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Peer Counseling Perspectives
The Foundation

By Mary Lynn Hemphill, L.M.S.W.

November/December 2003

Mary Lynn Hemphill, L.M.S.W.

AIDS Survival Project is fifteen years old. In that time, treatment of HIV has changed dramatically, the political climate has shifted several times and the "face of AIDS" has become more often that of a person of color. At ASP, the Treatment Resource Center has grown from a single file cabinet to an HIV-focused library containing over 450 volumes, plus Internet access. Operation Survive! has evolved into THRIVE! Weekend. Peer counselors routinely handle calls from people on disability who are trying to figure out how to go back to work after an AIDS diagnosis instead of calls requesting referrals to hospice care. Through all the changes, ASP has maintained this mission:

We are diverse people living with HIV, united to promote self-empowerment and enhanced quality of life for HIV-affected individuals through advocacy, education, peer support and treatment activism.

Responsiveness to medical and social change has been timely because it has come directly from the people whose lives and needs were changing. Barriers to using services remain almost nonexistent. People from all walks of life learn to become expert partners in managing their health. The philosophy that has been so effective in allowing this agency to remain relevant, powerful and responsive is found in a manifesto drafted in 1983 called the Denver Principles. The Denver Principles were written by a group of AIDS activists early in the epidemic, at a time when little was known about HIV infection and physicians and researchers were not used to working with "patients" who demanded to be true partners in their medical care.

In the struggle to fight discrimination and marginalization, the Denver Principles are still a guiding force. They inform what ASP does in every aspect of the organization, every program and every advocacy effort. They feel no less radical today than they did twenty years ago, which speaks to the unique social stigma that still inhibits testing, prevention, disclosure and access to treatment. On this fifteenth anniversary of ASP, adequate funding for HIV/AIDS care and prevention continues to be in jeopardy and HIV names reporting in Georgia is proposed to take effect on January 1, 2004. It's worth being reminded of the principles that guided the people who founded AIDS Survival Project.


The Denver Principles

Recommendations for All People

We recommend that all people:

  1. Support us in our struggle against those who would fire us from our jobs, evict us from our homes, refuse to touch us or separate us from our loved ones, our community or our peers, since available evidence does not support the view that AIDS can be spread by casual, social contact. (Remember that HIV and the first proof that AIDS was an infectious disease would not be discovered for two more years.)

  2. Not scapegoat people with AIDS, blame us for the epidemic or generalize about our lifestyles.

We recommend that people with AIDS:

  1. Form caucuses to choose their own representatives, to deal with the media, to choose their own agenda and to plan their own strategies.

  2. Be involved at every level of decision-making and specifically serve on the boards of directors of provider organizations.

  3. Be involved in all AIDS forums with equal credibility as other participants, to share their own experiences and knowledge.

  4. Substitute low-risk sexual behaviors for those that could endanger themselves or their partners. We feel that people with AIDS have an ethical responsibility to inform their potential sexual partners of their health status.


Rights of People With AIDS

The Foundation
People with AIDS have the right:

  1. To as full and satisfying sexual and emotional lives as anyone else.

  2. To quality medical treatment and quality social service provision without discrimination of any form based on sexual orientation, gender, diagnosis, economic status or race.

  3. To full explanations of all medical procedures and risks, to choose or refuse their treatment modalities, to refuse to participate in research without jeopardizing their treatment and to make informed decisions about their lives.

  4. To privacy, confidentiality of medical records, to human respect, and to choose whom their significant others are.

  5. To die and to LIVE in dignity.




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