Durango’s LGBTQ community will be provided an outlet to safely discuss, process and even laugh about a difficult subject: HIV, the immunodeficiency virus that can lead to AIDS.
The Yay! Foundation, a nonprofit that helps LGBTQ people struggling with mental health issues, will host a workshop in Durango that features comedy as a way to help reduce stigmas about HIV and to empower those who may be affected.
The comedy and free-thought workshop will be held Nov. 28 to Nov. 30 at Fort Lewis College’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, starting at 6:30 p.m. each day. On Dec. 1, the participants will perform live at the FLC Student Union’s Vallecito Room.
There will also be a “Giggles & Glitter” fundraiser at 7 p.m. Dec. 2 at the FLC Student Union Ballroom to honor World Aids Day. Money raised will go toward another agency that helps those impacted by HIV.
A Durango drag performer who goes by the stage name Aria PettyOne said the city loves comedy and that the event will serve as a “great intersection” between adding humor and discussing a serious topic.
“A lot has changed since the (old) perception of what HIV was back in the day,” PettyOne said, adding the stigma shouldn’t be as intense because today’s medications and other treatments allow HIV-positive people to live normal lives.
Comedian Aidan Park, co-founder and co-executive director of the Yay! Foundation, said he had done a similar comedy show in Montana, where Marines affected by post-traumatic stress disorder who were in the audience were able to relate to the stigma of being HIV-positive.
“Comedy has the power to connect people that you would never imagine,” he said. “I love the power of comedy, and I love the power that the comedy affords people to be vulnerable. We can laugh and have a good time, and people feel less alone. I think it’s a really beautiful thing.”
Ben Gross, a producer with the Yay! Foundation, said comedy and drag entertainment in general have an “orbital” way of bringing people together in “very vulnerable moments.”
“With comedy, it makes vulnerability a lot more approachable,” he said. “I think you can say the same thing with drag (shows), to be honest with you.”
PettyOne, who already does improvisational and stand-up comedy shows every June, said Durango is a “very open” and “forward-thinking” community and will be a good location to host the occasion.
“We do have marginalized communities here,” PettyOne said. “We have trans people here, we have people of color.”
To buy tickets or for more information about the workshop, visit thealliance.gay/wad.
Editor’s note: A previous version of the article incorrectly stated Ben Gross’s role with the Yay! Foundation. He is a producer, not the co-founder.