Last Wednesday, PRISM invited guest speaker Elaine Pasqua to speak in the Spiritual Center for AIDS Awareness Week.
Instead of the melancholy, preachy lecture some expected, students were treated to a warm, funny speaker who was serious about AIDS.
“I wanted a program that would have a strong impact and incorporate a safe-sex aspect,” Angel Hernandez, AIDS Awareness Week chair, said. “Elaine did this and so much more.”
Pasqua lost her mother and stepfather to AIDS in 1995 and 1990, respectively, and has lost many friends to the disease.
“I want to show you my hero – my mom,” she said before showing the audience a video illustrating her mother’s declining health.
As the video ran, Pasqua informed the audience that her mother could not speak for the last three weeks of her life.
When she died, Pasqua said it was “such a relief to see that suffering over.”
The point Pasqua stressed was “don’t live this disease by the stereotype.” The assumption that AIDS strikes only homosexuals and drug users is false, she said.
Pasqua’s stepfather received the HIV virus from an experimental treatment for Hepatitis B carriers and passed it to her mother.
Neither of them would tell anyone what was happening to them.
At the time, having AIDS was akin to being a leper – patients would be shunned and many people would not associate with them for fear of contracting the virus themselves.
“Secrets are not healthy. We can heal when we can share,” Pasqua said.
She also discussed HIV’s original reputation as “the gay plague,” and told the audience that funeral directors would wear HAZMAT suits to take away the bodies of AIDS victims early in the disease’s history.
One story Pasqua told was about a mother having to go to the funeral parlor and dress her son in a suit because the funeral home would not touch him.
Pasqua also informed the audience that New Jersey has the highest rates of heterosexual AIDS and pediatric AIDS.
There were 45,000 new cases last year.
She also explained the difference between being HIV-positive and having full-blown AIDS.
If a person’s blood has 200 or fewer T-Cells, he or she has AIDS, and if he or she has more than that, he or she is HIV-positive.
“I think that a lot of times, young people have the mentality that they’re invincible and that AIDS can’t or won’t happen to them.” Hernandez said.
“Elaine’s program serves as a reality-check that helps people realize that AIDS doesn’t affect a certain kind of person. It affects us all.”
However, the afternoon was not all morbidly serious.
Pasqua led an activity where the audience engaged in a simulated “fluid transfer” to symbolize sex and demonstrate the spread of HIV.
She educated the audience about safer forms of sex: abstinence (which Pasqua said encouraged creativity), protected sex (“Don’t be a fool, wrap your tool”) and masturbation.
Pasqua taught her audience how to put a condom on with beer goggles by strapping them onto a volunteer and instructing her using an electric blue dildo, to the surprise and amusement of the audience.
Pasqua also sang two songs about masturbation (one for men, one for women) to the audience.