Jay Lacey has been HIV-positive since he was 15 years old. He has lived through the 30 years of AIDS since AIDS was only an emerging public health issue.
"In those early years, people with AIDS and HIV were dying," said Lacey, "but with new medications, people are able to live longer. There needs to be a different focus on how we look at HIV, even in the HIV-positive community." This new focus includes the way HIV-positive and positive-friendly people socially and romantically interact.
In June of 2011, Lacey started a new HIV-positive and positive-friendly party, CD4-Chicago, that meets the third Thursday of every month 7-10 p.m. at Jackhammer. CD4 is a medical term for a group of glycoproteins associated with regulatory T-cells that the HIV virus uses to gain entry into the T-cell. "I liked calling it CD4, to make it a bit more underground," said Lacey.
The first party met June 16 and had well over 100 attendees. "I called it 'Poz-Box'. It was like 'male box' at Roscoe's. Really this first party was a way to flirt and be social," said Lacey. "Other bars had poz and poz-friendly parties but there was no way to tell who was there for the party and who wasn't."
In order to solve the misidentification problem, Lacey introduced two bracelets that party-goers can choose to wear. A blue bracelet with green lettering indicates the wearer is HIV-positive. A green bracelet with blue lettering indicates the wearer is HIV-positive friendly. "The colors are the same as those from the Test Positive Network ( TPAN ) . Since they are the benefactor of the event it seemed the right thing to do," said Lacey. The bracelet simply states CD4-Chicago with no other identifying or personal information. "The bracelets help make people more approachable," added Lacey.
Lacey was quick to note that the monthly CD4 parties are "not fundraisers". He said, "everything we do is done through sponsorship of the event." Nightspots ( sister publication to Windy City Times ) is a recent sponsor, though currently the primary budgetary resource is Lacey himself.
"I'm paying for everything so far out of pocket. The bracelets. The advertising. Right now, it's just me," he said.
Despite his good intentions, Lacey's concept was met with some adversity. When he originally tried to spread the word about the party to members of HIV-Net, the website's developers flagged Lacey as spam, even after he called to explain who he was. "I tried to tell them that we have limited resources in our community and that when trying to educate and notify the community, why can't we use those limited resources," said Lacey.
Following his issues with HIV-Net, Lacey developed a Facebook fan page. An individual can simply look up "CD4-Chicago" on Facebook. "This is not an advertisement. You don't even have to 'like' the page to view it," said Lacey. "This is currently a social network. It contains the basics of what CD4-Chicago is and when it meets." Lacey said he hoped to have a CD4-Chicago website up in the next eight months and a smart-phone application that would be similar to Foursquare. "People could check-in at a location and see who else, using that app, has also checked-in," said Lacey. "It's a way for poz and poz-friendly people to further interact."
CD4-Chicago has more events planned. The July 21 had a "Minute to Win It"- styled game show. The August 18 event is a question-and-answer game called "One Jay and Five Gays" featuring Lacey as the moderator with five contestants who are each asked 20 questions. The question will range from personal questions about sex, such as the first time they had sex or the strangest place they had sex. "But the last five questions are more personal. We ask questions like when and whether they disclose their HIV status when they meet someone or whether they had sex knowing they were HIV-positive," said Lacey. "These are questions that no one speaks of in an open forum, but we are."
Lacey said he hoped the frank and honest answers will make some subjects less taboo. "Young people have an attitude about AIDS and HIV that is 'If I get it, I get it.' They think it's like being diabetic and it's not at all like having diabetes," said Lacey. The entire CD4 concept is about social networking, creating common bonds and open discussion of those issues most pertinent to the HIV-positive community.
Ultimately, Lacey hopes that the CD4 concept will go national. "I want this to be an identity for the positive community. I want to create an identifiable pattern that goes from city to city smoothly," said Lacey. He wants to make the CD4 party into something that will create a national social network for individuals who are positive and positive-friendly.
For more information about CD4-Chicago, please look them up on Facebook searching for "CD4-Chicago".