Tuesday, July 19, 2011

AIDS Walk’s 25th Anniversary: 3 Million Dollars Raised to Support HIV/AIDS Services

On July 17 more than 25,000 people gathered in Golden Gate Park for the 25th AIDS Walk San Francisco. More than 3 million dollars was raised for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF) and HIV/AIDS programs and services throughout the Bay Area.

The SFAF is well known for its excellent Black Brothers Esteem, the Magnet clinic that is the medical and cultural center of the Castro, and El Grupo that serves Latinos. It is the 30th year of the HIV/AIDS scourge and the SFAF has battled it since it was founded in a two-man office space on Castro Street by Cleve Jones.

There was a steady roar of voices in the audience and around a couple acres of booths and check-in stands at one end of the huge space and music from the stage coming from the other direction. More than a thousand volunteers registered and coordinated the walkers, recycled throwaways, and handed out bananas, yogurt, health bars, and drinks.

The event began with a bang when Culture Shock dancers joined by former San Francisco City Supervisor Bevan Dufty led the crowd in a warm-up and motivational exercise. SFAF CEO Neil Giuliano inspired with his comments: “The funds raised by AIDS Walk San Francisco play a vital role in our efforts to radically reduce new HIV infections in San Francisco, ensure everybody knows their status, and make sure all people living with HIV/AIDS get the care they need. And AIDS Walk San Francisco is about a community of people coming together not only to create something special, but also to make a substantial impact in the fight against HIV/AIDS across the Bay Area.”

More than 74 million dollars has been raised by AIDS Walk San Francisco in the last 25 years. 48 organizations receive funds from the event. It is an optimistic and positive experience balanced by the knowledge that almost a thousand people sero-convert every year in San Francisco. The SFAF is working to half the infection rate by 2015, assure HIV+ individuals receive proper care, and just about everyone know their HIV status.

Emcees and celebrities included ABC 7’s Dan Ashley, Michael Urie ("Ugly Betty"), Alan Cumming ("The Good Wife"), and Cloris Leachman ("Raising Hope"). San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee spoke and gave a proclamation to Giuliano, praising the vast scale of the fundraiser. Notables included State Senator Mark Leno, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, Supervisors Scott Wiener and Ross Mirkarimi, Treasurer Jose Cisneros, and Police Chief Greg Suhr.

Actress Leachman is a polarizing figure in many groups in San Francisco. Her inexcusable behavior at Donna Sachet and Gary Virginia’s Pride Brunch a few years back undoubtedly limited her public appearances, but there were a few people who delighted in her AIDS Walk mooning, leaping onto the lap of  Foundation Board Chair Tom Perrault to swig water, and grabbing the sign-language interpreter on stage.

Mary Birdsong from Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City: A New Musical” performed a sublime “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with four smiling backup singers. Judy Kale, also from Maupin’s show, sang an uplifting “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as the 25,000 began their several-mile trek.

Concerned volunteers mentioned that the SFAF had taken over the former California AIDS Ride to establish AIDS/LifeCyle to deny a producer a large amount of the funds raised, and asked why they have not taken the AIDS Walk San Francisco production away from Craig Miller’s MZA company. A boost to the funds available for fighting AIDS would result, and AIDS/LifeStroll was a popular proposed name for a re-named event.

No comments: