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Kevin's Room notes 15 years of Black HIV/AIDS awareness
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2017-02-22

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National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Feb. 7 saw a celebration of the 15th Anniversary of the release of the film Kevin's Room.

The event was held at the Baton Show Lounge in Chicago's River North neighborhood.

Hosted by the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus alongside event sponsors the Chicago Department of Public Health, the evening was as much a joyous look back on the making of the groundbreaking work as it was a sobering look at the exploration of the challenges still faced by the Black gay and queer community around which the narrative of the profound, funny and deeply moving drama is based.

A capacity audience filled the Baton Show Lounge to enjoy a repeat screening of Kevin's Room as well as a reunion with the cast and filmmakers. Free HIV/AIDS testing and Meningitis vaccinations were also available.

A panel discussion moderated by Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus Executive Director Erik Elias Glenn featured Kevin's Room writer, Executive Producer and former Chicago Department of Public Health Office of Lesbian and Gay Health Director Lora Branch, Kevin's Room producer/director Sharon Zurek and star Keith Butler ( Kevin ).

"We didn't have much messaging for Black gay people," Branch said recalling the genesis of the film. "I'd been in the HIV field since 1991 and I would have to fight to get resources and attention for Black gay men whose [infection] numbers had started to skyrocket. But there was so much homophobia and stigma. I figured we could pool resources together and do something that people would be interested in."

"I was very fortunate to have dealt with the struggle of sexuality and spirituality a long time ago," Butler said before noting that he has since found a family in the Lighthouse Church of Chicago. "This film has been an amazing part of my life. It was written to be relevant and on things that people were talking about but were afraid to have an open discussion."

"This really could have been a continuous series of stories," Zurek said while asserting that she felt "incredibly lucky" to be a part of Kevin's Room.

"The reason we made Kevin's Room with an Afterschool Special feel was so that we could show it on a Sunday night to a mainstream audience who would not turn away," Branch said. "We achieved that goal. There was an estimated 200,000 people who saw it the night that it aired."

"What we did mattered and had an impact on our community," Butler said. "Because of our film, the conversation within the African American community about HIV/AIDS started to form in groups in homes and in churches."

For more information about the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, visit ChiBlackGayCaucus.org .


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