POZ-TO fights serophobia and HIV/AIDS social stigma in Toronto by staging public social events for HIV+ Queers and allies. The organization is run by community advocate and acclaimed drag artist Alphonso King Jr/Jade Elektra, who also works tirelessly to produce the POZ-TO Awards each and every year. As an important member of our community, and also a 2021 Community One Foundation Rainbow Grant recipient, we took a moment to interview Alphonso about the recent awards ceremony – check it out below!
Could you tell us a little about the initiative your 2021 Rainbow Grant has supported?
The POZ-TO Awards is an event where we honour ten people from our community for their activism or fundraising in HIV/AIDS. It is a reminder and thank you to those who are making a difference or fighting stigma. This year and last year’s awards could not have happened without the Rainbow Grant.
Was there a particular thing that sparked this idea/initiative?
Most HIV/AIDS work is a thankless job. And as I often say…”Until you are HIV+, most don’t think about the services and support that is needed.” I wanted to highlight and promote those who do the work. I think it is important and hopefully will inspire others to get involved.
What is your goal with making this initiative happen?
To raise awareness of those doing the work or being examples of people living with HIV. I wanted to show that we are not waiting around to die, but actually living and thriving.
Many organizations have been faced with a set of new challenges, due to COVID-19. How is your team adapting?
Well, until COVID came along, we were able to do our monthly events called MINGLE that were not only social events for the HIV+ Community (and their supporters) but also served as fundraisers for local ASOs. These events were a buildup to the awards. It kept the POZ-TO brand out there in the entire LGBTQ2+ Community (which was the goal of fighting stigma). But COVID stopped all gatherings and we have not been able to do so since.
What has the response/impact been like so far?
It took some getting used to being online and formatting the awards, but it has been good. We have been able to reach a bigger audience with the event being on YouTube and Facebook. Now, people around the world can see what we are doing in our community here in Toronto to support and applaud our local heroes in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
How was the response of your initiative within the community, and how do you see this project evolving into 2022?
Well, I hope that we are able to get back to “in person” events but the idea of the ceremony remaining a produced online event to be shared on social media is also a prospect to consider. Maybe combining the two for future events.
Are there any other projects you’re working on that you’d like to tell us about?
POZ-TO and the facebook group POZPLANET have launched a monthly online magazine called POZPLANET. We produce it on our own. It is a safe space for HIV+ people to share their stories and express concerns. We purposely do not have advertisers to keep content unrestricted and uncensored (no pharmaceutical companies controlling content). All contributing writers are volunteering but the publication could probably attract more writers and contributors if we had some kind of budget. And of course, in these ever-changing times, our outdated computers will not be able to update for apps and programs to do the layouts needed for the magazine. POZ-TO and POZPLANET are just myself (Alphonso King Jr) and my husband (John Richard Allan).
Stay tuned for more Community One Foundation Success Story interviews coming soon!