As GMHC enters its 41st year in the fight against HIV and AIDS, we will join together for a special evening of Out of the Darkness events on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, to remember those who have died and raise awareness about the ongoing HIV and AIDS pandemic.
“It’s an opportunity to bring the community together and remind us that HIV and AIDS are not over–at a time when our communities are dealing with the parallels between the early years of HIV and AIDS and now, COVID-19 and MPV,” said GMHC Community Relations Director Krishna Stone, who is on the planning committee.
An estimated 38 million people are living with HIV globally, and over 35 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.
Out of the Darkness is an evening of remembrance, mourning, reflection, inspiration–and also joy. It will convene people living with HIV and AIDS, people who’ve lost loved ones to AIDS, families who’ve been affected, friends and allies, including clergy, elected officials, and staff from community organizations.
The theme this year is “From GRID to MPV: Reflecting on 41 years of the HIV and AIDS epidemic.” GRID or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency was the name first given in 1981 to the mysterious new disease that primarily affected gay men, reflecting the stigma that still persists for the LGBTQ community.
Remembrance and Renewal
The evening begins with a candlelight vigil at the New York City AIDS Memorial and then a short walk through the West Village for the reading of names of those we have lost to AIDS at St. John’s Lutheran Church at 81 Christopher Street.
After this time of reflection, the World AIDS Day Gathering assembles with guest speakers, singers and performers, including the New York City Flaggers and Pride Puppets to assist with the Blessings of the Safer Sex Kits. Speakers include Bishop Stacey Latimer of Love Alive International, NYC Human Rights Commissioner Annabel Palma, Rev. Austin Newberry of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Dr. Ron Grossman, and HIV activist Mika De Roo.
Broadway performer Courter Simmons will sing “Sheridan Square,” with lyrics by Howard Ashman, the Grammy and Oscar winner who died of AIDS-related complications in 1991. The song memorializes the West Village neighborhood that was decimated by AIDS in the early years of the epidemic–and where the Out of the Darkness events will unfold.
“And why is it still so quiet / Tonight on Sheridan Square?” Ashman wrote over 30 years ago, in lyrics that carry sadness but also hope: “When you carry a load like we do / What’s another few pounds to share? / We can make it until the sun comes up / And it will / Over Sheridan Square.”
The Blessings of the Safer Sex Kits renew that hope and determination. A 10-foot-tall Larry Kramer Pride Puppet, inspired by the late activist and GMHC co-founder, will raise the basket of safer sex kits for call and response invocations. “We bless the safer sex kits as we advocate for people to have a sexuality that lets us be ourselves,” a celebrant will say. “Our lives matter,” those gathered will respond.
Coalitions of Care
“We continue to do it because there are still people contracting HIV and people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS,” Stone said of the Out of the Darkness evening, which is marking its 31st year.
“It’s about us taking care of us, and bringing our voices to the table,” she explained. “It’s about creating coalitions and communities and forming nurturing partnerships with other community-based organizations, elected officials, and allies.”
The founding sponsor is the American Run for the End of AIDS (AREA), with co-sponsors GMHC, ERC Consultants, the International AIDS Prevention Initiative, the Keith Haring Foundation, the NYC AIDS Memorial, and St. John’s Lutheran Church.
The planners are continually renewing the Out of the Darkness events, said Stone, who’s helped organize NYC World AIDS Day events since joining GMHC 30 years ago. When she joined the planning committee 15 years ago, she proposed inviting flaggers, who have a long history in gay culture of performing during dance parties. They have performed ever since.
“The flaggers are like angels who preside over us and those who we’ve lost,” she said. “They are moving with the music and it’s magical, like prayer or being in a meditation.”
One year Stone chose “El Cantante” as the flaggers’ song, which is the signature hit of salsa singer Héctor Lavoe, who died of complications from AIDS. “People in the audience started crying. One stood up and clapped,” she said.
Those moments are what all the hours of planning are about, Stone said. “It’s just so incredible to see it all come together and know people are just wowed and inspired and moved.”
The Out of the Darkness events are part of a tapestry of World AIDS Day observances that will happen throughout New York. This year Stone is being honored with the 2022 World AIDS Day Award from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for her many years of service planning citywide NYC World AIDS Day events.
All are invited to join us at the Out of the Darkness events, which start at 6 p.m. on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, at the NYC AIDS Memorial.