Engaging on ageism in the LGBT community

By: Jax Kelly, AIDS Funding Collaborative Intern/Guest

Even prior to Pride, it’s been a busy few months of LGBT events. Jax Kelly, an intern with the AIDS Funding Collaborative, has been making the circuit speaking on HIV, ageism, stigma, and dating. His internship with AFC is part of a practicum as a Master of Public Health degree candidate at the online MPH program of the University of Southern California. He has been engaging the Cuyahoga County/Cleveland community to focus on the intersections of older adults generally and the HIV positive population over the age of 50. He is also the new chair of an Ohio Department of Health community committee focused on “Growing Older with HIV.” Jax shares his thoughts on his engagement and service in Cleveland and Chicago.

Raising awareness at Cleveland LGBT Pride

(l. to r., Jax Kelly, Brooke Willis and Bob Bucklew from the CWRU/UH Clinical Trials Group, and Valda Lewis of the LGBT Legacy Project)

At Cleveland LGBT Pride on June 4, I was asked to speak by Bob Bucklew, Community Outreach Coordinator of the CWRU/UH Clinical Trials Group. I shared my thoughts on stigma, PrEP, and HIV Long-term Survivors Awareness Day (June 5). I also visited the Clinical Trials Group tent with Bob and Brooke Willis, Community Educator/Recruiter where they raised awareness about ongoing clinical trials for COVID and HIV. Later I met Valda Lewis of the LGBT Legacy Project who is working on a documentary, “From Where We Stood: AIDS and the Culture Wars.” 

Aging services for the Cleveland LGBT community

In May, I was invited by Emily Muttillo of The Center for Community Solutions to attend a presentation by the SAGE CLE group of the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland about their aging services and programming. Mary Beth Bartholemew (pictured above, center) and Alyssa Roberts (far right) are the program managers for SAGE CLE. Also pictured are Gulnar Feerasta (far left), Director of Programs and Phyllis Harris, (fourth from left) Executive Director of the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland.

One client discussed how he wasn’t prepared for the transition to Medicare and having a portion of his Social Security income go towards his health insurance.

Twenty clients gathered to introduce themselves, hear programming announcements and discuss current issues regarding aging in Cleveland. One client discussed how he wasn’t prepared for the transition to Medicare and having a portion of his Social Security income go towards his health insurance. Another spoke of the challenge of keeping transportation costs down by using public transportation, but having to adjust to instances when he had many bags to carry and multiple stops to do shopping. Covid-19 impacted how frequently they met in-person and whether the Center was open to the public.

The group was not aware of the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging serving Northeast Ohio and a potential date for a presentation by the group was discussed. Collaboration opportunities with other aging groups could be on future agendas. Most of the group felt that the Center was a welcoming location and some visited as frequently as three or more times each week.

Serving Ursuline Piazza for the Yale Day of Service

As a Yale alum (Class of 1984) I participate in the annual Yale Day of Service each May. This year I chose to create a project with Ursuline Piazza, a Cleveland non-profit assisting people living with HIV (UrsulinePiazza.org). Sister Susan Zion (left picture, on the left), Executive Director of Ursuline Piazza suggested a personal and paper products drive.

Many of the clients of Ursuline Piazza use food stamps which help close the food gap, but do not pay for things like toilet paper, deodorant, or cleaning products.

Many of the clients of Ursuline Piazza use food stamps which help close the food gap, but do not pay for things like toilet paper, deodorant, or cleaning products. We were joined by volunteers who donated everything from the bags to the paper towels and other products that filled over 40 bags that were created for distribution to clients. Special thanks to the Yale Alumni Association of Cleveland and the Cleveland AIDS Clinical Trials Unit.

Surviving ageism at CLAW 2022

CLAW is a weekend event in April for members of the Leather community. Participants come from all over the United States, Canada, and other countries for social and educational activities.

My presentation, “Surviving Ageism,” presented examples of ageism, seven signs of age bias in the workplace, and then asked the 20 participants for examples of age bias in our culture. We discussed intersections of ageism with homophobia, transphobia, racism, and sexism, especially in the context of whether folks who had already fought those battles are up to the challenge of combatting ageism.

Participants came up with strategies for fighting ageism including advocating for fair treatment, pushing for age diversity in their communities, socializing with people of different ages, and standing up against ageism when you see it. When standing up against ageism, a popular strategy was to confront it with the question, “Why?” because it can diffuse confrontation and engages both sides in listening and sharing.

Dating, stigma and battling isolation at the 2022 Biomedical HIV Prevention Summit

Photo by Daniel Garza

In April, I had a wonderful opportunity to speak at the afternoon plenary for the first day of the 2022 Biomedical HIV Prevention Summit in Chicago in front of nearly one thousand advocates and public health professionals. Our topic concerned dating apps so after I took the stage with “Let’s Get it On” by Marvin Gaye playing in the background I talked about the stigma older people face on dating apps, being called “Daddy” at 30 years old, and the blessings of not being too gray after 50. I told the audience about my work as the leader of a non-profit geared toward helping long-term survivors of HIV and people aging with HIV called Let’s Kick ASS Palm Springs (LKAPS.org). I recalled the early days of the plague years when the phrase “Silence = Death” was a rallying cry and wondered whether we should update it to “Isolation = Death” because isolation and loneliness creates consequences for people aging with HIV. I spoke about ageism and how older people become invisible. The audience roared after I said, “PEOPLE OVER 50 STILL HAVE SEX!” and that HIV prevention programs need to feature older people in their educational materials.


Later that day I was on a panel with other HIV and aging advocates where I expressed my gratitude to NMAC for helping people like me grow as advocates. I encouraged Summit participants to share what they learned in Chicago with their friends back home. I suggested our next steps should be to participate in community groups focused on aging that have been around longer than HIV/AIDS. We should be writing letters to the editor at AARP Magazine asking for articles addressing HIV and aging. There is a lot we can learn from organizations that have been addressing aging issues for decades.

David “Jax” Kelly, JD, MBA is an intern at the AIDS Funding Collaborative while he is completing his Master in Public Health (MPH) in Health Services and Policy at the University of Southern California. Jax is from Palm Springs, CA where he is President of Let’s Kick ASS Palm Springs (AIDS Survivor Syndrome), a 501(c)3 non-profit providing social connections, HIV and aging education and advocacy to its over 300 members, many who are long-term survivors of HIV. Linkedin.com/in/DavidJaxKelly