FEEDBACK: Incident at fundraiser a stark reminder of how far we have to go

Posted on 16 Jun 2011 at 5:10pm

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Tuesday, June 28, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Dallas Voice and a host of HIV/AIDS service organizations in Dallas-Fort Worth will sponsor a public forum at Cathedral of Hope’s Interfaith Peace Chapel, AIDS @ 30: A Community Forum. Then on Friday, July 1, Dallas Voice will publish a special issue marking the 30th anniversary of AIDS, also exploring where we stand today in terms of prevention efforts, treatments and development of a vaccine, and where those efforts are headed.

This week, Dallas Voice received the following letter from Donnie Pangburn that makes it clear, no matter how far we’ve come in the battle against HIV/AIDS, we still have a very long way to go, even when it comes to educating our own community.

Officials at LOGO were contacted and given an opportunity to respond to the following letter. By press deadline on Wednesday, June 15, they had not responded.

The June 11 Weenies and Martinis event at Jack’s Backyard was produced by Team Dallas Voice to benefit Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS. Team Dallas Voice accepted the offer by the producers of LOGO’s A-List Dallas to participate and film the event.

Appalled by lack of HIV knowledge

I went to Jack’s Backyard to a going-away party for a friend on Saturday, June 11, and soon realized there was a fundraiser raffle going on to support HIV/AIDS services through the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS. Of course, it made the evening more enjoyable to me as not only have I been a volunteer at Resource Center Dallas for years and have donated a lot of time and money to the cause — not only with our community, but with organizations in Africa as well — I am also HIV-positive myself and therefore know first hand the daily struggles that anyone with HIV faces.

It is my understanding that cast members of LOGO’s A-List Dallas were there at the event to sell raffle tickets.

One of the A-Listers, Phillip Willis, approached me and my friends and asked us to donate $20 for some raffle tickets. I instantly reached into my pocket and gave him $20. I asked Phillip what they were raffling off, and he stated, “It doesn’t matter; it’s for a good cause. It’s for all those poor, sad, old people.”

I asked whom he was referring to, and he just winked and said, “You know — them.” I replied, “No, I don’t. Who are you referring to?” He said, “You know, those ones who have AIDS.” My response to him was, “I am HIV-positive, and I’m not poor or sad.”

His mouth just dropped open, and he just walked away without saying another word.

I chose then to approach the Lone Star Ride table and, in tears and anger, asked who was in charge. I explained to him exactly what happened. I was immediately dismissed and told, “Well, if you want to go talk to the cast member, Phillip, he’s around.”

That’s all he had to say.

I took his advice and approached Phillip and said, “I’d like to introduce you to my friends.” I then proceeded to educate him on his lack of tact and knowledge. He instantly replied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I never said that.”

He attempted to leave, but I told him I wasn’t finished speaking. I once again tried to educate him, but he didn’t want to have anything to do with it. So he chose to walk away, without saying another word — no apology, nothing.

I am hurt, and I am furious that Phillip Willis was so incredibly uneducated and full of disregard — and he was there to represent an organization in our GLBT community and to represent himself as an upstanding citizen of the GLBT community of Dallas.

I am also extremely upset at LOGO, who obviously did not do their homework in choosing the cast members for their show.

Please know that regardless of how this hurts me personally or how angry I am, this is not about me. This is about the increasing number of men between the ages of 18 and 25 who are contracting HIV in our community. According to my doctor, it is spreading like wildfire. Something needs to be done.

If my letters, conversations and emails prevent just one person from contracting HIV, then I’ve done my job.

Donnie Pangburn, Dallas

A response from LSR

As president of the board of Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS, I would like to thank Donnie Pangburn.

There are specific, definable moments in our lives when an event, a trigger, compels us to no longer be silent and instead, speak out. The comment made to Donnie about people with HIV/AIDS at our Weenies & Martinis event on June 11, was just such a definable moment.

Those words changed everything for him. Instead of simply getting angry, he got busy.

This experience for Donnie and for all of us at Lone Star Ride is a painful reminder that this kind of ignorance and discrimination still exists, as unbelievable as we wish it were 30 years into the fight against HIV/AIDS.

We are outraged by Donnie’s experience, as everyone should be. The fact that these statements were made, not just by a member of our community, but by a person who was attending an LSR event to help raise money for HIV/AIDS, is unfathomable to us.

As a gay female, who has lost many friends and been involved with HIV/AIDS causes, I thought everyone in the gay community knew and cared about HIV/AIDS. I thought our own community would be the place that people living with HIV/AIDS would be safe from the discrimination and stigma. Boy, was I wrong.

According to the prevention program at Resource Center Dallas, it believed that a quarter-million Americans have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and are not aware of it. More than 40,000 Americans are infected with HIV every year.

Gay men, bisexual men and heterosexual men who have sex with men account for more than half of new HIV infections. In Dallas County, we continue to see an increased infection rate in people between the ages of 13 and 25, as well as those over the age of 45.

Although we have made a great many strides in education about and treatment of HIV/AIDS, it is apparent that there is more to be done. There is still a segment of society, even in our own community, that clings to the myth that, “It can’t happen to me.” It is not until we have experiences like this or encounter personal tragedy, that we are willing to change our attitudes and behaviors.

If you, too, are incensed by what Donnie experienced, join him. Do something. Donate time or money — anything. Just please, get educated.

Know your risk, know your status, and above all, make smart choices. If you need help or information, contact one of the local AIDS services organizations.

I would like to personally express my gratitude to Donnie and others like him that continue to speak out against this type of discrimination and strive to erase the stigma of HIV/AIDS.

Laura Kerr, president, Board of Directors,
Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS

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