|PHOTOâ€ˆCOURTESY OF SF AIDS WALK
By Craig Miller
No place has influenced me more than the City of San Francisco. It was here, at age 16, that I began my life as an out gay person and learned first-hand the formidable power of bringing activism to the streets to create change. It was here that I, and so many others, watched a horrifying new disease take hold and threaten to destroy a community. It was here that I met and worked with some of the greatest activists and leaders who helped change the course of the AIDS epidemic.
In the 26 years of AIDS Walk San Francisco, I have witnessed a vibrant community emerge and grow into a powerful outpouring of compassion in action. Through it all, a clear lesson has emerged: Ending AIDS is about fighting more than the virus itself. It is also about pursuing a vision that includes overcoming poverty, racism, sexism, and homophobia. These social ills continue to fuel the epidemic and must be confronted by the powerful community that participates in, and contributes to, AIDS Walk San Francisco each year.
As the people of the Bay Area have demonstrated over the years, much of this social change depends on the leaders we elect. If we are to achieve a generation free of AIDS, then we need a government that is united in laying the groundwork to eliminate discrimination against all people.
We have seen encouraging signs from the Obama administration, with the first-ever National AIDS Strategy, and with the Presidentâ€™s recent historic statement declaring his support for marriage equality. Many in Congress are also moving in the right direction, but we must keep the pressure on our elected leaders to sustain the fight for full LGBT equality. As they demonstrate each year, AIDS Walk San Francisco participants are deeply committed to advancing this vision.
To end the epidemic, we must also lift up LGBT youth and fight homophobia. These young people far too often endure bullying from their peers and are barraged with messages of disapproval from their communities. This can result in severe and even fatal depression; it can also lead them to make choices that put them at risk for HIV. The funds raised by AIDS Walk San Francisco support programs at San Francisco AIDS Foundation that provide guidance for young LGBT people to make positive, informed decisions about their health.
Racism and sexism also play an enormous part in fueling HIV. People of color continue to disproportionately face disparities in the quality and availability of affordable healthcare. That means less HIV information, less testing, less treatment, and a greater opportunity for the virus to spread.
We must ensure that all HIV-positive people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, have access to appropriate medical care and are presented with honest, accurate, and culturally sensitive HIV prevention information. AIDS Walk San Francisco funds essential programs, which do exactly that.
People at the lowest income levels are some of those at greatest risk of HIV infection, and the least equipped to deal with the consequences of contracting the disease. The money raised at AIDS Walk San Francisco provides housing support, access to medical care, and much more to people struggling not only with HIV and AIDS, but who are also grappling with poverty.
With every new piece of legislation that affords equal protection for LGBT people, with every parent who chooses to fully love and support his or her gay teenage son or daughter, and with every dollar raised at AIDS Walk San Francisco, we move closer to an AIDS-free generation.
The challenge remains great and must be met with the same energy, compassion, and vision that led us through the dark early years of the AIDS epidemic. One need only witness the massive, diverse, and determined crowd that assembles each year in Golden Gate Park to see that the people of the Bay Area are more than up to the task.
To register for, or contribute to, AIDS Walk San Francisco, please call 415.615.9255 (WALK) or visit www.aidswalk.net/sanfran.
Craig R. Miller is the founder of AIDS Walks and is the longtime producer of AIDS Walk San Francisco. He is also president of the AIDS Community Action Foundation.