Advocate speaks on HIV, AIDS: Graham encourages students to take action

Screen shot 2013-09-19 at 4.39.22 PMHIV/AIDS activist Jeff Graham provided the conversation for the second annual “Conversation and Dessert” held in the Curris Center Monday night.

Graham, an activist since the mid-1980s, promotes fairness, safety and opportunity.

Murray State’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender program coordinator, Jody Cofer Randall, said he wanted a topic for “Conversation and Dessert” applicable not only to the LGBT community, but to all students and faculty.

More than 100 students attended the event, as well as professors, Interim President Tim Miller, two Murray City Council members and Mayor Bill Wells.

Cofer Randall began the event by introducing Graham. Graham, the executive director of Georgia Equality, said he found his calling in HIV/AIDS activism while he was a student in college.

“I was asked the question a lot in college, ‘Why did you choose to be gay, if you know you’re probably going to die of AIDS?’” Graham said.

“But this disease does not have anything to do with being gay. When heterosexuals put their bigotry before their health, it made me want to be an AIDS activist,” he said.

Graham spent the first part of the event walking the audience through the history of HIV/AIDS, as well as the various activist groups over the last few decades who have worked to promote awareness of the disease.

Graham also incorporated a visual presentation in his speech, highlighting AIDS-related news stories from the recent decades.

His presentation described government action and inaction regarding the disease, and went into detail about many of the activist groups that formed as a result of the virus.

Graham discussed his first-hand experience fighting for the rights of people with HIV or AIDS, and working to educate the public and to disspell many common misconceptions about the disease.

“We are seeking the reality of an AIDS-free generation,” Graham said.

The second part of the presentation was a question and answer session with Graham as well as Judy Lyle, assistant director of Health Services.

Ann Beck, assistant professor in the political science and sociology department, moderated the question and answer session between the audience and Graham.

Students and community members wanted to know what changes could be made to help educate people on the subject of HIV and AIDS.

Lyle discussed options offered at Health Services, particularly Man Up Mondays, when students and staff can receive free testing for HIV or other sexually-transmitted diseases.

“Testing is so important,” Lyle said. “People need to get tested so they can get treatment and care, so virus levels can be kept down.”

Graham said his educational presentation and program recently began focusing on students as the catalysts for change.

He said activism has to begin on campus with students starting the conversation about the subject.

“Talk about it with your friends – that’s the impact you can have,” he said. “Until there is a cure, we will need HIV activism.”


Story by Kate Russell, Contributing Writer