MTV’s RE:DEFINE Rocks Dallas and HIV

April 13, 2015

Full dislosure- I’m a big mark for the MTV Staying Alive Foundation. They fund grants worldwide to provide young people with the tools and resources necessary to implement HIV prevention plans in their communities. You can learn more about them here.

The Staying Alive Foundation’s continued existence is dependent on public funding, and this past weekend, along with their partners at The Goss-Michael Foundation, they raised over $2 million at the annual RE:DEFINE fundraiser in Dallas. Georgia Arnold, executive director, shared some photos on her Instagram account (which I cobbled together below!)… enjoy!

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Big thanks to everyone who helped make the event a success, including artist Brian Kokoska, whose work was available in the art auction. And Julie Allen, who conceived the idea for RE:DEFINE.

Up next on MTV Staying Alive’s fundraising calendar? Found in London on May 14, with performances by Tinie Tempah and Tallia Storm. 

Positively Yours,
Shawn

Ryan White, 25 Years

April 8, 2015

Ryan White passed to spirit on this day 25 years ago- he was 18 years old, yet in that short time he educated millions of people worldwide about how HIV was and wasn’t transmitted. Born with hemophilia, Ryan contracted HIV through his blood product treatments in the 1980s, when screening methods were haphazard at best. After being kicked out of his school, he and his mother waged a very serious and public campaign against HIV and ignorance.

(read my 2010 article on Ryan for POZ.)

Ryan, to put it bluntly, was a rockstar.

I know the impact he had on my family- my mom saw him as a third son of sorts, following his medical ups and downs in the media. I emotionally distanced myself from him when he was alive, mainly because his story hit a little too close to home for me… hemophilia, HIV, getting kicked out of school- I never thought I would go public with the kind of details that he never blinked an eye in sharing.

At 20, when I found my own educational voice, I allowed myself to feel that connection with Ryan White that was always there. I was immensely proud of the path that Ryan had paved- and saw the need, six years after he passed, for the work to continue. It sounds kooky, and a lot of factors play into these kinds of things, but I give him a nod and a fistbump for introducing me to Gwenn, my partner of 16 years now. We met at a talk given by his mother in 1998… I always think Ryan somehow positioned us to be there, standing in line waiting to talk to his mom, close enough to notice one another…

Of course, my personal life would never be the same. And my proudest- and most effective- work as an educator has been with Gwenn, standing together as a couple in a healthy relationship.

Thanks, Ryan. You are never forgotten.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

(Read my Positoid column, “Do the White Thing”, from the January 1998 issue of POZ.)

Cash for the Stache? Let’s Rock AIDS!!

December 4, 2014

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You’ve seen the moustache… and more of me than you intended to this week… and, well, the time has come… so let’s harness the full power of Freddie Mercury together!

The fundraising drive for MTV Staying Alive is live- from now through Saturday you can make a minimum donation of $8 (MTV Staying Alive and the Big Give fund drive is based in London- so a £5.00 donation roughly equates to $8.) Your donation goes towards helping young people fight HIV in their communities around the world. But it also does much more.

For each dollar, Durex will supply 5 free condoms for young educators- meaning that your minimum donation of $8 (£ 5.00) would provide 40 condoms!

What will happen regardless of whether the donation gets doubled?
You’ll help vital prevention programs get funded. HIV is a complex problem, but proven strategies combined with a creative approach work in minimizing risk for HIV transmission… and MTV Staying Alive has an incredible track record.

So let’s do this! Join me in making a donation today… or I’ll post more pictures of me in the shower with this moustache. And yes, the drapes do match the curtains. Don’t make me prove it.

We Are All Queen,
Shawn

 

wearequeensing.jpg click pic to donate!

My Sexy Freddie Mercury Shower Pic

December 1, 2014

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gwennisclean.JPGThe Freddie Mercury moustache has arrived in style on World AIDS Day thanks to Jack Mackenroth’s #weareALLclean social media campaign/fundraiser for Housing Works. It’s been so much fun to participate in and donate to this as I prepare to call on friends to donate to my fundraising campaign for the MTV Staying Alive Foundation later this week. (Details below.)

So many campaigns and so little time each year to have eyes and hearts on this issue. I’m so thankful to be here and to be a part of a community that is fighting back against this epidemic in wonderful ways that change lives for the better. I hope you all are having a happy and safe World AIDS Day.

We Will Rock AIDS,
Shawn

UPDATE: Gwenn took a shower selfie this morning to join in the fun! So thankful to have such a loving partner.

———————————————

 

Shawn is sporting a Freddie Mercury moustache to raise money for the MTV Staying Alive Foundation. Donations are doubled starting at 5 am EST on Thursday, December 4 and through Saturday, December 6 (Click to donate!). Also, for every $1 donated Durex is donating 5 condoms to HIV prevention efforts for MTV Staying Alive.)

The Power of a Freddie Mercury Moustache

November 20, 2014

 shawnbiggiveFBprofilepic.jpg I’m in the process of doing something I’ve never done before… I’m growing a Freddie Mercury moustache.

I’m revealing the moustache on World AIDS Day, December 1. Then, with your help we will, WE WILL rock AIDS together for the MTV Staying Alive Foundation. Because on December 4, 5 and 6 donations to this organization are doubled! So a generous donation of $10 will count as $20. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to insult you by giving any more examples.)

I’m proud to be a board member for MTV Staying Alive- they support incredible work around the world and make a true difference in peoples’ lives by funding community members to address the specific HIV needs where they live. And a little money goes a long way.

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I’ll have details on how you can help very soon, and will be posting growth progress. Right now it’s a bit patchy, dawg. But with your good vibes I’m sure I’ll be able to grow a stache that Freddie would endorse. And with your help, we will grow a moustache that harnesses the same kind of power that Freddie used to rock audiences.

We Are the Champions,
Shawn

Former POZ Coverboy, Bob Bowers, Rocks On VH1

November 18, 2014

bobbowerscouplestherapy.jpgLast month I posted a critical observation of VH1′s reality TV show, Couples Therapy. The post was in regard to how castmember Evel Dick’s HIV disclosure (in episode 5, “The Truth is Out There”) was handled. Two weeks ago, however, the show really stepped up when they brought in long-time HIV advocate and AIDS asskicker Bob Bowers to give Dick some words of encouragement. (You can watch full episodes here- but the one referenced in this blog, “Meatball Problems”, won’t be available until Dec 4.)

bobbowersPOZcover.jpgBob has been living with HIV for three decades and has a no-nonsense approach to HIV education. He wears his heart on his sleeve, which is an impressive sleeve of ink I must say. I really admire his work, and I applaud Couples Therapy for giving Dick the opportunity to connect with Bob, who casually told his own story, offered his ear to Dick’s concerns and also informed Dick about the facts about HIV transmission for those who take their HIV medications regularly and acquire an undetectable viral load.

I’m sure it was a revelation for Dick- and the issue of transmission, spoken in such detail in a relaxed manner, isn’t something you see on TV very often.

Kudos to Bob, Dick, Dr. Jenn and VH1 for giving people the opportunity to learn more about HIV and how it affects people and their relationships.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

 

Pedro Zamora, Half A Lifetime Ago

November 11, 2014

Today marks 20 years since Pedro Zamora passed. That’s half my lifetime ago, but the loss still resonates with me because of Pedro’s influence on my life and my work as an educator. His relationship with Sean Sasser on MTV’s Real World showed me that a loving, healthy relationship with HIV was possible. Pedro’s roommates reactions to his status were mixed in the beginning, but the solid friendships that grew (particularly with Judd Winick) made me realize how cool my friends would probably be if I ever spoke about HIV.

See, half my lifetime ago, when I “met” Pedro through his appearance on my television, I was a year and a half away from talking about my HIV status. At that time, in 1994, I’d spent pretty close to half my lifetime living with HIV… yet I’d never openly discussed my status, only when backed into a corner by my parents or at a doctor’s appointment. Or when someone ratted me out to a girlfriend.

Pedro showed me that you can disclose on your terms. That HIV can just be an extension of who you are. If someone has a problem with your status, it’s not your fault it’s their ignorance that is the reason for the uneasiness.

His educational style was more straightforward and less laid back than the one that I would adopt after I spoke out; but in the pre-protease era, that’s how you needed to reach people. I loved watching him educate on The Real World, then simply live his private life in public as he fell in love with Sean Sasser and shared laughs with Judd and his other roommates over silly, mundane things.

As I was watching from my parent’s house where I was living at the time, my now-partner, Gwenn, was also tuning in. Her thoughts on Pedro:

“I remember watching the San Francisco season of the Real World between
my freshman and sophomore year of college at my friend’s house each
week. When I went back to school that fall I also remember the day that
Pedro Zamora passed. It was very soon after that I heard a young woman
speak at my school who was HIV positive and that is where my journey to
becoming an activist began. It’s been 20 years today since Pedro’s death
and although I didn’t know it at the time it was the precursor to my
work.”

When Pedro passed in the fall of 1994- the same day that the last episode of his season of the Real World aired, I was devastated. All of my fears of my own mortality, which I’d mistakenly thought I’d come to terms with, bubbled up. Throughout Pedro’s journey, I was making baby steps towards a future I didn’t think was for me: being open about my HIV status. But after he died I just wanted to go back to never thinking about HIV again, and I hated it for taking my new hero so abruptly.

Ironically, Pedro was a hero I couldn’t even say was my hero: half my lifetime ago I was still so quiet about my HIV status.

A year after his passing, there was a Real World Reunion. Judd, Puck, Pam, Sean and the rest of the cast were there. Everyone except Pedro. Judd teared up and asked viewers to “do something” about HIV, anything. It was a desperate plea not only for himself, still grief-stricken, but also a call to arms that his friend, Pedro, would have given had he been there. I was in a lingering depression, one that would last a couple more months- 1994 had been tough, I lost pop culture heroes in Pedro and Kurt Cobain and was also blindsided by a hepatitis C diagnosis.

At the beginning of 1996, I was ready to answer Judd’s call. I posted a website, outing my status once and for all. I began to hone my craft as a writer and develop an educational style that, like Pedro’s, was just an extension of who I was.

And now it’s a half a lifetime later. Pedro’s not here in the physical sense, but his influence has stayed with me over the years. I have the love and the life I dreamed of when I was watching him and learning about his life; a journey he unselfishly shared.

I’ll never forget the doors he helped to open up for me in my own journey.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

Ethan Zohn: Cancer and World Cup Survivor

July 10, 2014

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. But in the United States it’s a polarizing topic of discussion, not unlike the issue of abortion, Michael Bay reboots and fanny packs at theme parks. (They’re practical, y’all.)  This summer, I’ve come down with Soccer Fever.  Not since the World Cup in 1994 have I been so into the sport.

I wanted to talk about the World Cup, so I went to the only former soccer pro I know: Ethan Zohn. A co-founder of Grassroot Soccer, canzer crusher and Survivor Africa winner shares his thoughts on HIV, this year’s World Cup tournament and what it means to truly survive life. (NOTE: Ethan’s answers submitted before the Semi-Final matches between Brazil/Germany and The Netherlands/Argentina. He knows his shit.)

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So, I gotta know, Ethan: do you have any favorites in the World Cup?

Of course I do, I live for World Cup. I have been to every World Cup since 1994. Before the cup, I felt Brazil would crush everyone. But now, I’m leaning towards an Argentina / Germany final with Argentina winning. Plus I love yelling out the name Schweinsteiger at random moments throughout the day.
What’s up with that dude who bit the other dude?

That dude is Suarez, probably one of the best players in the world. To be honest I think he in love with Giorgio Chiellini. That was a love bite, not a foul. Plus Uraguay, where Suarez is from is the first country to regulate legal production, sale and consumption of marijuana. What do you expect?

I’d expect a more chill Suarez, but I’ve known people who freak out on the pot… a friend of mine… someone I know quite personally. He becomes a panicky mess… anyway…

After winning Survivor, you used the prize money to found Grassroot Soccer and help utilize the world’s love of soccer in the fight against HIV.  Several years later, you were diagnosed with cancer. I know you didn’t found Grassroot to gain cosmic favor, but… you getting cancer after going to bat, er, going to kick ball for the HIV community, was one of the lamest fouls I’ve ever seen in the sport of life. How are you feeling these days?

Ha! True, I need to have a word with the referee of this game of my life…who is that? God? David Hasselhoff?

I’m feeling great and excited I’m alive and strong enough to drink beer and watch soccer all month. In the years leading up to my cancer diagnosis I have been working hard through Grassroot Soccer, to help prevent young kids in Africa from contracting this life threatening disease. I do not know what it is like to have HIV, nor do I have HIV.  But, I do know what it’s like to walk into an office and get handed a very scary life ending diagnosis. Getting cancer gave me some street cred. Now I just want to do everything in my power to make sure others do not have to go through the same crap we went through. Can I get a “hell yeah”….

Hell yeah!  Lastly, any big goals for Grassroot Soccer during this World Cup season, or any of your other charitable efforts?

Where do I begin!  We always have cool events and fundraising campaigns. Right now, WHEATIES (the iconic cereal that always has amazing athletes on their boxes) is running a contest #WheatiesNext – 5 up-and-coming athletes in a voting contest for who gets on the next box. Each picks a charity to benefit.

Our newest Pro Ambassador, Christen Press, is in the contest and we are her charity – this is a big contest and we are one of the 5 chosen charities – woo-hoo! Check it out here:

Thanks, Ethan!  Enjoy the rest of the World Cup. And the beer, you’ve earned it!

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