Eric Leven

NYC World AIDS Day Event: So Nice to See all 100 of You!

Filed By Eric Leven | December 02, 2008 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay apathy, HIV/AIDS, memorials, Never Again, World AIDS Day

if that...

The NYC World AIDS Day Event entitled "Out of the Darkness" included a meet-up at GMHC and a candle light vigil march down to a church in Greenwich Village where speakers, activists and performers were all part of the program.

To say the turn-out of the event was a disappointment would be an understatement. It was downright frustrating, angering and embarrassing. Granted a lot of this comes from the personal investment I put forth into getting the word out on the event and also a gaining of hope that it might yield big numbers. It was, to say the least, less than I expected. Please note that I thought the speakers, activists and others part of the program were stellar, heart-felt and their stories powerful and complete with a sense of raw-felt reality. It was the turn-out that angered me - the program itself was great.

Ok- So I created the Facebook page for the event a little later than I should have. I'll take the fault for that. After receiving a call from a friend involved on Saturday I asked, "Is there a facebook page for this?" They responded that there wasn't and immediately I took to my keyboard to create one. By Monday late-afternoon there were 26 "confirmed guests" who had clicked "attending" on the event page.

It would have been one thing had 5, 10, 15 people showed up. 5 would have been fine. Instead there were zero. I did not notice nor recognize any of those who clicked "attend" at this event, but that's ok, in the end it's a facebook page and sometimes people just click on buttons without any intention or knowledge of what they're doing. I'll let that one slide.

What I can't seem to let slide is the fact that out of the, oh- let's be generous, 70 people who were part of the candlelight vigil I may have been, at the age of 27, one of the youngest, if not the youngest person there. Making the punch to the gut even harder was the fact that out of those 70 people at least a quarter to half worked or were a part of GMHC. I kept looking around and dropping to the back of the march hoping that I'd see someone who was visibly younger than I am to be there. There may have been, but there was nobody there whose face wore the signs of good, energetic youth.

When I arrived at the Church the program had already started and several speakers were at a podium reciting names of victims we lost to AIDS. Names we know, household names, iconic figures of art and history: Keith Haring, Arthur Ashe, Perry Ellis, Willy Smith, Ryan White... But the only people whose ears these names fell upon are the same people who have been attending World AIDS Day events for the past 20 years. The same people, year after year, showing support and remembrance for those who passed. Sure, there may have been people there who were first time attendees but the vast majority were certainly people directly affected by the AIDS crisis.

My only sigh of relief came when I noticed two young little raver-esque boys - maybe 19, maybe 20, could be 22 - show up in their Christopher St. fashioned rainbow gear. One boy, in particular, had baggy pants with a giant rainbow-colored upside down triangle sown into his pant leg. I was happy they were there. Two new faces in a sea of prehistoric fighters.

The Reading of Names was followed by a group of flaggers who proudly got on stage and unraveled their multi-colored, bright flags and began dancing to the song "Together in Electric Dreams" written by Philip Oakley/Human League.

"We'll always be together/how ever far it seems...
Because the friendship that you gave has taught me to be brave/No matter where I go I'll never find a better prize."

It was my first time hearing the song but it sounded much like the early morning music I've heard countless times on the dance floor. The light, fluffy, feel good music that both celebrates life and tragedy to the same degree. The type of music where you look around the dance floor and find that all the riff-raff has gone home except for those few who dance because it makes them feel good, who dance because this is what the party is all about, celebration, nostalgia, and the realization that life is so damn short that it's important to savor these few moments where we're reminded of being alive. The type of music that breaks your soul and pumps tears from your heart to your eyes. One of the dancer's flags had iconic Keith Haring illustrations on them.

As a Jew I am constantly reminded of my people's Holocaust of the 1930's and 40's. The words "Never Again!" are tattooed to my brain like the numbers to my ancestor's wrists. The Holocaust ended 63 years ago yet several times a year, every year, "Never Again!" is uttered countless times throughout countless services. But here we are, on just the 20th Anniversary of World AIDS Day and the outcry of our community's Holocaust is little and muffled and being spoken, still, by the very same voices who were affected at the start of day one. Their voices are hoarse and their throats wear proud wrinkles and they are tired and growing old yet nobody has come forward to relieve them of their heart-felt duties.

My hand and heart salutes those who made this event possible. Who come out year after year - decades - despite the dwindling audiences, to pay homage to lost friends and a tragedy that still affects 30million people world wide. As the organizer of the event, Brent Nicholson Earle, an expert runner who, to get the word out on AIDS, decided to literally run the entire perimeter of the continental United States said, "I ran three quarter's of this nation's perimeter before Ronald Reagen uttered the word AIDS on national television." 20 plus years later, who is doing the running and why haven't we been running alongside him?

There were 100 people in that audience. 75%, I'm sure, are year after year attendees. Where are we in all of this, in New York City, one of the ground-zero hearts of this epidemic? Where is the outcry "Never Again!"? And where is my generation in all of this?

Oh right, we're at our local gay bars, free of police brutality, throwing back beers and whiskeys while we are stripped of our rights and bareback porn plays on the plasma screens behind us.

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Well said...
Sometimes the LGBT communities remind me of the passengers on the Titanic; sipping drinks and listening to the band as the ship sinks..

Occasionally I have hope, as I did during the spontaneous protest wave a few weeks ago, before caution took hold and we surrendered our radicalism to become cringing, begging supplicants yet again.


While I appreciate that Mr. Leven is personally invested in this very emotional topic and can thus give him some leeway, I think this post goes too far and is offensive and counter-productive.

If his intent is to persuade people to join this cause and show up for these types of events in the future, then telling his audience how awful they are for not showing up this time is a very bad way to go about it. I felt like I was reading a Republican rant, not an ally's words. If this is the tone of the event itself, I certainly have no desire to be there next year.

Mr. Leven is particularly disappointed by the lack of people younger than himself present. I feel as though if I had participated, this would have been meaningless because I am over 30 years old, or at least my participation would have been viewed as less significant than that of a person in her early 20s.

The final insult is his description of what he believes I was doing instead of being at the protest. You are incorrect, Mr. Leven. I was not at a bar, I don't drink much anymore, and I don't buy much porn or watch it in public. These broad generalizations about the gay community actually reinforce negative stereotypes which the Christian fundamentalists can use in their arguments that LGBT people are unfit for social acceptance and equality. To me it sounds like internalized homophobia. We don't need any more self-hatred.

Most of all, this tirade is immature. The LGBT community can certainly do a much better job in its activism and support of these events. However, we are not the source of the underlying problems, and in aiming his ire at us, Mr. Leven misses the point. Be angry and rant at the people in the world who discriminate against us. Be kind to your brothers and sisters and encourage them to do better.

As we said back in Kansas, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

I completely disagree. Sometimes the best help an ally can give is to point out where the problem is. This is a huge problem, and the anger behind Eric's post is more than justified.

Pointing out a problem is definitely useful and necessary. Berating the audience you hope to draw in to the cause is not. To me it isn't a question of whether Mr. Leven is correct. It's a question of whether he is persuasive. After reading this I am less likely to participate, not more.

And that last bit, characterizing all LGBT people in such a narrow, negative way, definitely seems like internalized homophobia to me. It's not a good place from which to lead, in my opinion.

I've been feeling the same way lately. Granted, I live in a relatively small town, but the AIDS vigil I went to last night had only about 30 attendees. It was held about a block from the college, but only 5 students were there. It was a really powerful and well-put together service, and it was such a shame that so many people weren't willing to take just an hour out of their day to remember those who have died and to stand in solidarity with those in our community who are living with HIV/AIDS.

I'm getting really sick of apathy.

I've been to many World AIDS day events over the years. Mostly between the ages of 20-25 I stopped going to them last year. Frankly every time I went to one of these events I didn't feel welcome and I never felt particularly connected to the event. I always feel like an outsider at this kind of event.

I have friends who have AIDS and I even know a few people who have died from AIDS related disorders. I've even dated men who have hiv. So I should be emotionally involved and I should be moved but I'm not. Maybe AIDS is simply a fact of life for me so the connection just isn't made. Maybe the horror and fear AIDS cause has simply missed me, instead its a disease like any other. Who knows what could be the cause of the disconnect but it certainly exists.

I can answer why I feel like an outsider at these event though. Its really quite simple (in my area at least) these events are organized by older gay males primarily for older gay males.

But then again maybe I'm bitter and have had bad experiences. If I have offended anyone I'm most deeply sorry to do so.


I agree with your post; but, it is my opinion that most GLBT people who are unconcerned about HIV/AIDS. Yes, when we "owned" the disease we were indeed invested. Today, the discussion about HIV/AIDS has changed and it is treated as if it is no longer a gay disease. I still believe that it is a gay disease because male to male transmission accounts for 50% or more of HIV cases in the United States even today.

I don't know how you get the word out. This year there was a World Aids Day event in Indianapolis with Bush's former World Aids Czar giving a talk. There was decent press coverage before and after the event. I was happy to see that about 150 attended. The program was at a northside church. I decided not to go because I was just too tired. AIDS does that to you.

How to get the young people involved? I wonder about that continually. ASOs, Ryan White Planning Councils, Food Banks, and numerous other organizations need consumer and public participation. It's like whisling in the wind. Many organizations cannot accept volunteers because of their real or perceived liability. I belong to various social organizations that are generally well-attended. Getting any of these same people to an AIDS Walk, a charity concert, a World AIDS Day event, a Client Service Committee, even a Dining Out for Life event, is next to impossible.

As you note, it is largely the same people who support the HIV/AIDS community out of a sense of obligation or just because it's the right thing to do. As for me, I am personally invested and that's why I am an activist. Christian took offense at your comments. I really don't know the basis for his remarks, I think he was overly sensitive and took your remarks personally rather than informationally or constructively. I agree with you and I agree with Bil's assessment.

Oh right, we're at our local gay bars, free of police brutality, throwing back beers and whiskeys while we are stripped of our rights and bareback porn plays on the plasma screens behind us.

God, young gays piss me off so much too! If only our pretty little heads were made to hold substantive thoughts instead of cocks!

I'm sorry to hear about that. I wish I could have been there to support, but I live in Indianapolis, IN. I think that Indianapolis should do something like that event. I'm suprised there wasn't a good attendance since it was in NEW YORK CITY! Sooo many people, but hopefully it will be bigger next year.

Sorry, Eric, but I fear that columnist Andrew Sullivan is correct: If you are white, male, educated, upwardly mobile, well-connected, with a good income, a reliable source for your anti-HIV-cocktail meds, and a well-written profile posted on your favorite find-a-bareback-fuck website, then "AIDS is over" --- or we pop a few pills once a day, and it is over for the next 24 hours, at least.

And if you are not white, male, educated, upwardly mobile, well-connected, affluent, with a good online fuck-me-profile, then you probably don't matter anyway ... so who cares?

Andrew Sullivan is a fool. Anyone who thinks AIDS is over or that a few pills a day is a small price to pay is also a fool.

It's time to wake up and take responsibility. HIV/AIDS may or may not be a death sentence, but between the disease and the medications they come awfully close.

A.J. Lopp: You're comment is spot on. More and more the correlation between HIV infection and poverty, race and/or low self esteem is becoming clearer and clearer. Of course, this is not to say that all who suffer from these issues are bound to infection and all those who don't are not. But it is a point well taken and a focus desperately in need of zeroing in on.

Kim- Andrew Sullivan is not a fool and I have no interest in comment-debating with you whether he is or isn't. Please read Lopp's comment again -you may be misreading the bigger picture to which Mr. Lopp/Andrew Sullivan is referring.

Andrew Sullivan advocates for barebacking, does he not? Perhaps that's all I got out of it.

I considered the popping a few pills a day line as meaning access to meds and taking them was easy so what the hell. Perhaps I reacted to that notion. The drugs are not a walk in the park.

I ignored most of A.J. Lopp's comments about on-line profiles and such as I have no knowledge of how that all works. On the other hand, I will go to a Ryan White Planning Council meeting in a couple of hours and I do know about HIV/AIDS (as you and others do). The "if you are white, male, educated, upwardly mobile, well-connected, with a good income, a reliable source for your anti-HIV-cocktail meds" then "AIDS is over" comment is just plain wrong.

I will research a little more about Andrew Sullivan's views and get back to you. Thank you for your comments as they helped me understand better what A.J. may have meant.

FYI from Wikipedeia:

Ads soliciting sex
In May 2001, Village Voice columnist Michael Musto said that Sullivan had anonymously posted advertisements for bareback sex (anal sex without a condom) on America Online and the now-defunct website[53] An archive copy of the advertisement is still available. [54] Subsequently, the American journalist and activist Michelangelo Signorile wrote about the advertisement in a front-page article in the New York gay magazine LGNY, igniting a storm of controversy.[55] Later, in a defiant blog post titled Sexual McCarthyism: An article no-one should have to write, Sullivan confirmed the allegations while arguing that the matters covered by the controversy were private and should not have been put into the public domain by his critics.[56]

Sullivan's critics[55] argued that it was hypocritical of Sullivan to engage in this kind of sexual activity while arguing for greater monogamy among gay men. They claimed that the vision of gay sexuality presented in Sullivan's writing was at odds with his alleged activities. They also charged that because Sullivan is HIV-positive, it was unsafe for him to engage in sex without a condom. Sullivan's critics[57] also contended that it was unfair for Sullivan to criticize Bill Clinton's sexual indiscretions as "reckless" while engaging in unprotected sex.

Sullivan responded that his advertisement stated that he was HIV-positive and he intended to have bareback sex only with consenting adults who were also HIV-positive. According to Sullivan, limiting unprotected sex to other HIV-positive men reduces the risk inherent in the behavior. Moreover, he criticized what he called a "thin reed of evidence" of the existence of "reinfection" which, according to some medical professionals, heightens the destruction caused by the virus.[58] Sullivan's supporters also argued that it was a violation of his privacy to publish information about his sex life.[59] Sullivan argued that those who revealed the details about his sex life were motivated by a desire for payback because they disagreed with his pro-marriage politics .[56] In Sullivan's book Love Undetectable (pub. 1999), he wrote:

"Although I never publicly defended promiscuity, I never publicly attacked it. I attempted to avoid the subject, in part because I felt, and often still feel, unable to live up to the ideals I really hold."[60]

Sullivan's journalistic ethics were called into question when he announced that he would be accepting a sponsorship to write his blog The Daily Dish from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the lobby for the industry that he credited with saving his life, but which has also been criticized for its practices in AIDS-affected areas of the Third World.[61]