Terrence Chappell serves as editor-at-large for ChicagoPride.com where he writes Chappell Confidential, a social and nightlife column. He grew up and still resides in Chicago's Auburn Gresham neighborhood and remains active in the LGBT community. Chappell founded Professional Young Gays (P.Y.G.), a social and business networking initiative designed to connect young, business-minded gay men and women.
Rhett Lindsay has been an instrument for change and compassion for the HIV/AIDS community in both his professional and personal life. His passion has led him to work on fundraising initiatives such as Test Positive Aware Network's (TPAN) edgy burlesque show Chicago Takes Off and the organization's Ride for AIDS Chicago. Most recently, Lindsay has transitioned from managing burlesque dancing for a cause to more cuisine inspired fundraising efforts such as the World of Chocolate as AIDS Foundation of Chicago's new fundraising events manager.
In this conversation with ChicagoPride.com, Lindsay shares his tenacity and drive for HIV/AIDS, how we are all connected to the cause, and why he would love to see everyone jogging in high heels down the street.
TC: (Terrence Chappell) What brought you to Chicago?
RL: (Rhett Lindsey) I had an internship here the summer before I graduated in college. It was in marketing and public relations.
TC: Has HIV/AIDS fundraising always been an interest of yours?
RL: I'm really involved in the fundraising efforts behind HIV and AIDS as well as the LGBT efforts. I kind of fell into this accidentally, but it was for the good because HIV/AIDS is definitely something I'm passionate about and that I do want to concentrate in throughout my life.
TC: How has the fundraising efforts been?
RL: I have been working with fundraising efforts first with Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN) and now with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago since 2006. With the recession it has definitely changed over the past five years. We have to be more creative in different ways to fundraise for the organizations.
TC: Creative how?
RL: Well, I've been in my position with the AIDS Foundation since the end of April, so I'm excited to work with the plan that has been put in place here. However, with TPAN, I worked heavily on Chicago Takes Off, which is in its sixth year. So, I assisted in helping to create Chicago Takes Off as well as growing the ride for AIDS Chicago while at TPAN.
TC: How was it working with TPAN?
RL: Actually, a friend of mine was the director of fundraising events here at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and he learned of an open position at TPAN. He connected me with the organization and I started there August of 2006.
TC: What attracts you to HIV/AIDS fundraising?
RL: I think it's more about helping people. I do see a direct result from my efforts and the efforts of the organizations by helping people to live happier and healthier lives. So, I do see the direct impact of not only our efforts but the efforts of the community and what they want to do. This includes volunteers for the event. If they aren't able to afford a ticket price, they can definitely volunteer at an event. So they do make a larger impact on the community as a whole. I've learned that everyone has a different story. They are impacted in different ways or they just want to be apart of the efforts in helping people living with HIV and AIDS.
TC: How has HIV/AIDS impacted you?
RL: Well I have many friends and family who have been diagnosed HIV positive. It's not only the people living with the disease but also people who are seeking resources about it. Whether it's testing or just understanding medications, navigating the bureaucracy of the system to receive service. Again, it goes back to everyone has a different story. Even here at the AIDS Foundation , one of our efforts is called Change The Story, which is about bringing those resources to people, making sure they are aware of their status, reaching out and linking them to healthcare.
TC: Over the years, how do you think the climate of HIV/AIDS has changed?
RL: Well with the element of more effective medication, people are living longer. So, the impact of HIV isn't as prevalent as it used to be generations ago. That being said, people are now facing newer challenges with HIV and AIDS in that the medications are incredibly expensive, understanding what the disease is doing in their bodies, working with their healthcare providers, and seeking healthcare providers who know more about the disease.
TC: How do you think the city is dealing with HIV/AIDS research and fundraising?
RL: The city has really stepped up their efforts in trying to understand HIV and AIDS a little better and help people receive the care that they need, while also trying to prevent new infections. This goes along with the president's HIV strategy and healthcare reform.
TC: How can people help on the ground level?
RL: Many of the AIDS services in Chicago utilize volunteers in day-to-day activities such as staffing their front desk, helping at events, doing prevention and outreach in bars, bath houses and festivals. There are always volunteer opportunities throughout the city.
TC: Does the AIDS Foundation of Chicago work with other HIV/AIDS focused organizations?
RL: The mission of the AIDS Foundation is to give back to the community. We have a council, the service provider's council, made up of about 160 organizations that have efforts to educate people about HIV and AIDS or prevention efforts that we work with. Many of those receive grants from our organization as well.
TC: How was it working on the AIDS walk?
RL: I can say that it truly encompasses a community. People shared the effort in educating people one HIV and AIDS, and to keep those in memory who have lost their battle to HIV and AIDS. Once again, it goes back to everyone has their own story to the epidemic.
TC: How would you describe your connection?
RL: I'm just so involved with the LGBT community. I have friends that are impacted by the epidemic, so I'm connected to it. Naturally, that's been one of the number one things that I need to contribute to, whether it be professionally or personally.
TC: What are some upcoming events that the AIDS Foundation of Chicago has planned?
RL: The World of Chocolate is coming up. World's AIDS Day, which is December 1.
TC: What can people expect this year from the World of Chocolate event?
RL: The format is very similar to last year. There will be between 30 and 35 chocolate vendors. There will various chocolatiers from around the city that will be providing samples to the attendees.
TC: Are you a chocolate fan?
RL: I am (laughs). I have to say that I'm partial to the Ghiradelli dark chocolate raspberry squares.
TC: How is your work different from the AIDS Foundation of Chicago then when you were at TPAN?
RL: Well the events are larger at the AIDS Foundation but very similar. For instance, at TPAN I was in charge of the Ride for AIDS Chicago. Now, it's the RUN and WALK Chicago at the AIDS Foundation. Chicago Takes Off was the big theatrical burlesque event. Now, at AIDS Foundation, that event would be the World of Chocolate. And then, for 2012, the AIDS Foundation will be hosting a dinner in late March.
TC: What kind of events does Rhett want to do?
RL: It's kind of a ripe off but I would love to do some sort of high hell race. I think that would be a lot of fun.
TC: How have you been adapting to your new role at the AIDS Foundation?
RL: Honestly, I'm still trying to figure that out. I've only been here for only a few months. I'm still executing their events for 2011 but I think 2012 will help determine our long-term goals.
TC: What attracted you to work for the AIDS Foundation?
RL: The events really attracted me to this position and the similarity to what I was doing at TPAN. Of course World of Chocolate was the very first event I attended that the AIDS Foundation of Chicago planned back in 2005. I just really felt that the AIDS Foundation's events attracts all different types of people from the community and all over the city that really come together for the cause.
TC: As far as HIV/AIDS fundraising, are there any specific communities in the LGBT population that should be targeted immediately for funds?
RL: I look at it from the inside out and say all of them. The recession has really forced organizations to be creative in their fundraising efforts and to develop better fundraising plans. Rather that is working more with foundations or city government.
Chocolate lovers are invited to satisfy their sweet tooth and commemorate World AIDS Day at World of Chocolate, AIDS Foundation of Chicago's 10th annual winter soiree on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011. (Event Details)