1510505_1579277052346734_3433862162060688280_n The 16th Annual AIDS Candlelight Memorial Service was held May 17, 2015. Organized each year by Eric Crabtree, the service was hosted at St. David’s Episcopal Church. “Some 134 attendees in-person filed through the doors with another 500 attending from their homes through the AIDS Candlelight Home Kits that were distributed around Central Texas,” Eric says. “All of our 634 attendees that gathered that evening honored, remembered, supported all those who have been affected by the global HIV epidemic.”

This year’s theme was “Supporting the Future: You’re Not Invincible,” which called on people to unite and demand a sustainable AIDS response. The keynote speaker for the evening was ASA’s own Andrew Martin, RN Medical Case Manager, who spoke of his experiences with HIV, including taking care of his partner during his final days.

“So although the world of AIDS has changed dramatically since my first introduction to it in the 1980s and as illustrated from tonight’s readings, people are still becoming infected with the HIV virus, and people are needlessly dying from AIDS, for whatever their reasons. How does each of us this evening take ownership in supporting the future? My response is: everyone needs to commit to knowing their HIV status; if HIV positive, seek and stay in treatment to suppress the virus within; and, if HIV negative, educate yourself and others in using all the prevention tools available to stay negative. I am confident that we can someday soon achieve an AIDS-Free Generation. I am confident that someday I may once again feel invincible.”

11108183_1579278195679953_5440130025762350408_nAndrew’s message was not just one of hope, but one calling each person to action and personal responsibility. Eric was particularly moved and notes that the audience gave Andrew a long standing ovation after his speech. “His commitment to love, care, and hope for others, and his constant fight against HIV and for those around him makes him a strong continued voice in our community, and for that, we applaud him,” Eric states.

Also speaking that evening was Ben Walker, ASA’s Health Insurance and Intake Specialist, also the Executive Director of the Austin PrEP Access Project (APAP), which launched earlier this year. In the wake of controversy surrounding PrEP, Ben stood strong in stating the need for access to all methods of HIV prevention.

“Sexual health is not a controversy,” he explains. “Sexual health is a right. And it’s our responsibility to educate our youth and each other on the most effective ways of staying healthy.” APAP hopes that by connecting at-risk individuals to doctors and health professionals, they will be able to provide tools and testing that will prevent new HIV infections.

bencm“We know that PrEP is safe, we know that PrEP is effective. Yet, there has been a reluctance to embrace this newest HIV prevention strategy. I’ve been told that PrEP is controversial. The truth is that PrEP is only controversial because it pertains to SEX. PrEP ruffles some people’s feathers in the same way that providing birth control to women did, the same way that teaching our kids about condoms does, the same way that inoculating schoolgirls with Gardasil to prevent HPV did. There is a persistent idea that education and protection will cause people to act irresponsibly. Research, however, shows us that this “risk substitution” is a myth. People don’t take on riskier behaviors when they discover methods of protection. Do you stop using your seat belt because your car has airbags?”

At the end of the service, all attendees stood to honor 43 local loved ones who were lost to HIV this past year. As each name was called, a ceremonial bell was rung in tribute.

Eric hopes the event will not only remember those lost, but stir up action in the next generation. “Currently, we are not meeting the needs of people living with HIV…. We need action from all levels to stop HIV in our lifetime and hopefully have an AIDS free generation sometime soon.” Ultimately, Eric is optimistic for the future: “With everyone’s help, we can help end stigma and HIV in our lifetime.”

Read more on the Candlelight Memorial’s Facebook Page.