Several times each month, Memphis Gaydar will feature Q&As with LGBT Memphians and their allies who are making a difference. This week's installment features Kim Daugherty, the executive director of the Friend for Life, which helps people with HIV/AIDS get access to education, housing, food, transportation and healthy life skills training.
Flyer: In a nutshell, what does Friends for Life do?
Daugherty: Friends For Life is a nonprofit organization that supports persons living with HIV/AIDS. Our two main goals are to reduce opportunistic infections in persons living with HIV/AIDS in by assisting them to become medically adherent and remain medically adherent and to reduce and prevent homelessness for persons living with HIV/AIDS.
FFL is the oldest such organization in the south, right? How did it get started?
In the '80s, many people in our community were dying of AIDS. Their friends banned together to assist them to die with dignity, and Friends For Life evolved from that effort. Today, with the invention of powerful drugs that fight the HIV virus people are living long and prosperous lives. We are here to support them.
When FFL was launched, HIV/AIDS was still considered a "gay disease." How have organizations like FFL helped moved past that stigma?
Although many have thought of HIV/AIDS as a “gay disease,” this has never really been the case. This belief developed early on in the epidemic as many of those identified as being infected were gay men. However, we know factually that by the early '90s half of all new infections were children born to mothers who were infected by HIV/AIDS. Fortunately today, very few children in our community are born with HIV/AIDS due to medications and medical procedures used during delivery. Unfortunately, living with HIV/AIDS in our country still carries a great deal of stigma. People tell me regularly that family has asked them to leave their home, or they are rejected by their church family after their HIV/AIDS diagnoses. We are here to help people overcome that sort of experience. We assist them in rebuilding their self-esteem and self-worth so they will care for themselves.
Do you think there's still work to do in educating people about how HIV/AIDS in contracted?
Tons of work is needed to reduce the stigma of living with HIV/AIDS in our community. People really have not gotten the message that HIV is simply a virus. It is transmitted in very specific ways — exchange of blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and mother’s breast milk. You cannot contract HIV through casual contact such as using the restroom after someone, drinking after them, or using the phone after them. Universally accepted HIV testing could really help reduce the stigma associated with HIV.
Do you think the fact that people know now that HIV is manageable might be causing some people to be more reckless?
I occasionally hear younger people say things that let me know that they are not fully informed about HIV/AIDS. Although it is true that HIV is a more manageable, long-term illness than ever before, I must say that we should all do what we can to avoid contraction of the virus. The medications that are taken can have some serious side effects that make them difficult for many to tolerate. Living with a virus that is working full-time to weaken your body and allow infections to invade your systems is something no one should have to live with. The medications designed to fight HIV literally are destroying the virus produced by your body.
Homeless people are at a huge risk for contracting HIV/AIDS. Why is that?
People who are homeless generally have a lack of access to health care, in particular preventative health care, such as HIV testing. They have poor health outcomes and are at risk for early death.
What is FFL doing to combat that?
Friends For Life, in partnership with the City of Memphis, Community Alliance for the Homeless, the United Way and other community partners, are working together to bring housing resources to the community to assist in combating this problem. We believe in housing first — get people off the street and help them work on their problems.
Some people only know of FFL through the huge Halloween party they throw every year. How did that get started?
The agency used to throw a huge party at the end of its "A Place at the Table" party season, and this evolved into the Halloween party. It is a spectacularly fun event that raises between $30,000 and $40,000 annually for the agency.
Enough about serious stuff, what did you eat for breakfast this morning?
I confess I don’t eat breakfast every day. A couple of my favorite breakfast foods are the almond poppy seed pastry at La Baguette and the turkey and egg white flatbread from Dunkin Donuts.
What's your idea of a fun weekend?
I really enjoy going to the Farmers Market and to the Arcade for breakfast on Saturday morning. Sunday mornings, I like to read the paper and watch a movie on TV. I am a huge sports fan so any opportunity to catch the game is great. I love the Grizzlies!!!
Favorite thing about Memphis?
I love Memphis. People here are generous and want to help others. I love that about us!
Last movie you watched in the theater?
Skyfall. I love James Bond. I want all those spy gadgets Q invents for him.