This past Sunday, GMHC hosted the 31st Annual AIDS Walk New York in Central Park. To many, it may seem hard to imagine why we need to host things like AIDS Walk; we have marriage equality, and gratefully HIV is no longer a death sentence for most people. To anyone who believes that, I would say you have not been paying attention because 2016 has already been an ugly year of attacks on the LGBT community and people of color.
Presidential campaigns often share positive messages filled with renewed hope for a better future. Not this campaign season. Instead, we have seen a slew of hateful, prejudiced rhetoric emanating from the presidential campaign trail.
And GMHC's clients -- most of whom are people of color, low-income, members of the LGBT community, and women -- are bearing the brunt. The hate speech by these so-called leaders is clearly intended to foster public ridicule of people and families that rely on government-sponsored medical care and other social services.
This is exactly the kind of environment that we have to fight back against if we are serious about ending the AIDS epidemic. This is exactly why GMHC released our presidential candidate survey, because people need to know what every candidate's plan is to address the worst epidemic of our lifetimes.
This year's AIDS Walk New York ad campaign served to combat these stigmatizing and degrading messages, and remind people why it is critical to keep walking until we find a cure. We reminded people that "Hate is not a New York value," nor is it an American value. Sexism, racism and homophobia can never be tolerated, and we reminded our clients and supporters to rise above such repugnant rhetoric.
Thankfully, they did.
An enormous crowd of 30,000 participants came to Central Park on Sunday May 15th in support of AIDS Walk New York -- the world's largest single-day AIDS fundraising event. Dozens of corporate sponsors, hundreds of teams, and tens of thousands of individual walkers collectively raised over $4.5 million to support people living with HIV and AIDS and to stop new infections.
These critical funds will allow GMHC to continue our life-saving services to help those affected by HIV and AIDS. We will be able to serve over 80,000 hot meals a year, to test over 3,000 people a year at our testing center, to advocate at all levels of the government, to offer legal services and so much more.
This year, AIDS Walk New York also served as an important reminder. We were reminded of the incredible, supportive community we have today. In the earliest, darkest days of the epidemic, AIDS was a death sentence. Our elected officials wouldn't even utter the word.
For a long time, HIV thrived in the shadows of stigma and shame. We have certainly come a long way since then.
Today, GMHC and other HIV and AIDS organizations successfully persuaded the federal government to recommend widespread use of PrEP, a daily treatment that is over 90% effective in preventing HIV infection. We adopted a statewide goal in New York of ending AIDS as an epidemic by 2020. And most recently, Secretary Hillary Clinton sat down with HIV and AIDS activists in Brooklyn to discuss national strategies to end the epidemic and gratefully she raised the importance of a President addressing HIV stigma head-on.
We are getting closer and closer to ending the epidemic, and more importantly toward our collective goal of an AIDS-free world. AIDS Walk 2017 planning is underway already. The AIDS Walk New York community has delivered a message of hope and resilience for 31-years, and that is why we have risen above the hateful rhetoric to accomplish so much.
Kelsey Louie is the CEO of Gay Men's Health Crisis