January/February #151 : Bear With Him - by James Wortman

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Letters - Jan/Feb 2009

Bear With Him


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January / February 2009

Bear With Him

by James Wortman

Dab Garner’s relationship with AIDS began in 1981 when the disease was still known as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency) and few knew what the mysterious virus was and why it was spreading.

In the early days, hospitals hesitated to allow visitors into GRID patients’ rooms. Unable to personally console his friends hospitalized with the disease, Garner found another way to comfort them: He sent each and every one a stuffed teddy bear—an appropriate gesture because he identifies as a “bear.” In the LGBT community, bears typically share the physical characteristics of their animal namesake, including hairiness and visible masculinity.

“It was natural to give bears to my friends in the hospital, to give them some sort of comfort or joy by at least having something next to them that they could hug,” says Garner, now 46, who was himself diagnosed with HIV in 1982.

Garner continued to comfort his HIV-positive loved ones with teddy bears through the years as his AIDS activism took him from California, where he first volunteered at AIDS Project Los Angeles in the 1990s; to Washington, DC, where he participated in crucial clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and to Jacksonville, Florida, where he helms the Dab the AIDS Bear Project as its founder and CEO. Since 2004, the grassroots organization has worked to correct disparities in the Ryan White CARE Act and eliminate the unnecessarily long—and sometimes deadly—waits for medication under the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).

“In this day and age where we send billions [of dollars] to other countries, we need to be taking care of our own first,” says Garner, who was recently voted Trailblazer of the Year by Jacksonville ASOs. “I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be helping other countries, but when we have an American citizen dying from AIDS without access to medications, that’s just wrong.” Garner feels it is his
responsibility to help right those wrongs.

A testament to this new era of cooperative AIDS activism, Garner has teamed up with the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons (AARP) for their Divided We Fail campaign, which aims to ensure affordable, quality health care and financial security for all Americans.

Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign season, Divided We Fail pushed both national and local candidates to pledge that they would address the issues of health care and financial security, both of which are essential to those battling chronic illnesses such as HIV.

With Barack Obama headed to the White House, Garner is confident that many of those promises will be honored. He looks forward to working with our new commander in chief to keep AIDS on the agenda.

“[I was] so fortunate to meet our president-elect during the campaign. I heard his words and his passion,” Garner says, “I do believe he will work to ensure a better America for all of us. It is going to take time and a lot of hard work to get our great country back on solid ground, but I feel Americans made the right decision.”     

For more information on the Dab the AIDS Bear Project, visit dabtheaidsbearproject.com.

Editor's Note: The web address above has been corrected.

Search: Dab Garner, AARP, Dab the AIDS Bear, Barack Obama, Divided We Fail

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  comments 1 - 5 (of 5 total)    

Diane, Florida, 2009-01-30 02:23:19
What impresses me about Dab is his work with the children and his teddy bear events for them. The joy and laughter of the children at the events and the way his group works so hard making the event special for them bring tears to your eyes. Without his help this year, I would not have been able to afford presents for my kids. It takes all my income to provide shelter, food and medical expenses for me and my child. God bless him.

L. Marshall, florida, 2009-01-28 18:41:12
POZ thank you so much for featuring Mr. Garner talking about HIV and AIDS. I owe that man our lives. I found his website on the internet a few days after finding out that I was HIV+. I was scared and didn't know what to do. When I contacted his organization even though we had never met, Dab took weeks helping me find emergency help in my area from me and my child. We would not be alive today without his help. God bless you Dab Garner. We need more men like you in the world.

Gary Higo, Jacksonville, 2009-01-28 01:45:28
I can not say enough great things about the work Dab Garner does not only in the southeast but also on a national level for those on the ADAP waiting lists. By working with AARP and other organizations, Dab helps insure people with HIV and AIDS and those on disability with other chronic conditions have a chance at hope and dignity. Not to mention all the children with HIV and AIDS helped by his Teddy Bear Touchdowns. We need more men like him in the world.

Chenita Williams, Jacksonville, 2009-01-22 08:13:24
What a nice article. Thumbs up to Dab. He is such a gem to our Northeast Florida Community. He continues to fight for all who are infected or affected with HIV/AIDS. Much love and support to you!!!

Dab Garner, Jacksonville, 2009-01-16 20:47:25
Thanks for the great article about my work and AARP/Divided We Fail. I do need the name of my project website changed to www.dabtheaidsbearproject.com. Thanks Big bear hug, Daddy Dab

comments 1 - 5 (of 5 total)    

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