|0n May 17, the API Wellness Center held their Bloom Cala at the Metreon. Commissioners Theresa Sparks, Cecila Chung and Nikki Calma, plus Ed Lance Toma and MC Jason Chan. Tomas is holding the Mayoral Proclamation honoring API Wellness Day. Photo by Rink.
Two days before the fourth annual National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, on May 17, the A&PI Wellness Center presented “You Can Change the Story,” a program from The Banyan Tree, open to the public. The Banyan Tree Project is helping put an end to HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination in the A&PI community. National A&PI Awareness Day sprung from the Project, which is funded by the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The Project has released four 30-second public service announcements featuring three major A&PI stars: actor/filmmaker Joan Chen; actor Jason Kyson Lee from NBC’s Heroes; and Hawaiian singer/ songwriter legend Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom. The PSAs highlight three points: the alarming increase of HIV infections in the US A&PI communities; the importance of showing compassion to those living with HIV; and the need for A&PIs to get tested for HIV. In the spots, the celebrities say, “Join me in breaking the circle of silence and shame that exists in our community around HIV and AIDS. We must show compassion to those who are living with HIV. Show that you care. Get educated; get tested.”
It is estimated that over the next 90 days, more than 200 million households will be touched by these PSAs. Cable and telecommunications industry AIDS action group, Cable Positive, has made it possible for these spots to be aired on Asian and LGBT-oriented cable channels, as well as mainstream networks such as the Discovery Channel, USA Network, and MTV. Local broadcast network channels in the Banyan Tree’s Project’s five partner cities – San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Honolulu, and Chicago – will provide additional placements to target local A&PI viewers.
When we have knowledge, organizers say, fear is transformed into understanding and compassion. A&PIs living with, and at risk for, HIV/AIDS deserve to be treated just like everyone else – with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, many A&PIs affected by HIV/AIDS have been rejected by their families, their loved ones, and their communities. Through education, the Banyan Tree Project helps people accept A&PIs living with HIV/AIDS, so that they do not have to be afraid or feel ashamed. Many A&PIs do not seek services because they are afraid to be seen walking into an AIDS clinic or into an agency that provides HIV tests. If a friend or a family member saw them, they might be rejected or shunned in their family or community. In a world free of stigma, A&PIs could access the services they need to stay healthy without fear or shame. This is the ultimate goal of the Banyan Tree Project – to improve the health of A&PIs by increasing their use of HIV prevention and treatment services. When stigma is eliminated, this becomes possible.
Why the banyan tree? In many A&PI cultures, the banyan tree is a meaningful symbol. It is the tree under which the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. Its fan-shaped leaves offer shade for weary travelers – a place where A&PIs living with HIV/AIDS can feel safe and sheltered. Its branches continually shoot out new roots into the ground, symbolizing the spreading of knowledge and acceptance of A&PIs with HIV/AIDS.
After the public event, a gala was held for ticket holders where Honorable Cecilia Chung, vice-chair of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, was presented with the Steve Lew Public Policy Award by California State Assembly Majority Whip, Fiona Ma. Chung most recently served on the board of directors of A&PI Wellness Center for six years, stepping down last year after serving the maximum term. She was the first public policy officer for the board, and developed the foundation for the Center’s public policy work.
In 2005, Chung, her mother, and grandfather were instrumental in the launch of the first year of the National A&PI HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Together, they publicly revealed their family’s initial response, steeped in stigma and fear, to Chung coming out as a transgender woman and the disclosure of her HIV status. They courageously detailed the painful process they experienced as a family, and the resulting love and acceptance they found for each other.