Light a candle for compassion |

Light a candle for compassion

SUMMIT COUNTY – There are a lot of misconceptions about HIV and AIDS. Despite what many believe, the disease does not affect only male homosexuals. And, people in Summit County are not immune.

In fact, Summit County has the highest incidence of HIV infections per capita in Colorado, outside of the Front Range, according to Summit County Public Health officials.

“I think people in Summit County are unaware that it does exist here – when, in reality, it does exist,” said Frank Accosta, president of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

People of both genders and all races and ages can get the disease.

“Globally, 50 percent of the HIV/AIDS cases are among women,” Accosta said. “Most of whom are heterosexual (and) most of whom have been infected by their husbands.”

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Web site, Caucasians make up more than 72 percent of Colorado’s total AIDS cases. Hispanics follow with 15 percent. While the age range of patients is from newborns to senior citizens, the highest percentage is between the ages of 25 and 49, statistics show.

Today is World AIDS Day. Though people around the world have recognized the day for years now, this may be the first time it has been emphasized in Summit County.

“This is the first time (PFLAG has) done anything with World AIDS day,” said Accosta, who has organized a candlelight vigil for tonight in Frisco’s Historic Park. “The focus of the vigil will be to remember and honor those who have died and those who are living with HIV – also, to enlighten individuals about the stigma and discrimination attached to the disease.”

The stigma of HIV and AIDS helps perpetuate the spread of the disease, he said.

“There’s still a lot of shame attached,” Accosta said.

That shame prevents some people from getting tested, and they unknowingly continue to spread the virus, he said. Many are afraid to disclose their status for fear they will lose friends, family, jobs and housing because of the resulting discrimination. And, by not disclosing their status, many patients are unable to get the help they need.

Accosta said he hopes to fight the stigma and discrimination of HIV/AIDS by increasing awareness in Summit County.

Part of Shanna Koenig’s job with Summit County’s Youth and Family Services is to educate and raise awareness of the disease in the community. Seventh graders who take the middle school’s “Healthy Choices” class in December will learn more about HIV and AIDS, as well as students of Summit High School’s first-year health class.

But that is not enough.

“It increases prevention when everyone is talking about it – when it’s not just being taught in the classroom, but it’s awareness throughout the community,” Koenig said, adding that people in Summit County do get HIV and AIDS.

HIV and AIDS is still prevalent across the world and affects people of all races and backgrounds. And Summit County is not immune.

“This disease transcends gender boundaries and socio-economic boundaries,” Accosta said. “So you can have the poor junkie, or the daughter of a rich family. Everybody is susceptible, so we need to reach everybody.”

Accosta has 50 candles for Sunday night’s vigil, will likely be thrilled if he runs out.

“I am hoping all ages and all walks of life (will come to the vigil),” he said.

Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or

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