Denver, CO

The Denver Principles: Mile-High City's role in HIV history impactful

David Heitz
Bob Bongiovanni and Robert Riester, longtime survivors of HIV.Photo byDenver 8

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) For many, pride month is a time for dancing and being merry. But pride has a serious side, too, as Denver City Council member Candi CdeBaca pointed out at Monday’s council meeting.

CdeBaca recognized the 40th anniversary of the Denver Principles. The Denver Principles came out of a medical conference in the Mile High City where people with HIV made themselves heard for the first time in America.

“In June of 1983, at the fifth annual National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference in Denver, a group of about a dozen gay men with AIDS from around the U.S. gathered to share their experiences combating stigma and advocating on behalf of people with AIDS,” the HIV Caucus reports on its website. “The men meeting at the Denver conference were meeting for the first time, comparing notes and strategizing how to move forward to ensure their voices were heard and expertise, as individuals living with HIV/AIDS, respected.”

The Denver Principles included this statement: “We condemn attempts to label us as ‘victims,’ a term which implies defeat, and we are only occasionally ‘patients,’ a term which implies passivity, helplessness, and dependence upon the care of others. We are ‘people with AIDS.’”

The 40th anniversary of the Denver Principles

CdeBaca read a proclamation commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Denver Principles. “It’s an honor to share this proclamation with you all tonight and honor the work that really laid the foundation for truly including marginalized and affected populations in decision making and solution seeking,” CdeBaca said. “This is an important part of celebrating our pride month knowing our history, knowing what we laid the foundation for, and applying and transferring those skills, practices and principles to modern-day fights to eradicate injustices everywhere.”
Photo byColin Lloyd/Unsplash

The proclamation reads, “We commit to a renewed vision of the Denver Principles: empowering people living with HIV at all levels, in which they are equal partners in political, legal, and social actions; preventing HIV, in which prevention services and interventions are available to all Coloradans equitably; improving outcomes for people living with HIV, in which inclusive care is available when and where people need it in order to thrive while working to reduce stigma; disrupting/reducing inequities, in which Colorado is a state where all people living with HIV and vulnerable to the acquisition of HIV have equitable and just access to care and services in their communities; and achieving integrated, coordinated efforts that address HIV and other intersecting epidemics among all partners and interested parties.”

Longtime survivors accept proclamation

CdeBaca invited Denver residents Bob Bongiovanni and Robert Riester to accept the proclamation at the meeting. Bongiovanni said that in 1984, there was “no certainty of dignity and compassion.” He said it took “open-hearted and strong activists” to make America understand that people with AIDS are human and should be treated with dignity. “We have a proud legacy in Denver.”

Recommendations for health care professionals
Photo byBermix Studio/Unsplash

The Denver Principles are directed at various groups. These recommendations were made for health care professionals:

1. Come out, especially to patients who have AIDS.

2. Always clearly identify and discuss the theory favored as to the cause of AIDS, since this bias affects the treatments and advice given.

3. Get in touch with feelings (fears, anxieties, hopes, etc.) about AIDS and not simply deal with AIDS intellectually.

4. Take a thorough personal inventory and identify and examine your personal agendas around AIDS.

5. Treat people with AIDS as whole people and address psychosocial issues as well as biophysical ones.

Recommendations for all people

These recommendations were made for everyone:

1. Support people with AIDS in their struggle against those who would fire them from their jobs, evict them from their homes, refuse to touch them or separate them from their loved ones, their community, or their peers, since available evidence does not support the view that AIDS can be spread by casual, social contact.

2. Don't scapegoat people with AIDS, don't blame them for the epidemic, and don't generalize about them.

Recommendations for people with AIDS

These recommendations were made for people with AIDS:

1. Form caucuses to choose representatives, to deal with the media, to choose agendas and to plan strategies.

2. Be involved at every level of decision-making and serve on the boards of directors of provider organizations.

3. Be included in all AIDS forums with equal credibility as other participants, to share experiences and knowledge.

4. People with AIDS have an ethical responsibility to inform potential partners of their health status.

Rights of people with AIDS

‍These are the rights declared in the Denver Principles for people with AIDS:

1. The right to live full and satisfying lives.

2. Access to quality medical treatment and quality social services without discrimination of any form including orientation, gender, diagnosis, economic status, or race.

3. The right to receive full explanations of medical procedures and risks, to choose or refuse treatment, and to refuse to participate in research without jeopardizing treatment and to make informed decisions.

4. The right to privacy, to confidentiality of medical records, to human respect and to choose significant others.

5. The right to die – and to live – in dignity.

‘A lot to be proud of’

Riester said that in his 36 years of living with HIV, “I have seen what this disease can do and how people can help by being part of the process. That’s what the Denver Principles provide for. The Denver Principles affected everything around the world. Denver has a lot to be proud of.”

#Pride Month

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at community newspapers in Southern California and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am proof that people can rebound from even severe mental illness with proper treatment. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living in the Mile High City. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

Denver, CO

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