philadelphia Gay Cultural Festival, the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force and the AIDS Activities Coordinating Office. Additionally, he helped engage homeless people with HIV/AIDS through We The People Living with AIDS/HIV.

Fair said he was “conflicted” about receiving the award since he himself is not HIV-positive, and he recognizes the efforts of the individuals who died during the fight against the disease.

“Many of those people [who fought to combat HIV/AIDS] are gone and I’d be hard-pressed to argue that I deserve the [honor] more than they do,” Fair said.

However, he noted how people are still joining the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“Today in 2016, it’s good to know there are still people on the front lines that are doing work in saving lives because you forget,” Fair said. “It’s not the front-page news it was for about 10 years. Today you don’t see it as much and it’s good to know that there are people who are still laboring.”

One of those people still fighting is Jorian Rivera. The 24-year-old was diagnosed with HIV four years ago and has since spoken out about his experiences. He participated in the Gran Varones, a project focusing on the “stories of Latino and Afro-Latino gay, queer and trans men,” through an interview on the project’s YouTube documentary. Additionally, he has participated as a youth ambassador for National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

Rivera said it’s “honorable” to accept the Dale L. Grundy Youth Leadership Award, which is named after an HIV/AIDS activist who initiated the Red Ribbon Awards ceremony. He recalled a conversation with a friend about being recognized for his work.

“[I explained to her how] I don’t want to be recognized for the work that I do because it’s something I love doing,” Rivera said. “I love giving back. I love seeing people happy because it’s what makes me happy. I do the things I do because I want to, not because I have to.”

CAB will recognize Debora Dunbar, the clinic coordinator of the HIV prevention research division at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, with the Outstanding Provider Award for her work with HIV/AIDS patients. Dunbar said she was “humbled and pleased” to receive the award.

“In truth, it’s not like I’m doing anything that a lot of other people are not also doing,” the 54-year-old said. “I can think of my work as a bit mission-driven. I can also think of it as something that pays the bills and I’m one of these people who’s really lucky because what I do happens to satisfy both of those things.” 

Dunbar said she hopes HIV/AIDS will become a disease that no one has to worry about in their daily lives. 

“If we had a safe, effective, affordable vaccine, people could go about their business without having to sort of re-route and redirect and try to manage risk for HIV,” Dunbar said. “I hope in my lifetime that I get to see that.”

The other honorees included Outstanding Community Leadership awardee Abdul-Rahim Muhammad, Outstanding HIV/AIDS Researcher awardee Luis Montaner, DVM, and Outstanding Policymaker awardee Dr. Kathleen Brady.

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