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Not keeping quiet
Annual awards gala honors AIDS activism
Cleveland--The AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland held their annual Voices Against the Silence Awards luncheon on December 7, bringing 100 people out to honor community activists, volunteers and performers.
This year’ ceremony was held in the AIDS Taskforce’s offices, giving attendees a chance to see the space’s depth of functionality. Eight awards were given to “Clevelanders whose voices have helped to end the silence of HIV and AIDS,” according to the program.
Brittain was honored for his annual food drive, which over the last 20 years has provided over $100,000 in non-perishable good for the food pantry. He also was a force behind Facing the AIDS Challenge Together, a program that provided meals and food to people in Lakewood living with HIV, as well as his work with the Design Industry Foundation Fighting AIDS.
Other recipients illustrated the diversity of Cleveland, and of the people fighting the spread of the disease, living with HIV, or both.
Lady Deception, owner of the Miss Black Gay Ohio Pageant, was honored for her work with transgender youth, and she co-presented the Miss Taskforce Pageant.
Jina Gonzalez, whose mother died of AIDS when she was 11, was born with HIV. After hiding her infection for much of her childhood, she stepped forward, taking a youth leadership role with Camp Sunrise and becoming a community educator.
Stephen Hood, a board member and volunteer for the Ohio AIDS Coalition, was also honored for his work in the community, designing and putting on healing weekends through OAC throughout the state.
Volunteer Vonzella Johnson, another recipient, holds the honor of logging in more outreach hours than any other volunteer at the AIDS Taskforce. She is also very involved with the Dr. John T. Carey Memorial AIDS Walk, which benefits the AIDS Taskforce and other HIV organizations in northeast Ohio.
Sincere, the head of Added Bonus Entertainment, organized a hip hop concert benefiting the AIDS Taskforce last summer, illustrating the power rap culture has to fight the disease.
Lobbying politicians in Columbus and Washington by talking about his battle with HIV, Lavon Watkins was honored with a Voices Against the Silence Award for his work with the National Association of People with AIDS and his efforts organizing Cleveland’s observance of National HIV Testing Day.
Dr. Henry Ng was honored for his work integrating HIV education and treatment into his practice, as well as the Rainbow Pride Clinic at MetroHealth.
A special award was also given to Gov. Ted Strickland, in honor of his refusal of funding for “abstinence only until marriage” sex education and his executive order reinstating antidiscrimination protections for LGBT state workers.
Anne Hill, Strickland’s northeast Ohio director, accepted the honor on his behalf, commenting on the strength and dedication of the recipients of the Voices Against the Silence awards.
Executive director Earl Pike said that he is constantly impressed by the commitment of the AIDS Taskforce’s clients, people who could easily spend all their energy simply fighting their disease, but who instead insist on bettering their community.
“It was a very emotional day,” said Pike. “It was especially emotional because so many of the recipients are consumers” of his agency’s services.