While the AIDS epidemic is still a concern for the queer community of Utah, there are now established organizations and options to help people that test positive for HIV and provide preventative resources. From the Utah AIDS Foundation to the People With AIDS Coalition of Utah, there are a variety of avenues to find assistance. However, these organizations were not always in place, and the pioneers of these groups faced extreme funding and social pressures to get them off the ground.
Ben Barr, who is receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Pride Festival, was one of the key proponents in helping combat the disease. He led several organizations, including the AIDS Project of Utah and the Salt Lake AIDS Foundation, which soon merged into the Utah AIDS Foundation that serves the state today. In 1993, he received the Kristen Ries Award, which is given annually to someone in the community who demonstrates a commitment to equality. The award is considered the most prestigious in the community and he was given the honor for his work in combating the AIDS epidemic in Utah.
“AIDS brought about a lot of changes to the gay scene. I think the one that many people forget or can’t understand if they didn’t live through it is how fear and suffering changed our lives,” Barr told QSaltLake in a 2010 interview. “We lost a generation of some of the most talented and extroverted members of our community. The epidemic changed those of us who provided care. To put it bluntly, you can’t change the diapers of people you love without learning a lot of lessons about love, patience and about a different kind of intimacy.”
Along with his extensive involvement with different AIDS projects, in 1996 he was Salt Lake Valley Health Department’s HIV/AIDS manager until 1999, during which time he also helped to found the Utah Harm Reduction Coalition (now known as the Intermountain Harm Reduction Project) — a group that still works with HIV in intravenous drug use and with people involved in prostitution.
The impact Barr and other people involved in fighting the AIDS crisis is still felt today and the work he performed has had a lasting impact on Utah’s queer community. He will be recognized, along with his sister, Roseanne Barr, at the Grand Marshal reception on June 3.