AIDS Walk Raises $6.2 Million
More than 45,000 people gathered in Central Park on a rainy Sunday, May 15, for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis’ 26th annual New York City AIDS Walk.
The six-mile walk, currently the world’s largest AIDS walk fundraiser, brought together individuals and organizations from schools, churches, and corporations to raise $6,214,768 for HIV/AIDS service organizations.
Actor Wilson Cruz served as opening emcee for the event; which showcased corporate sponsors, local activists, and popular entertainers. Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson from "Modern Family", actors Matt Bomer, Laura Innes, Conchatta Ferrell and Audra McDonald, "Glee" star Dot-Marie Jones, Broadway’s Lee Pace, Mike Ruiz of "The A-List" and Mondo Guerra from "Project Runway" were among those who took part. The Red Hot Organization hosted the post-walk concert.
"On ’The Event’ I play a woman trying to wipe out much of humanity, but of course the threat from AIDS is only too real," said Innes, who joined Bomer at the podium. "The swath of destruction it has cut for the last 30 years is like something out of science fiction. Medication is outrageously expensive, prevention efforts are grossly inadequate, and government funding is insufficient."
Bomer further rallied walk participants.
"So what’s the best thing the battle against AIDS has going for it? That’s you," he said.
Bomer and Innes thanked walkers for bringing hope to the fight against HIV/AIDS. They then introduced the cast of "Priscilla Queen of the Desert", who performed a touching version of Pat Benatar’s "We Belong". One proud cast member single-handedly raised $20,000, while the cast also thanked Elizabeth Taylor posthumously for her tireless work in the fight against the virus.
"Modern Family" cast members acknowledged the grand sponsors, among them were Barclay’s Capital, The Gap, Bloomberg L.P., "The Village Voice", Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Stanley and Fiona Druckenmiller.
Burrell and Stonestreet also noted that walkers could continue to ask friends for donations that would go towards their fundraising total through June 10, making them eligible for awards including a t-shirt (modeled by Ruiz), a cap (modeled by Mackenroth), a mouse pad, and an eco-friendly tumbler. The actors invited Francine Goldstein, who has raised $337,000 over the 23 years she has participated in the walk, onto the stage.
Actresses Conchatta Ferrell and Dot-Marie Jones then took over. State Sen. Tom Duane (D-Manhattan), who, parroting Ruiz and Mackenroth, bared his ample abs, joined them on stage. "In the first days of AIDS, the government was silent to the sweeping epidemic that was taking so many lives," said Ferrell. "Today, things have changed."
Jones, who plays Coach Beast on "Glee", acknowledged the elected officials present. These included Congressman Charlie Rangel, Duane, Assemblymen Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan) and David Weprin (D-Little Neck) and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. She and Ferrell then introduced Guerra, who went public with his status on "Project Runway".
"For a decade, I battled the stigma associated with the disease, which kept me from disclosing my HIV status publicly and even to those people I loved the most, my family," he said. "During those 10 years I did not seek the valuable support and services provided by these AIDS service organizations like GMHC and others that will benefit from today’s walk. It was during an intense challenge on the show that I had the opportunity to open up and talk about my HIV status. Since the show, I have been overwhelmed with unconditional love and support not only from the community but from my friends and family."
He announced Living Positive By Design partnership with Merck on, and Guerra then introduced "The Normal Heart" star Lee Pace, whose character is based on GMHC’s first president, Paul Popham. "Through the efforts of people like you and events like this, great strides have been made," said Pace. "But one thing that has not changed is that 30 years into this epidemic, we still have no cure. Thankfully, we do still have GMHC."
Pace then welcomed current GMHC Chief Executive Officer Dr. Marjorie Hill.
"2011 marks the 30th year of this scourge against our community," said Hill. "But it also marks 26 years of AIDS Walk, 29 years of GMHC fighting, and we will continue the fight until there is a cure and everyone gets what they need. In the early days, the gay community led the fight, and often stood alone. But today, we’re more than gay: we’re women, men, young, old, black, white."
Hill further acknowledged her organization’s history, and she invited walkers to tour GMHC’s new offices on West 33rd Street. GMHC’s new HIV prevention center will open on West 29th Street next month.
"GMHC in the early days held the hands of those dying, and... helped them die with dignity," she said. "While there are still deaths, still challenges, still people evicted from their apartments because they are HIV-positive, the reality is today GMHC works with you and others in the fight to help people with HIV live with dignity, get jobs, become resilient, go back to school, figure out how to be better parents and to challenge elected officials who are not like those with us today, who don’t understand the challenge of AIDS."
Hill also brought Denise, a GMHC client who has lived with HIV since 1994, to the stage. Denise said her diagnosis was devastating.
"I stayed in my bedroom for 14 years," she said. "I just existed; I didn’t really live. I was taken care of by others because I couldn’t take care of myself. I didn’t see a doctor about HIV and I continued to do drugs."
Denise said she finally began to receive medical care in 2008. "I started going to GMHC, where they have support groups for women with HIV/AIDS," she said, adding that she will begin to attend college part-time in the fall. "I thought my life was hard; some of these women had even harder lives! The more I went to these groups, the more I felt affirmed, because we all had survived."
AIDS Walk creator Craig Miller then took the stage. He reminisced about meeting with Popham and Richard Dunne in 1985.
"The area urgently needed an event like AIDS Walk New York and thousands of people would turn out to support GMHC. And [Los Angeles] had just had its first AIDS Walk, and they felt passionately that anything L.A. did, New York could do better," said Miller. "With all respect to my hometown, they proved right on both points as they have on so many other things, and I’m just so grateful to all of you who are continuing to walk in those footsteps and make this the largest, most powerful response to the AIDS epidemic in the world."
TONY-award winning singer and "Private Practice" star Audra McDonald finished the ceremony, belting out the theme song, "You’ll Never Walk Alone". Walkers cheered as they headed west through Central Park.
Log onto www.aidswalk.net/newyork for more information or to donate.