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George's LGBTea: Pop-Up Restaurant Staffed With HIV-Positive Employees Aims To Fight Stigma

Photo Credit: Casey House

There are still millions of people living with HIV throughout the world, and unfortunately due to a lack of education and resources, old myths about the virus continue to wreck havoc on peoples’ perceptions of those who are positive.

Fortunately, however, there are organizations that work daily to fight against the narratives of yesteryear in an effort to normalize conversations around HIV and help usher HIV-positive people back into a society they were once ostracized from. For Casey House, this mission became even more clear a week ago when they created a restaurant pop-up staffed only by HIV-positive chefs and staff.

According to People Magazine, “For two days — Nov. 7 and Nov. 8 — people who dined at June’s HIV+ Eatery were served food cooked only by those who have the virus (with a little help and training from chef Matt Basile of the Lisa Marie bar in Toronto). The purpose of the restaurant was to show people that HIV is not as easily transmitted as some may think — and especially not through food.” Casey House sponsored the event, where the chefs made four-course meals at $125 a ticket, for which both days were completely sold out.

According to OUT, The idea was birthed after a survey was conducted by Casey House in Canada, where only half the citizens stated they would eat food cooked by someone they knew was HIV-positive.

In a statement released by the restaurant, they said: "For many people living with HIV, it’s the stigma that hurts the most. June’s HIV+ Eatery is an opportunity to fight stigma with every bite. To come together in a show of love, support and acceptance, and to dispel the myths about HIV that condemn so many to suffer in silence."

The chefs wore “Kiss the HIV+ Cook” and “I got HIV from pasta. Said no one ever,” as ways to fight many of the stigmas that have been placed on people who are HIV-positive.

Joanne Simons, Head of Casey House, stated: “There were a lot of questions about what happens if somebody cuts themselves in the kitchen and they’re HIV-positive. We manage that like anybody would in a kitchen: you make sure you provide first aid, you clean up the area, you throw away whatever has been touched by the blood and you clean the surfaces. We would do that regardless of whether you have HIV or not – that’s just common sense.”

In Canada, there are still seven people diagnosed with HIV per day, a number that has only slightly decreased since the 1980s.

Simons states that When Casey House opened in 1988, its first client was brought to the facility flanked by paramedics in HAZMAT suits. Despite huge advances in treating the disease and better understanding of how it is contracted, much of the stigma of that era still endures today. “I think that there’s still this lingering notion that if I have regular human contact with somebody with HIV, I may contract it – and it is still a death sentence.”

The hopes are for more of these types of pop-ups to open throughout the world as a way to help fight against the discrimination people living with HIV continue to face. Recent reports from the CDC have stated that the virus is virtually non-transmittable for people who are in treatment and verified as having an undetectable viral load. The advancements in technology have made HIV more of a chronic issue over the past 30 years, but old myths and past truths continue to linger beyond their expiration date; so there is still much work to be done.