GMHC staff and community members will gather to commemorate World AIDS Day with events including an “Out of the Darkness” evening on December 1. “Remember and Commit” is this year’s theme to mark World AIDS Day’s 35th year.
“This is a moment when we pause to reflect and honor those whom we have lost to AIDS-related complications, uplift the lives of those living with HIV and AIDS, and recommit ourselves to be of service,” said GMHC Community Relations Director Krishna Stone.
The Out of the Darkness evening will convene people living with HIV and AIDS, people who have lost loved ones to AIDS-related complications, families, friends, and allies, including clergy, activists, elected officials, and staff from GMHC and other community organizations.
The evening will begin at 6 p.m. on December 1 with a candlelight vigil at the New York City AIDS Memorial, where those gathered will call out the names of people who have died of AIDS-related complications. That will be followed by a short walk to St. John’s Lutheran Church, where another reading of names takes place against the backdrop of sections of the AIDS Memorial Quilt hanging from the balcony.
After this time of reflection, the World AIDS Day gathering assembles at 7 p.m. with guest speakers, performers, and singers, including the New York City Flaggers.
The flaggers have a long history in gay culture of performing during dance parties. “They come to the front of the church and it’s quite beautiful to watch, especially for folks who’ve never seen flaggers,” Stone said. “In some ways they’re like angels, moving with the music like in prayer or being in a meditation.”
The Blessings of the Safer Sex Kits are another annual ritual of renewing hope and determination to end the HIV epidemic. Six baskets of condoms, lubricants, and dental dams are raised up 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.
“What I especially love about the Out of the Darkness event, especially the gathering, is watching people be so moved and connected to what they are listening to and watching,” Stone said. “They’re mesmerized at certain points—or crying, or laughing, or just dazzled.”
Participants can share their thoughts at a reception afterwards. “They can process what they have experienced. It is just riveting,” she said.
The founding sponsor for “Out of the Darkness” is the American Run for the End of AIDS (AREA), with co-sponsors Charner Transformative Communication, International AIDS Prevention Initiative (IAPI), Keith Haring Foundation, NYC AIDS Memorial, and St. John’s Lutheran Church.
“HIV-related stigma is still very much a part of this epidemic,” Stone said. “People who may be at risk for contracting HIV can feel shamed or stigmatized about their gender identity or sexual identity.”
“These are challenging times, because hatred is so prevalent right now,” she added.
To address HIV stigma and the rise in hate, GMHC is holding a “Distance Yourself from Hate” Commemoration for supporters on November 30 at HUSH HK Bar, located at 348 West 52nd Street. “It’s a way of reaffirming GMHC’s work to combat hate of all kinds and other inequities that create barriers for people to get tested, negotiate using condoms, take PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis]—and barriers in accessing care services,” Stone said.
“When people are facing transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, racism, violence—all of these types of hate—it makes it hard to thrive,” she said. “We want people to thrive, whether they’re living with HIV and AIDS, at risk of HIV, or otherwise affected.”
Also on December 1, Stone will moderate a panel discussion with youth activists, organized by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, on the topic: “What is the meaning of World AIDS Day for younger generations?”
These commemorations are part of a mosaic of World AIDS Day observances that will happen throughout New York, including the ceremonial lighting of the City Hall building in red. “These events look at the multilayered experiences of the epidemic. Each year we communicate in different ways to help people reflect, learn, and listen,” Stone said.
All are invited to join us at the Out of the Darkness events, which start at 6 pm on World AIDS Day, December 1, at the NYC AIDS Memorial. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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