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Hampton Roads restaurants raise money for HIV education, prevention

More than 50 restaurants in Hampton Roads are participating in Dine Out for Life on April 25 to benefit the LGBT Life Center. (Photo via Shutterstock)
More than 50 restaurants in Hampton Roads are participating in Dine Out for Life on April 25 to benefit the LGBT Life Center. (Photo via Shutterstock)


http://assets.whro.org/THURSDAY DINE OUT FINAL MIX.mp3

For one night, restaurants in Hampton Roads will participate in the national Dine Out for Life fundraiser to raise money for HIV education and outreach.  

The national fundraiser started in 1999. Locally, it benefits the LGBT Life Center, which sends ambassadors to restaurants to greet patrons and offer information about the services provided   there, including   HIV testing and education. 

Staci Walls is director of the LGBT Life Center, which began 35 years ago focused specifically on serving people with AIDS.

“Back in 2011, we expanded our mission a bit and we became a LGBTQ community center that provides HIV services,” she said.  

“HIV is still the core of services that  we provide but we also … want to work with people before they become HIV positive … so  you know we work a lot in our prevention programs to make sure people stay healthy.”

In Hampton Roads, more than 7,500 people are HIV positive. Treatment, awareness, and advancement in preventive measures has helped control its spread and make it a manageable condition.  

In addition to the money raised, Staci Walls said that dine out for life creates a new  awareness about HIV and the services provided by the LGBT  Life Center.

“The exposure and the awareness to HIV during this event really renews the commitment to it,” Walls said. “The Center has been the largest HIV community provider for years (so) it’s also really important to tell people that it’s incredibly important to support.”

In its early days, when the Life Center started, HIV and AIDS created a devastating epidemic. 

Early mention of the disease was found in the local gay newspaper “Our Own” in 1981 with an article about  a new strain of pneumonia targeting gay men.   

By the mid 1980s, there was a full-blown pandemic. 

That’s when a group  known as the Tidewater AIDS Crisis Task  Force, or TACT, formed as it came to grips with the way AIDS ravaged the community.

“There were multiple organizations at the time,” Walls said. “There were full-circle AIDS hospice support, and CANDII House and even Urban League did a lot of  HIV work back in those days.”

There was also a Williamsburg AIDS Network and Peninsula AIDS Foundation that formed at the height of the epidemic. 

In 2011, The LGBT Center of Hampton Roads opened with a broader focus on health care for marginalized communities. The Center began working with Dine Out for Life in 1999.  

Stephen Hart, a Norfolk resident, has participated in Dine Out for Life in the past and noticed it get more popular. 

He’s participating again this year because he wants to show support in a political climate where LGBTQ rights are being questioned.

“I think part of it is the increase we are seeing in the assault on LBGT rights and particularly against transgender rights, so I think it's really important to show support for the Center and the work they’re doing,” he said. 

To see a list of participating restaurants in Hampton Roads, visit the Dine Out for Life website.