Georgia ranks as one of the top five states in the nation to report cases of residents diagnosed with HIV, with 3,020 cases reported in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s latest data.
In 2012, Coastal Health District, which includes Glynn County, saw one of the state’s highest levels of newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases.
The figures, also the latest available, show up to 679 individuals were found with the condition.
Outside of the metro Atlanta area, Glynn County likewise was reported by the CDC as being home to more HIV/AIDS residents than any other county in the state.
Brunswick resident Emmi Shepard Doucette is not willing to stand idly by to watch those numbers climb.
“What is most alarming is that more than 38 percent of new cases in the region were among people ages 20 to 29,” Doucette said. “It is imperative that we continue to highlight this disease, its treatment and its prevention.”
As vice president of the Brunswick chapter of PFLAG, or Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gay individuals, Doucette and the nonprofit awareness organization are working with several community partners to shed light on the AIDS/HIV epidemic.
This October, PFLAG members, officials from the College of Coastal Georgia, staff from the Coastal Health District, Southeast Georgia Health System, Sea Island, Hospice of Golden Isles and a slate of community partners and sponsors are again hosting sections from the internationally celebrated AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Being displayed on Oct. 22-23, this year’s event marks the third time in recent years that a panel from the 54-ton, handmade tapestry will stand on the college’s Brunswick campus as a memorial to more than 94,000 individuals lost to AIDS.
Portions of the AIDS Memorial Quilt have been displayed in various locations throughout the country since 1987 through the NAMES Project Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve and care for the honored quilt. The mission of the foundation, aside from tending to the quilt, is to assist local communities in participating in rotating displays of the memorial to foster healing, raise awareness and inspire action in the war against AIDS and HIV.
PFLAG members also will host a series of events to mark the quilt’s return. During the display’s opening reception on Oct. 22, the organization has arranged for two community advocates to make presentations on the significance of the two-day showcase. Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey and Chaplain Mike Cordle of Hospice of the Golden Isles have signed on to speak. Other guest speakers may be added to the list, Doucette said.
PFLAG members will also host a sponsor celebration the day before the display is unveiled. An evening featuring music, food and a raffle, which includes items such as an overnight stay at The Inn at Sea Island and artwork from Ben West, owner of The Lyman Gallery, is planned for Oct. 21.
“PFLAG Brunswick’s mission, from its inception, has been education and support,” Doucette said. “It is imperative that we educate our children about an epidemic that continues to rage on.”
For Doucette, having the quilt revisit her coastal home is just as much about educating the community about the ongoing community struggle to battle the disease as it is a time for her to celebrate a cherished life lost more than 20 years ago to it.
When Doucette was a teenager, her beloved art teacher was diagnosed with the disease and passed away in the early 1980s.
“At the time of his death, I did not understand the stigma surrounding his death at the height of the epidemic,” Doucette said, noting that the teacher’s life has been marked by a panel on the quilt. That panel will be celebrated further when the display returns to Brunswick next month, she said.
“I am thrilled that we will have (his) panel available at this year’s event, which will be used at the opening ceremony and will be on display throughout the event,” she said. “Many of us grew up hearing about (AIDS and HIV) from multiple sources, and knew at least one person who was affected by the disease in some way. There are many (individuals) today who are simply not aware of how to prevent this disease, treatment options for those infected, and what the quilt itself represents. It is our hope that this event will shed new light on an already bright light in this country’s history.”
The quilt viewing is a free event and will be on display from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 22-23 in the campus center on the college’s Brunswick campus. A closing ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. Oct. 23.
The opening night event, open to the public, will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 21 at Southern Table restaurant in downtown Brunswick.