National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Takes a Stand Against Stigma
August 28, 2022
Faith plays a major role in the lives of many Americans.
Many find faith to be a connection to a spiritual being, deity, or creator that sets our moral compasses and guides our daily lives. Likewise, faith is rooted in the desire for abundant life for all, with healing as a key tenant in every sacred text. 41 years into an HIV epidemic that has claimed 40 million lives globally, with 38 million people currently living with HIV worldwide and 1.2 million people living with HIV in the U.S., the movement for the healing of HIV/AIDS in the world is not just scientific or medical, but it’s theological as well. It only makes sense that the faith community is an active partner in any endeavor to heal the world, especially when it comes to the deadliest pandemic of our generation – HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately for many Americans living with HIV, faith communities can turn from a place of refuge to a source of stigma and trauma.
To combat both HIV in America and the associated stigma that sometimes manifests from faith communities, RAHMA and its partners spearheaded the first National Faith HIV & AIDS Awareness Day (NFHAAD) on August 27, 2017. The goal was and continues to be to rally all U.S. communities representative of the Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and Baha’i faiths to take a stand against stigma in their congregations and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.
The inaugural Faith HIV/AIDS Day featured 15 Faith Ambassadors located in 15 major cities around the country that were affected by high incidence and prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Advised by a steering committee comprised of leaders from across the nation, the Ambassadors engaged religious leaders in their cities to rally the local community into awareness about the need for allied faith actors in the movement to end HIV as a public health crisis. The targeted cities were New York City, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Baton Rouge, Memphis, Charlotte, Columbia, Jackson, Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia. Washington, D.C., featured the main event in the form of a multifaith prayer walk and rally at Freedom Plaza where faith leaders and activists from around the U.S. spoke out against stigma and educated the audience on how to get involved in creating safe spaces in faith communities.
Two key goals for the founding of National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day were to have it recognized on the www.HIV.gov calendar as an official federal HIV awareness day and create change in faith communities across the nation, making them safe spaces for those who are living with HIV. Since 2017, RAHMA and its partners — including the U.S. HIV/AIDS Faith Coalition — have successfully achieved both!
We’ve reached over 200,000 people representative of the Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and Baha’i and other faith traditions across the U.S. to eliminate stigma in their houses of worship and increase awareness about HIV. An important role of faith-positive communities in the HIV response has been the reconciling of sacred spaces for healing through storytelling that prioritizes the lived experiences of people most impacted by the epidemic over the sharing of statistics and science alone. Whereas the statistics of science inform, stories have the ability to transform; it’s this transition from the transactional to the transformational that can really serve as a healing salve.
On August 6, 2020, National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was officially recognized as a federal awareness day on www.HIV.gov. While we celebrate this significant milestone, there is still much work ahead of us. This year National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is on August 28, 2022. The national event will be held at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., for a screening and discussion for the film, “My Faith, My Story.” We invite you into a safe space for storytelling where advocates, faith leaders, and People Living with HIV address the challenges inherent in responding to the HIV epidemic in the Southern U.S. as people and communities of faith. Stories increase awareness, and awareness builds empathy, and empathy is the tie that binds us together. Through these transformative stories, together we can begin to eliminate the stigma often associated with discussing HIV, sex, and sexuality, in the context of faith – one day, each year, until we find a cure.
Interfaith America Magazine Senior Columnist Ulysses Burley III is co-founder of National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and the U.S. HIV/AIDS Faith Coalition.
American Civic Life
American Civic Life
Dr. Ulysses W. Burley III
Dr. Ulysses W. Burley III is the founder of UBtheCURE, LLC, a consulting company on the intersection of faith, health, and human rights. Although his primary training is in Immunology and cancer epidemiology, most of Dr. Burley’s work has been around HIV and AIDS awareness, advocacy, and capacity building and includes LGBTQIA+, gender and racial justice, and peace and justice in the Holy Land. Currently, he is the Project Director for the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) Faith Initiative to connect with diverse faith communities to share evidence-based information regarding HIV and biomedical interventions being developed for its prevention.