"Local Physician Presses Fight on HIV"

by Jenny Marder August 2005

From the Long Beach Press Telegram in Long Beach, California:

Dr. Kuhn calls the HIV epidemic "a psychosocial earthquake." "Itís shaking us at our very core," she says.

Dr. Rebecca Kuhn, one of the city's most visible faces in the war on AIDS, has stepped down as a physician at the Comprehensive AIDS Resource Education program to approach the disease from another angle.

Friday was the final day of her six-year tenure as a full-time doctor at St. Mary Medical Center. She left Sunday for a month long sabbatical in South Africa, then will return to Long Beach to embark on a new phase in her career: launching a nonprofit group called Global Lifeworks.

Headed by a seven-member board and fueled by private funding, the group has lofty goals. Among the is an aim to challenge racial and homophobic stereotypes, break the HIV community free from its stigma and bring the community-at-large together in a relationship based on commonality, she said.

And at its foundation, is an aim to improve the quality of life of people living with HIV and AIDS. "That's why I went to med school," Kuhn says. "I wanted to change the world."

Since its first AIDS cases in February 1983, 4,799 AIDS cases have been reported in Long Beach through June 30, 2004, according to the Long Beach health departmentís HIV/AIDS Monitoring Report. Long Beach has twice as many AIDS cases per capita as does Los Angeles.

In a cinnamon-colored music room with two guitars, a piano, and a clarinet, Kuhnís suitcases lie open and half-packed Saturday morning. She points to an Ovation guitar and describes the odd sequence of events that led to her purchase of the $2,000 instrument for a mere $200 from a member of her church, Long Beach Christian Fellowship, where she plays worship music.

Her Christianity has laid its imprints all over her home. Scripture passages are contained inside frames on the walls, baskets over the kitchen sink say "Hope" and "Faith."

Global Lifeworks will revolve around a three-day workshop called Discovery, in which people are asked to address their own biases and judgments about gender, race, and homosexuality. Simple words like "gay" and "black" are written on the board and people are tasked with assigning stereotypes and then deconstructing them. In addition to Scriptures, the workshop pulls from the writing of Soren Kierkegaard and Bruce Springsteen.

"A shift in paradigm," she calls it, "a change in community conscience." Kuhn smiles. "Itís about finding whatís common in each other. Thereís a healing that comes in that. Iíd love to see healing and hope and empowerment in the communities that we work in."

She talks about the elephant in the room: stigma. "As much as I appreciate the medical community and medical technology, I think we are so, so behind regarding the core of whatís happening in this epidemicÖ.I donít know of any other disease that carries this stigma." Another goal of the program is to address that stigma.

"In 2005, weíre still fighting people that donít want to interact, that donít want to be in the same room with people who have AIDS. So, whatís that about?"