Sister Roma still leading festive fight against AIDS

You know Sister Roma. Last month, she was mistress of ceremonies at a event benefiting the AIDS Emergency Fund. Last weekend, she judged the #EndHIV drag fashion show benefiting the Abzyme Research Foundation. On Saturday, Roma will take part in the San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s 2013 Tribute Celebration at the California Academy of Sciences.

Sure, Sister Roma, the undisputed figurehead of the locally cherished Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, can’t say no to a good party. But like all heaven-bound nuns, she’s in it for the charity.

“Since our inception, the Sisters have always been advocates for safer sex and been on the front lines in the war against HIV and AIDS,” Roma said of the Sisters, one of the first organizations in the country to hold an AIDS fundraiser.

Today, the fight against AIDS continues, but perhaps not as fervently as it once did. Some members of the LGBT community argue that AIDS is not a priority anymore because it’s what they would call a “livable” disease.

“I agree we’ve made remarkable progress,” Roma said. “Being diagnosed with AIDS is no longer a death sentence like it was 25 years ago. I’ve heard it compared to diabetes, but don’t we still wish to end diabetes?”

So, Roma and the Sisters still strive to find a cure, one cocktail at a time, with fundraisers for organizations such as the AIDS Emergency Fund and the S.F. AIDS Foundation.

The groups are “two stellar examples of The City’s compassionate and intelligent response to the AIDS epidemic,” she said.

Roma also has just recently begun to partner with the Abzyme Research Foundation, beneficiary of the #EndHIV Drag Ball that took place at Beatbox last Saturday.

The Abzyme Research Foundation has created a vaccine that induces the body to produce the abzymes (antibody enzymes) that attack the protein HIV needs to reproduce in human cells.

“In a best-case scenario, this vaccine will be given to people who are already HIV-positive to mitigate the need for daily medication,” Executive Director Zachary Barnett said. In 2010, the National Institutes of Health gave the vaccine a top score, but it was not funded due to budgetary restraints. The foundation is now just $40,000 short of the $500,000 needed to start commercial manufacturing of the vaccine for human trials.

“We cannot be leaving solutions on the table, waiting to be tested,” Barnett said.

That’s where Sister Roma and her band of fundraising revelers come in. The organizations Roma works with have “immaculate reputations for transparency regarding where the money goes,” she said

Roma had no comment on the criticism the S.F. AIDS Foundation faced after it was revealed the money the organization raised locally went largely towards HIV prevention in Africa as opposed to HIV patients’ care here in San Francisco.

“If I’m involved with an event it’s because I believe in the cause and you can rest assured the money goes directly to the charity,” she said. “As long as you don’t give your money directly to me, it’s all good.”

Oscar Raymundo is the head of marketing at a leading LGBT media company. Email him at Research FoundationBay Area NewsOscar RaymundoSan Francisco AIDS FoundationSisters of Perpetual Indulgence

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