Alaskans often joke that the state is a small town spread over 2,000 miles—the chances are high that you might run into a friend or colleague, even if you’re 250 miles away from home. This is especially true in Juneau, the state’s remote capital and the site of Pride Foundation’s recent investment in the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association (Four A’s).
Thanks to the relationships developed and nurtured by the local Four A’s staff over time, a young man recently came to their office and felt safer and more comfortable asking for a free HIV Rapid test than he would have at his doctor’s office.
In the 20 minutes while the test developed, the client , for the first time, disclosed and discussed various aspects of his relationship. When the results were negative, he felt empowered to talk to his partner about their relationship and steps they can both take to protect themselves moving forward.
Given Alaska’s expansive geography, there is a lack of services and structured support for the LGBTQ community. That reality coupled with recent shifts and restrictions in federal funding has resulted in a lack of resources for HIV prevention services outside of the Anchorage region. This leaves hard-to-access communities like Juneau, which are located outside the state’s urban core, with few places to turn for HIV education and prevention.
Without the modest lifesaving presence of Four A’s, already vulnerable clients would have to find $200 for a plane ticket to Anchorage.
“Thanks to this [Pride Foundation] funding, Four A’s staff will continue to offer free, rapid HIV testing and counseling to the LGBTQ community, with a priority focus on MSM (men who have sex with men),” said Heather Davis, Four A’s Executive Director. “This funding will also allow for the provision of HIV prevention education classes and outreach. Four A’s staff will work in collaboration with local LGBTQ groups to target outreach messages more effectively, and offer counseling and testing services directly to a community at high-risk for HIV infection.”
The emphasis on prevention and education efforts will result in a healthier local community that has a greater understanding and awareness of HIV/AIDS.
“Looking ahead in 2015, Four A’s is really excited about partnering with an increasingly organized LGBT community to engage more deeply in HIV prevention,” Heather reflected. “There seem to be new opportunities for LGBT-specific education, targeted outreach, and HIV testing at events like Juneau Pride.”
As Juneau’s LGBTQ community grows stronger together, thanks to ties with other Pride Foundation-supported organizations like SEAGLA, Four A’s hopes to further deepen important social ties with their clients, allowing more people to know their HIV status, and find treatment early.
Josh Hemsath is Pride Foundation’s regional development organizer in Alaska. Email Josh.