This year marks the 35th year AFAN has held the Black & White Party fundraiser. The event started as a grassroots effort held in the Green Valley apartment of founding AFAN members Bill “Trip” Oldfield and Darryl Thomas. It was called the Generic Black & White Party because of its theme of grocery store generic brand food that had black-and-white packaging. The party had about 25 attendees, mostly gay men who played volleyball every Sunday at Sunset park. It gathered 200 canned food items for the food bank at AFAN, which was a fledgling 3-year-old organization at the time.
Thomas wrote down the history of the party for the Las Vegas Spectrum, answering the old question: Why is it called the Black & White Party?
“Oldfield and Thomas, Las Vegas natives, were known for hosting themed parties (and) thought it would be funny to have a generic party and request that everyone wears black and white, similar to generic items in the grocery store,” Thomas wrote in his history report.
Two years after the first party, the event moved to the private resident of Marlon Tinana and Ed Uehling, where 200 guests attended.
“The magnitude of canned food goods increased so much that AFAN had to rent a much larger vehicle to carry the canned food goods back to their facility,” Thomas wrote.
Starting in 1993, the Green Valley Athletic Club hosted the party for three years. Guests arrived in the thousands and as many canned goods filled AFAN’s pantry. The party was held from 2002 to 2008 at The Palms and attracted visitors from all over the nation.
By the time the event reached its current home, Hard Rock Hotel, in 2009, it was widely known as simply the Black & White Party.
“Eager to reduce the fear about the AIDS epidemic and have fun at the same time, Oldfield and Thomas hoped to create an event that would spark both the homesexual and hetrosexual community for years to come,” Thomas wrote.
In that, they were successful. The Black & White Park is well-known for its guests wearing outrageous balloon dresses, bling and other elaborate costumes.
Each year, the fundraiser has collected from $120,000 to $130,000. This year, AFAN Executive Director Antioco Carrillo hopes to raise more than $150,000.
Carrillo has been working with people affected by HIV/AIDS since 1987. He worked at Community Counseling Center helping people living with HIV/AIDS find resources. In 2012, he became the director of AFAN.
This year, he moved the nonprofit into smaller offices and consolidated programs to help weather the draught of public funding. “You can never be too prepared,” he said.
Because 450 people are diagnosed with HIV every year – more than one case per day – it is still considered an epidemic. And Clark County is on the top of the list for newly diagnosed cases of HIV.
Still, it is not considered the crisis it once was in the 1980s.
“Back then we were counseling people (those that had been diagnosed with HIV) to prepare them for death and dying. In 1996 with the introduction of new medications, the diagnosis was not a death sentence and the condition could be managed. Today, people at high risk of contracting the virus can take Prep and avoid getting it altogether.
When asked if some young people are just not taking the condition seriously enough because they did not have to live through the thick of the crisis that saw weekly funerals, he responded: “Our job is to make it better for them. To make it safe for them.”
He said the new generation needs education so they can be better prepared.
AFAN, which was founded in 1984, is considered an LGBTQIA+ organization by the community but it serves any one affected with HIV/AIDS.
Carrillo said about 65 percent of his clients are from the LGBTQIA+ community.
He said the LGBTQAI+ community was the foundation for AFAN and planted the roots for it to grow into the resource it is today.
Dr. Jerry Cade is a pioneer of AIDS medicine and was a founding member of AFAN. He and Carrillo both hope for an out-right cure for the condition.
Cade wrote: “In the early days, AIDS decimated our community, taking with it some of our most promising leaders; but, we buried those leaders with the honor and respect they deserve and created new leaders. The world has changed dramatically since the beginning of AIDS on June 5, 1981. These new leaders have a different world – an Internet-connected, social media world, which calls for different solutions than we even envisioned in the past, but we are up for the task. We are even more up for the task because of what we have learned over the past almost 40 years. We have lost friends, lovers, family; but, we have learned so much more about our community and ourselves. We are more enlightened, and we are better-prepared to meet the challenges for the future. Together, we shall overcome, some day!”