ColumnsHealth & Wellness

AIDS Watch: Following the Example of Advocacy

What you can do to honor two heroes’ legacy.


Kelly McCann

By Kelly A. McCann

Judge John Paul Barnich died of diabetes-related causes on February 2, 2009, at the age of 63. With his death, Houston lost a good friend and a dedicated public servant.  

 Barnich was instrumental in the creation of the High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, and he was the first openly gay man to serve as a city court judge. In addition, he made a lasting impact on HIV/AIDS services in our community.

 For starters, Barnich became a board member at AIDS Foundation Houston in 1984 in the early days of the organization’s existence. Later, as chairman of the board, Barnich further helped to shape AFH and created some of the services it continues to provide today. However, Barnich’s impact extended well
beyond one AIDS service organization.  

 Barnich was a true activist, passionate about his cause and willing to employ humorous, creative, poignant, and even outrageous tactics to convey his message. Once in the early days of the HIV epidemic, Barnich dressed as Death to address city council members about the needs of our citizens who were living with AIDS! Barnich was a role model for other activists, and he will be greatly missed.  

 We lost another advocate and budding crusader in late December 2008 when Glenn (due to confidentiality issues, I have omitted his last name) passed away of AIDS-related pneumonia. Glenn, a former civil engineer, had recently devoted himself full time to volunteer service within the HIV community.  

 Glenn spent many hours per week volunteering at Center for AIDS, and he was slated to serve on the Ryan White Planning Council in 2009. In addition, Glenn was working tirelessly with Ruben Rosas (another local advocate) to investigate and pursue prosecution of God Bless Charities, the bogus nonprofit organization that collects donations on Houston streets. We will miss Glenn and his commitment and enthusiasm.

The recent deaths of John Paul Barnich and Glenn got me thinking about HIV/AIDS advocacy in our community: What is being done to nurture and prepare the next generation of AIDS activists in Houston?

 There is a leadership training program for HIV-positive individuals administered by the Ryan White Planning Council and facilitated by the Center for AIDS called Project L.E.A.P. (Learning, Empowerment, Advocacy, Participation). This comprehensive, 17-week program informs participants about the needs of Houston’s HIV community and services available for persons living with HIV, as well as funding issues, community planning processes, and governmental policy.  

 Through this program, 35 persons per year gain the knowledge and skills needed to shape HIV services and influence the allocations process in the Greater Houston area. Project L.E.A.P. ensures that those living with HIV have a significant voice in determining the future of AIDS care and funding.

 HIV-infected persons interested in Project L.E.A.P. should contact the Center for AIDS at 713/527-8219, or they may apply online by going to

 Since only a few people per year are admitted to Project L.E.A.P., what can the rest of us do to have an impact on HIV/AIDS in our community? The good news is that there are numerous ways one can serve as an HIV advocate. There are many local AIDS service organizations that need volunteers to help with administrative tasks, client service delivery, or special events. Investigate the volunteer opportunities offered and see which ones fit with your personality, interests, and schedule. Then make a phone call and offer the gift of your time. It will be invaluable.

 People may also serve as HIV advocates by getting educated and simply speaking up about this disease. Inform those in your life—family, friends, colleagues, neighbors—about the ways in which HIV is transmitted, how it can be prevented, the numbers of people infected in our community, the plight of those living with the disease, and the need for tolerance and an end to stigma.  

 Be visible and vocal in your support of those living with HIV and those working to fight the disease. Attend rallies and events, write your elected officials, and participate in the planning process.

And of course, you can impact HIV care and services in our community by donating to a community-based organization. We have dozens of them in Harris County that provide HIV-related services. You can specify the particular program or service you wish to support with your donation or you can allow the provider to use the funds in the way that would most assist the organization.  

 One very easy way you can become an HIV advocate is by participating in the 20th AIDS Walk Houston. Go to AIDSWalk and register as an individual, join an existing team, or create your own team. Then raise money and walk the Walk on Sunday, March 15. By doing so, you will be making a public statement about your support of those living with HIV and your concern about this important health issue facing our community.

 Kelly A. McCann is the chief executive officer of AIDS Foundation Houston. To learn more about HIV, AIDS Walk Houston, or volunteer opportunities, contact AFH at 713/623-6796 or


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