Reflecting dramatic progress in the treatment of HIV, the 25-year-old British Columbia Persons with AIDS Society (BCPWA) has renamed itself — with no mention of the virus or the disease, the group announced March 15.
BCPWA will now be called Positive Living Society of British Columbia or Positive Living BC as most members have HIV, not AIDS. The group has more than 4,900 members, making it the largest HIV/AIDS organization in western Canada.
BCPWA will switch to the new name on March 30, though the legal change with the provincial government’s registrar of companies will happen over the next two months.
The organization is not the only one that has considered removing AIDS from its name. Staffers of several Vancouver HIV/AIDS organizations say most of their members with HIV have not developed AIDS. Moreover, people living with HIV sometimes avoid a group that identifies itself as an AIDS organization, some HIV/AIDS advocates say.
An HIV-positive person is considered to have AIDS when his or her body can no longer fight infections.
In December, responding to members’ concerns, BCPWA asked members for suggestions and narrowed the list to seven names.
The group rejected the name HIV Society of BC last year.
In February, BCPWA members voted on whether to reconsider the rejected name, keep the current name or switch to HIV/AIDS Society of BC or four other names that include Living, HIV, + or Positive, but not AIDS.
BCPWA members overwhelmingly rejected the current name, with 92 percent of voters favouring at least one of the six proposed new names, says Glyn Townson, board chair of Positive Living BC. “That’s a landslide,” he says.
The vote between the two alternatives was close, with HIV Society of BC as the second choice, Townson reveals. A third of the group’s members voted, the highest return rate since the group launched mail-in balloting about 18 months ago, Townson says. “The membership did think about this carefully.”
The organization considered the name change because professionals who referred people to the group didn’t like the term AIDS in the name, he notes.
Moreover, the term AIDS is no longer used in epidemiology statistics in BC, Townson adds. “You either have HIV or advanced HIV disease,” he notes, “so it’s kind of an archaic term, truthfully.”
“In my own case, I had an AIDS diagnosis in 1995; I have been living with the disease since the early ’80s,” he continues. “They can’t take that diagnosis away, but my numbers and my health certainly don’t reflect that diagnosis any longer. The landscape has changed a lot over the last 10 years.”
But Townson acknowledges some dissent on the name change.
“We do have some people that really think we’re deserting our past,” he says. “I think we’re embracing our future. And clearly the majority of our members that voted didn’t want HIV or AIDS in the name.”
The organization will consider the feedback of members to develop a new logo and website, positivelivingbc.org, by mid-April. The group’s location, hours, contact information and services remain unchanged.
YouthCO AIDS Society is also undergoing a name change, using the current name only for official purposes such as grant writing, executive director Kelly L’Hirondelle says. The group has switched its website to YouthCO HIV and Hep C Community Outreach, he says.
“A name change removing AIDS better reflects our mission,” says Jesse Brown, community engagement coordinator at YouthCO.
YouthCO’s official renaming has been interrupted as the group brought on new board members, L’Hirondelle said. The group will do some more planning by the end of April on the exact wording, but the new name will probably look something like the name on the website, he says.
AIDS Vancouver executive director Brian Chittock says the group discussed a name change at its last board meeting. With BCPWA’s name change, the issue is likely to arise at the board meeting at the end of this month.
“It’s a big decision, and it has to be made by everyone involved,” Chittock says.
AIDS Vancouver was formed in 1983 when people were dying of AIDS quite regularly, but “things have changed over the course of 30 years,” Chittock points out.
“Because of the drugs and treatments that are available today, most people are only HIV-positive,” he notes.
“A lot of clients, especially the newly diagnosed individuals, really have no relationship to the word AIDS, and it has no meaning to them.”