Michelle Anderson

More than 200 women are expected to attend this year’s Grace Project National HIV-Positive Women’s Conference after Legacy Counseling Center opened registration to women beyond North Texas for the first time in the event’s 12-year history.

The weekend includes 15 speakers. Among them is Michelle Anderson, Miss Plus America 2011. The “plus” is for plus-size, but she is also the first openly HIV-positive national beauty queen winner.

Women ages 17-77 are expected. Seven are in their 70s, according to Legacy Counseling Center Executive Director Melissa Grove.

“Grandpa got Viagra and grandma got AIDS,” she said.

The conference is to give the women support, educate them about their health and create grassroots leaders to talk to their communities about HIV/AIDS.

Grove said that many are low-income women.

“Many come not knowing another HIV-positive person,” she said.

Among the activities will be a knitting circle. Women who participate will knit red scarves.

“Then we’re going to hold a reunion at Main Street Garden on World AIDS Day,” Grove said.

Women wearing their red scarves will be available to tell their stories to anyone who asks, including media.

Grove said most of the conference has been underwritten, although she’s about $1,400 short of covering all expenses. Next year, a Conrad Hilton Sisters Fund grant will fully cover the conference costs.

Most women are attending free. Pride Pharmacy sponsored a reception and registration for 20 participants. Kroger sponsored 40 women. Gay-owned companies such as Spark’d Media sponsored the video testimonial room and DJ Hurley Artistry will do makeup makeovers.

For just $50, anyone can still underwrite a scholarship in their own name or anyone else’s, which will cover expenses for someone to attend.

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, 1981 N. Central Expwy., Richardson. July 13–15.