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Vegas MPowerment Project promotes HIV/AIDS awareness among young gay men

by Chris Seabury
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Mar 10, 2010

In spite of proposed state budget cuts that could dramatically impact services for Nevadans with HIV/AIDS and prevention efforts, one Las Vegas group has stepped up to fill this potentially significant void.

The Vegas MPowerment Project is an organization that reaches out to young men who have sex with men (MSM) between the ages of 20 and 29. And to help promote safe sex and AIDS/HIV awareness, the organization has sponsored the Vegas Balls 2010.

Event organizers hope to bring together a variety of young gay and bisexual Las Vegans. And this year's event will focus on fun, while ensuring everyone is aware of the dangers of AIDS/HIV.

"Vegas Balls is a way for us to host events in Las Vegas and around the country that will promote safe-sex practices," Joshua Montgomery, project coordinator for the Vegas MPowerment Project, told EDGE. "Because of the recent economic challenges and the sharp cut backs in government funding to different programs, [this] means that the issue of safe-sex could become lost."

Vegas Balls is one of a number of high profile events around the country that continue to help raise awareness of the epidemic-especially among younger MSMs. And in some cases, celebrities, such as Lady Gaga, have voiced their support.

"I have a tremendous relationship with the gay community," she said at a recent event. "When people find out I'm doing this, they say, 'Is it because of your relationship with the gay community, because you want to speak out about AIDS?' And I say no. AIDS is not a gay disease. That's part of what I want to accomplish, to really raise awareness of what AIDS is today."

In spite of this renewed attention, a lack of understanding about how to prevent HIV/AIDS remains a problem.

"For a generation of gay and queer men who have come of age after the emergence of AIDS, the culture of safer sex is part of a parcel of what it means to be sexually active," sociologist Robert Teixeira said. "There is a very strong contemporary tendency to believe that we can completely avoid HIV, purge the sexual field of play from this menace, and operate our sexual lives on this willful blindness."

It's this lack of awareness that continue to prompt the Vegas MPowerment Project and other organizations to continue their work.

"At the various chapters around the country we have a number of different events scheduled to help promote the message of safer sex," Montgomery said. "There are lots of contests, prizes, dancing the chance to socialize with others about what is happening and to learn what you can do to protect yourself. This helps to inform everyone about what the safest practices are, so that we can make a positive impact on the LGBT community in both Las Vegas as well as nationally. You can have fun and be safe at the same time. This is the message that we are stressing to the LGBT community."

Vegas Balls 2010 will take place on Friday, March 19, at the Erotic Heritage Museum (3275 Industrial Road) from 8 - 11 p.m.

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