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Test Positive Aware marks 30 years
by Vern Hester
2017-10-01

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Test Positive Aware Network ( TPAN ) threw itself a 30th anniversary celebration, "30 Years of Hope," Sept. 28 at Moonlight, 1446 W. Kinzie.

Several of TPAN's founders attended the event, which featured an address by former ACT UP activist Peter Staley. Others spoke about the early days of the organization. the night included live music, a live auction, a raffle, and DJ.

The anniversary kicked off with a small awards ceremony where the founders and longtime supporters of TPAN were awarded for their many years of service. Founders Bernie Brommel and Bill Rydwel greeted peers that they had not seen in years.

Brommel spoke about his personal journey with TPAN, his coming out and his own health battles. He spoke about how his children didn't know what he was doing with his evenings, and how they would often ask, "Did you have a good time, Daddy?" He also spoke about Oprah Winfrey's early involvement in the organization and how TPAN made a strong impact during the height of the early years of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s by creating an atmosphere of friendship and compassion while some other health organizations shunned those who were positive or had AIDS.

The night then moved into festive mode as the near overflow crowd made its way to a large event space and were greeted by Master of Ceremonies Rob Racine.

Through a series of speakers, the history of TPAN unfolded with stories of "the three angels ( massage therapists Lisa Congleton, Hannah Hedrick and Mary Pat Brown who had no problem giving hands-on treatments to individuals with AIDS when at the time many health professionals refused to touch them )"; TPAN founder Chris Clason ( who, once he realized that he had AIDS started the organization by placing an ad in Gay Chicago for other unprepared HIV-positive gay men ); the importance of family and friendship; the critical role of the TPAN drug guide ( which has enabled many newly HIV-positive men to navigate healthcare ); the various off-shoot groups which have aided minorities and other high-risk groups; and the struggle of maintaining a grassroots organization with very few financial resources.

Staley and TPAN CEO Patti Capouch spoke about how the fight is far from over, especially in the shadow of the Trump Administration. Capouch noted that, "It is more important than anything that we keep Chris Clausen's living legacy alive."

With an evening packed with heavy subjects such as AIDS, slashed healthcare budgets, terminal illness and struggle, the night was buoyed by musical performances from Kiki Russell and Molly Farrelly as well as DJ Moose, who provided dance music during intermissions. For the close of the evening, auctioneer Steve Zick led a high-speed, comedic session of bidding on various prizes which included vacation packages, a bourbon collection, and various works of art. By the end of the evening $7,500 had been raised from the auction and raffle.


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