Spear forum commemorates AIDS struggle

Though a champion for HIV-positive Americans has died, the struggle to educate the public about the disease continues Monday night at the University of Minnesota. A lecture series, sponsored by the Minnesota AIDS Project , will be holding its first forum after the death of openly homosexual Minnesota state senator and longtime professor Allen Spear, whom the series was named after six years ago. A professor at the University and a voice in the state Legislature for over a quarter century, Spear fought for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered rights and political equality, Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, speaker at Monday’s lecture, said. âÄúHis entire career was spent advocating for those who had no voice,âÄù Dibble said. Now the Minnesota AIDS Project is trying to keep those voices heard though HIV-positive lecturers, or experts on how AIDS affects anything from entertainment to courts of law. David Folkens , spokesman for the Minnesota AIDS Project, said though the series is about current topics in AIDS education and prevention, it will now take on a âÄúspecial meaningâÄù after SpearâÄôs death. From early on, Spear pushed non-discriminate legislation, and later in life he supported the fight against AIDS with his teaching, Folkens said. âÄúWhenever the issue came up he was completely supportive,âÄù Folkens said. The lecture falls on the 20th World AIDS Day, and during a year when the Minnesota AIDS Project is celebrating its 25-year anniversary. The University is also holding a âÄúShades of Red HIV/AIDS Awareness Week,âÄù which features different lectures around campus. But besides celebrating a leaderâÄôs life and the projectâÄôs history, the Spear series addresses other, serious aspects of HIV and AIDS, such as a growing number of people diagnosed HIV positive. Because AIDS-fighting medications are improving, disease carriers are living longer, increasing the chance the disease will spread, Folkens said. Dibble is also concerned with public apathy for the disease, which, regardless of medication, still negatively affects over a million people nationwide . Worldwide, there are 56,000 new infections each year, and this number is on the rise, especially among people 29 and younger, Folkens said. A 2007 study conducted by Boynton Health Service reported .2 percent of University students have been diagnosed with AIDs in their lifetime; that translates to 88 students . Dibble said the largest problem AIDS education programs face is public indifference to the disease. Folken said knowledge is integral to combating AIDS in an environment with medication that is keeping carriers alive longer. âÄúThereâÄôs no silver bullet coming in the next few years,âÄù he said. âÄúI would be happy to be unemployed, if we have the cure and thereâÄôs no need for the Minnesota AIDS project.âÄù Monday’s lecture will be held at 7 p.m. at the Lockhart Auditorium.