Planning for HIV women's conference under way

Organizers in need of volunteers, donations for annual conference

by Jessica Carreras

The Women Living 2010 conference is coming to Michigan - and organizers are looking for volunteers and donations to help make it happen.

Originally held in Illinois for the past six years, conference planner Barbara Marcotte's move from Chicago to Michigan signaled the annual HIV-positive women's event switch, too. This year, the plan is to hold Women Living in Ypsilanti on Saturday. July 31.

The one-day conference invites women of all ages who are HIV positive to participate in workshops, listen to inspirational speakers, share ideas and connect as a community. The event invites women from Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and any other surrounding states with willing participants.

It's Marcotte's goal for her passion for the event to spread throughout the entire community. "My hope is to motivate the community to take it on and kind of show them the model I used," she said. "From there on, maybe, I'm hoping it can be an annual thing and I'd like to be involved and help out either way."

It's a goal that has already partially been achieved, with planners of the conference hailing from the Michigan Women and AIDS Committee, AIDS Partnership Michigan and the Detroit Health and Wellness Promotion Department. The Oakland/Livingston Human Service Agency is helping to fund the project.

Details for the conference are still in the works, but will include a large variety of workshops with local and national leaders in HIV/AIDS. Workshops will address social, emotional and educational needs of women living with HIV, as well as - Marcotte hopes - inspire them to connect and be active in their communities.

There will also be two speakers, including comedian and motivational speaker River Huston. Huston, a native of Pennsylvania, is an award-winning poet, artist, journalist and activist. She has traveled around the U.S. speaking on such issues as sexuality, HIV/AIDS and self-esteem. She also happens to be HIV positive. "She's hilarious," gushed Marcotte. "She's a woman living with HIV and she's very inspirational."

The other speaker has not yet been confirmed.

Marcotte stressed that the conference will reach out to all facets of living with HIV as a woman, including issues affecting youth and transgender women. Both, she shared, have been tough segments to reach and gain attendance from.

"The CDC defines youth as 13-24, but for our purposes, it would be any woman who's 18 and up and could identify as a 'young woman,'" Marcotte said of the former division of HIV-positive women. "But it's just a population that's really difficult to reach, so we're hoping that if we can get some RSVPs from younger women, we will have some specific workshops for them."

The same, she said, is true for transgender women, who have always been welcome at the Women Living conferences, but haven't had a big turnout.

Marcotte hopes that the stigma of HIV will not stop women from attending, although it's something she's seen as a larger issue in Michigan's HIV-positive community. "In Chicago, we had large groups of women who were active activists and who also disclosed their status," she explained. "

What I see here is that you have a lot more women who are not comfortable disclosing their status and not as much as a network of support services as you have in a larger city. It seems like Michigan is so spread out."

"We're definitely hoping to have them build a sense of community through this conference."

Which brings Marcotte back to the key to community: participation. The Women Living 2010 conference is still in the planning stages, and is in need of volunteers who can contribute in one of several different ways: donations and fundraising, logistics of the event, leading a workshop and even helping with video production for a special segment on inspiration HIV-positive women.

"Basically, (the women) would be filmed telling their stories, and then after their portion of the story, they'd be brought out on stage with a makeover," Marcotte said of the video-based idea. "It was really fun (in past conferences) and that's a part I would love to try and do."

The next conference call for planning the Women Living 2010 conference will be held Feb. 11. To get involved, e-mail BarbaraMarcotte213@gmail.com.

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