AIDS support society gets recognition
In an access building beside the skate park, a community organization is quietly winning accolades for its work with people living with HIV and AIDs in the East Kootenay.
ANKORS (AIDS Network Kootenay Outreach and Support Society) was established in 1992. In the past five years the society and its coordinator, Gary Dalton, have received four awards. "It's really neat to do something you love," said Dalton. "Somebody said that if you do something you love, you'll never work a day in your life."
In 2006, ANKORS was recognised as a champion against homophobia by PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays).
The following year it received an "accolaid" from the B.C. Persons With Aids Society for health promotion and harm reduction. "This award is often given to AIDS offices in Vancouver or Victoria where the issues are much more visible," said Dalton. In 2009, Dalton was personally given an outstanding service award by the society. He will have held the position for 12 years in September. And last year, Dalton received the Dorothy Shaw Award for his work on the board of the Options for Sexual Health clinic. "There is such a range of issues I deal with on a daily basis and opportunities to engage with the community in a variety of ways," said Dalton.
According to its website, ANKORS serves people living with or at a greater risk of acquiring HIV, AIDs and Hepatitis C, especially those who have difficulty obtaining services elsewhere because of substance use, mental illness, sexual orientation, gender identity, race and ethnicity, or social barriers. "ANKORS is initially here to provide support for people living with HIV and AIDs. In order to do that effectively, we have to have a community that is safe for people with HIV/AIDs to live in," said Dalton.
The work comes down to one crucial question, said Dalton: "How do we make our communities safe without victimising them even more?"
The key to fighting the stigma is awareness, he added. ANKORS hands out 55,000 condoms a year, and it supports sex education in our schools on sexual decision making and body awareness.
"A lot of younger people practice safe sex shortly after a relationship has started," said Dalton, adding that they have usually had unsafe sex before that point. "At least young people are starting to include (safe sex), but they need to include it sooner and more frequently." Part of ANKORS mission is to encourage discussion about sexual diversity, which in turn will help change discriminatory attitudes.
ANKORS encourages a transgender support group, and every year it takes a van-load of participants to Kootenay Pride Week in Nelson. "We are yet to have an open pride parade in Cranbrook but we are getting close to being able to support those kinds of events," said Dalton. Young people need to see a sexually diverse community, he added.
"There are kids sitting in our schools not seeing sexually diverse role models and they need support." "Suicide among youth is a significant problem and no one can tell how much of an impact sexual diversity has on it," he said.
Advocacy on behalf of people living with HIV and AIDS is a key part of what ANKORS does. "If we can begin to get people used to the idea that HIV lives here and we can be a HIV friendly community, it will go a long way to fighting the stigma," said Dalton.
ANKORS is located at 46 17th Avenue South, Cranbrook, phone 250-426-3383.