Positive Impact 

IBP drags Boise out of the Dark Ages of HIV/AIDS treatment

Drag queens lip-synching and dancing on stage to disco music. Twenty-something female bartenders donning miniskirts, go-go boots and other sexy 1970s fashions. Bar patrons pounding Jell-O shooters for a dollar. It was a good time for good times' sake, but hedonism had a special purpose last Saturday night.

On Feb. 26, Idaho Body Positive held a disco party at Boise's Emerald Club to raise funds for the fledgling nonprofit so it can continue to provide services for those infected with and affected by HIV and AIDS.

"I'm out here to support their cause," said Stephanie Wheeler, an HIV/AIDS outreach worker and STD prevention specialist in Boise. "You have to understand, you're in Idaho. It's not accepted that we have an HIV problem here. It's still 'the other states' problem.' So a night like tonight and an organization like Idaho Body Positive is revolutionary for us."

Purely by the numbers, other states definitely have a greater-sized HIV/AIDS problem than Idaho. But for the nearly 600 people in the state who are infected, the problem is as grave as anywhere. That's where Idaho Body Positive comes into play.

IBP's helps to provide "naturopathic" medical consulting, acupuncture, chiropractic services, nutritional counseling, supplements and education to local patients with HIV or AIDS. According to IBP co-founder and lead administrator Tyson Box, the organization wants to fund an annual budget of $137,000 or more. That figure, in theory, would pay for 100 percent of the cost of naturopathic treatment for up to 25 patients.

"We have nothing against regular Western medicine. We're trying to complement the services and treatments that are out there," Box said.

Box, who tested positive for HIV in 1989 when he was 15 years old, has experience with both traditional Western and naturopathic medicine. The Boise resident has been battling HIV since the dark ages of the disease, when it felt more like a death sentence than a manageable condition.

Back then, Box recalls, he lived in a "self-destructive" state of denial, and went roughly a decade without treatment. Finally, about six years ago, Box started taking HIV medication, but still showed signs of a compromised immune system. He was in Phoenix, Arizona, at the time and came across an organization called Phoenix Body Positive-a naturopathic clinic that was providing supplemental treatment to more than 2,000 clients.

Box began using the clinic's nutritional supplements, acupuncture and other services and soon saw remarkable improvements physically. His levels of CD4-white blood cells crucial to the immune system-rose from the low 300s, far below normal, up near a healthy level of 800. Today, his HIV viral load is undetectable.

That's not to say Box does not have HIV, since it is still detectable in regular HIV tests. However, when testing is done to detect genetic material unique to HIV, none is found. Box also has more stamina and energy to get through each day, something he credits to nutritional supplements and regular acupuncture.

"Basically my HIV is a manageable thing for me now," Box said. "I want to help other people get to that point."

Box and a half dozen other Boise residents infected with or affected by HIV decided late last year to bring the Body Positive clinic model to Boise. Ultimately, IBP will use its new 9th Street location-in the space formerly occupied by the climbing shop The Crux-to house its medical and nutritional specialists on a rotating basis.

Currently, IBP uses the office to supply nutritional supplements and reams of literature on STD prevention and alternative health. The office is also open for consultation and support, although Box advises calling in advance to make an appointment.

Box describes the group as in its infancy. It serves only five clients to date. However, signs abound that the community is catching on. Last week, a local news channel did a short piece on Box and IBP. And already organizations from Saint Alphonsus to the Boise Co-Op have made donations to IBP. The hospital, for instance, donated office furniture and the Co-Op paid for the ads that publicized the party Saturday night. In other not-so-random acts of kindness, the owners of the 9th Street building where IBP is housed are renting to the organization on a "pay as you can" plan. Robin Hood PC donated a computer system and author John Kaiser donated a dozen copies of his book, Healing HIV: How to Rebuild the Immune System. On Saturday-thanks to a cover charge, Jello-O shooter proceeds and a silent auction-IBP raised another $950 to further its cause.

"It's encouraging," Box said of the community support. "Usually the [Emerald Club] pulls in about $300 to $400 per show. So, we're doing very good."

On August 27, IBP will host what some describe as Boise's first-ever AIDS Walk at Ann Morrison Park. Proceeds will go to support IBP and other HIV/AIDS service providers, most of whom provide assistance through traditional Western medicine. IBP has also registered as a nonprofit and has more than a year to register for federal nonprofit status, which would open IBP up to potential grant money for providing services and doing outreach work.

"We need a grant writer to help us with that," said Box, who encourages residents to call the center if they are interested in volunteering. "Right now we have people who are even helping out doing office work, so we can find something for anyone who wants to help."

Box, whose full-time gig is bartending at the Emerald Club, and the other IBP directors, are all working free of charge. Even the medical consultant, the massage therapist and the acupuncture specialist on staff now are donating their time and services.

As the months go by, though, IBP seems poised to grow into a viable support center for those affected by HIV. But on Saturday it was clear that more publicity, more fund raisers and more random acts of kindness will have to occur before the clinic becomes a fixed part of the Boise landscape.

Some of the 150 to 200 patrons had a twofold reason for being there. "We're having a good time and we're helping raise money [to help fight] HIV," said Percilla, one of the dozen or so wig, make-up and gown-clad drag queens who performed at the club that night. "People with HIV should check out IBP. They're always welcoming."

Others, however, were clueless about the organization. "I just heard something about drag queens," said a longtime Boise resident who asked to remain nameless, "and I thought, 'I gotta watch this shit.'"

But in that self-acknowledged ignorance about IBP, there is a glimmer of hope. That same man said, "It sounds like a good cause. We need something like that here."

Idaho Body Positive is located at 401 S. 9th St., and can be contacted at 331-9416 or through the Web site www.IdahoBodyPositive.org

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