AIDS Calgary Awareness Association’s party and fundraiser will be held for one night only

Think masks, beads and belly dancers. Imagine fire-eaters, burlesque dancers, a drag show, a contortionist and fortunetellers. All this and more will be at AIDS Calgary Awareness Association’s first annual Mardi Gras event, coming up this Saturday Feb. 25 to celebrate the world-famous carnival event.

“There’s lots of small Mardi Gras events in Calgary but nobody really owns Mardi Gras here,” says Tamrin Heardt, senior development officer at AIDS Calgary. “Le Carnaval Rouge will be the party to be at every year.”

The number of individuals living with HIV and AIDS in Canada continues to rise.
Illustration by: Pauline Zulueta
The 2012 Mardi Gras – Le Carnaval Rouge will also be a fundraising event in support of AIDS Calgary Awareness Association’s multiple programs and services including counseling, nutrition and outreach programs.

However, the event is for all Calgarians to attend and not just for those impacted by HIV or AIDS.

Heardt says educating Calgarians about HIV and AIDS is important because the diseases are often misunderstood.

“Unlike any other chronic illness, HIV carries an unprecedented stigma. This can make people fear and avoid talking about the issue,” Heardt says. “If people aren’t talking about it, there can be no education and no understanding.”

Heardt says she hears many misconceptions about HIV – that there is a cure, for example.

“There is no cure for HIV,” Heardt says, setting the record straight. “The number of people living with HIV and AIDS continue to increase each year.”

In 2002, the Public Health Agency of Canada estimated there were approximately 56,000 Canadians living with HIV or AIDS. By 2008, they estimated that 65,000 Canadians were living with the condition.

Ginette Garnier, emcee for The Rhinestone Affair – a local burlesque troupe performing at the event – says they encourage awareness and education so that, “people don’t have false ideas about HIV and AIDS.”

Garnier says she knows that many people are still afraid to talk to individuals with HIV because they have been misinformed.

“We’re hoping that by being involved in this event, some of our fans actually get exposed to a little more information and can hopefully contribute themselves to AIDS Calgary in some way,” says Garnier, also known as “Miss Gigi.”

Simonne LeBlanc, executive director of AIDS Calgary Awareness Association, says it’s important for everyone to be aware of HIV/AIDS issues because it impacts all Canadians in one form or another.

HIV/AIDS does not just affect the person infected, she says. It also affects family and friends.

Burlesque troupe, The Rhinestone Affair, will be performing at the event. Ginette Garnier, emcee for the troupe, says the group is composed of all natural women who are trying to put forward, “the idea that every woman is beautiful.”
Photo courtesy of William Sturgeon of KatFish Photography
Education, prevention and treatment is also very costly for our society, LeBlanc says.

The Canadian AIDS Society published a report in 2011 which indicated that $1.3 million is needed to support one person infected with HIV.

LeBlanc says, “It has a huge impact on the health care system. Everyone should be concerned that we eliminate or decrease the infection rate (of HIV).”

That said, Heardt says the carnival is not meant to be an awareness event.

“Of course we’ll have condoms and information available to people but this event is a carnival,”

“Le Carnaval Rouge will provide the audience with an evening of unabashed flamboyance and extravagance,” says Heardt.

The 2012 Mardi Gras – Le Carnaval Rouge will be held at The Metropolitan Center on Feb. 25 starting at 7 p.m. You must be over 18 years of age to attend.

For tickets and information, go to aidscalgary.org

pzulueta@cjournal.ca