Tony Lane has formed a new, nonprofit organization in Fresno called Positive Life. Their mission is to empower HIV positive people through education and support by navigating the resources for a positive life. Their desire is to hear client's concerns, to educate, support and empower individuals with the knowledge needed to advocate for themselves and others who are infected or affected by HIV and AIDS. Their goal is to support the HIV positive people and help them find their voice in the Central San Joaquin Valley of California. You can contact them at 559-549-3435 or by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Positive Life will be starting a new HIV SUPPORT GROUP at the Fresno LGBT Community Center starting on February 17th, 2015 and continuing monthly on the 3rd Tuesday every month.
How did you get started as an AIDS activist?
I got started in the HIV/AIDS field back in 2006 when I was looking around at what services there were for HIV+ people. When I couldn’t find anything here in Fresno I went to San Francisco and ended up connecting with the STOP AIDS Project and their PLUS (Positive Living for Us) program which was an extensive 20hr HIV 101. After completing that I continued to do volunteer work for them and became a trained facilitator for the PLUS Program. After working for them for about a year I met a Case Manager that worked for Community Regional Medical Center and was talking to him and found out that he worked for their Specialty Health Clinic that was based at UMC at the time and he suggested that I join their HIV Advisory Board. So I ended up joining the Advisory Board and at the same time continued to do work for the STOP AIDS Project. In 2009 our Advisory Board had the opportunity to be presenters at the Voices National HIV/AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. during that time Congress was debating the continued funding of the Ryan White Act so while we were in Washington D.C. we went and lobbied our Congressional Representatives to vote in favor of the continued funding for the Ryan White Act.
I eventually became President of the Advisory Board and with that I continued to make both local and national contacts within the HIV/AIDS field. I got selected to attend a week long training on how to get HIV+ people into care or back into care if they had fallen out. I also became the Co-Facilitator for the Specialty Health Clinics English speaking HIV/AIDS Support Group.
One of my major activist moments was traveling to Berkeley, CA to testify before the Presidential Committee on HIV/AIDS this was to become the foundation for what was to become the new National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the country.
Three years ago I had the opportunity to get invited by the Fresno County Department of Public Health to join the California Statewide Training and Education Program (CSTEP) Advisory Board, I was accepted onto the Treatment Certification portion of CSTEP, which reviews and creates the training materials for HIV Treatment Certification Programs.
In 2014 Community Regional Medical Center disbanded the Specialty Health Clinics Advisory Board which left the HIV+ Community without a voice, with that being said there were five people that had been on that Board that decided that there was still work that needed to be done in the HIV Community so we formed a new Community Based Non-Profit Organization called Positive Life.
Tell us about your new organization and website
Positive Life was formed by five former Board Members of CRMC’s Specialty Health Clinic Advisory Board after that board had been disbanded. Positive Life’s focus is to help improve the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS or affected by HIV/AIDS. We do this through Community Education, Outreach and now by partnering with the Fresno LGBT Community Center to offer a HIV/AIDS Support Group. We also do collaborative work with other agency in our area to help promote HIV/AIDS awareness. Being we are a Community Based Organization (CBO) we have the ability to work with any agency or group that needs our help. If we should have a client that needs a service that we cannot provide we have the ability to refer them to an agency or other organization that will be able to help them.
Our website is poslife.org and is currently under construction with information being added all of the time.
What’s your current opinion about the state of HIV /AIDS?
Unfortunately my opinion of the current state of HIV/AIDS is that we are heading back to what we were seeing in the 80’s and 90’s with a huge rise in new infections especially amongst our 18-25yr olds. It is unfortunate in that these infections can be prevented through safe sex practices. I think that there is a prevailing attitude amongst our young people that it’s no big deal if they get HIV because they just need to take a pill once a day and everything will be fine. The other thing that is driving these new infections is the high use of recreational drugs like crystal meth that cause you to loose a lot of your sexual inhibitions and cloud your judgment for the use of condoms.
The other scary thing that we are seeing within these new infections is that they are not only getting an HIV diagnosis but a full blown AIDS diagnosis and this is something that we haven’t seen since the late 90's.
What do you think is the most important tool in fighting HIV?
I think the most important tool for fighting HIV is education and testing, we need to get people educated again about HIV and remind them of the fact that it is still here and very prevalent especially amongst our youth and people of color. We need to educate people in how the virus is transmitted and how to protect ourselves from it. We also need to work on the stigma of HIV so that people that are infected with HIV are able to more openly talk about it and be accepted within our community.
The other thing is to promote HIV testing and to try and get everyone tested so that if someone is infected we can get them into treatment to lessen the risk of transmission to others.
What question do you hear most often regarding HIV / AIDS?
Is it still around? They don’t hear anything about it and to me this is a failure within our society to educate everyone about HIV and the fact that it is still here.
I’m hearing more and more questions about PREP / TRUVADA. What are your thoughts?
I’m hearing the same thing. PREP is a very complex issue. I support the use of PREP but with that I think that there needs to be a lot more counseling done with the person that is wanting to go on PREP so that they understand what it is that they are wanting to do because once you go on it, it is like taking HIV meds in that you have to be adherent and cannot miss doses because it will not work. People need to understand that you cannot just pop a pill and then go out and have unprotected sex and everything will be ok, you have to be on the regiment for sometime before it is going to do any good and even with prep there is not a 100% guarantee that you will not become infected so you still need to use condoms.
I think that PREP can be very beneficial in a serodiscordant relationship where one partner is HIV+ and the other is HIV- and they are already practicing safe sex. This would allow for some added safety should a condom break.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle to getting HIV information to the younger generation?
I think the biggest obstacle is not being able to do comprehensive HIV Education in the schools. HIV is barely touched on and is treated like it doesn’t exist anymore. I think that we need to be able to get into the schools to teach the younger people about HIV and even have them hear the stories of HIV+ people and what they go through on a daily basis with having to take the medications, stigma, side effects.
Where do you get your information updates?
I am very lucky in that I have an extensive information network, I get stuff from the San Francisco Aids Foundation, AIDS Meds.com, POZ.com, along with both the Body.com and the BodyPro.com. I have also been lucky enough to study at Harvard University Centers for AIDS Research so I get update from them. I have studied at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. I also subscribe to several HIV/AIDS related medical journals; I am also lucky enough to be on a provider list for Pharmaceutical Company talks on the latest HIV Meds or other effects of being HIV+. Finally I sit on the CSTEP Treatment Advisory Board that designs HIV Training Courses.
What would you say to a young person who thinks HIV is manageable enough to not be worried about it?
I would tell them they are crazy. Yes, HIV is a manageable disease but they do not understand the stigma and psych-social issues that comes along with being HIV+. Plus these meds have only been around for the last 20-25yrs so the researchers have just started studying the long-term effects of these drugs on HIV+ people within the last 5yrs. Because HIV has become manageable we are just starting to look at the long term effects that the disease itself is having on the body, things that generally don’t show up until you are in your late 60’s or 70’s are showing up much sooner in people that are HIV+. So I would say get tested on a regular basis and always use protection.
Are there HIV /AIDS issues you find specific to the Central Valley?
I would say that recreational drug use especially crystal meth has a lot to do with the infections here in our area along with young people selling their bodies for a quick buck.
What would you suggest first for someone newly diagnosed with HIV?
I would say the biggest thing is getting into treatment. The other thing would be to contact a group like Positive Life or another HIV/AIDS Service Organization that can help guide them through the process and be there for support.
What will be the structure of your new HIV support group at the Fresno LGBT Center?
The Support Group will be designed for people that are newly infected along with those that have been living with HIV for some time along with those that are affected by HIV. It will be an open forum to answer questions and help educate and guide people through their journey with HIV. A trained facilitator will facilitate the group. Occasionally we may bring in an outside guest speaker to talk about issues that HIV+ people may run into. The group will be confidential in that what is said in the group stays in the group and every participant will be required to sign a confidentiality statement.