Photos by Chloe B. Park
The weather was perfect for yesterday’s annual AIDS Walk New York, in which 45,000 New Yorkers took to the streets, raising $6 million for local AIDS services organizations. Voices of NY’s Chloe B. Park was on hand to shoot the slide show above.
Every 10 minutes, a person contracts AIDS in the United States, and Latinos are disproportionately affected by the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Marjorie Hill, president of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, which organizes the event, spoke to El Diario La Prensa in advance of yesterday’s march. The interview is translated below.
EDLP: Why is the AIDS Walk important for the Latino community?
Marjorie Hill: Unfortunately, 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV. New York City continues to be the center of the epidemic and the AIDS Walk provides us with crucial funding to help us carry out our efforts to communicate our message of education and prevention.
EDLP: What is the goal of the AIDS Walk this year?
MH: Last year we raised $6.4 million, and this year we hope to raise even more money. These dollars are critical because they help us to close the gap; the government is not doing as much as it used to, and there have been large cuts to prevention measures. We use money from the AIDS Walk to carry out campaigns in both English and Spanish that educate the community with culturally relevant messages. We communicate our messages in such a way that people listen and understand well enough to use them.
One third of the 11,000 people that GMHC serves are part of the Latino community. For many years, it has been a priority of ours to make sure that we provide culturally appropriate services and support to that community. The success of AIDS Walk will help us to continue doing that.
We will be providing free HIV testing in the park, because one out of every five people living with HIV right now doesn’t know that he or she has the virus. Not knowing, they don’t protect themselves, they are not protecting their loved ones, and they are not receiving the necessary medical attention.
EDLP: Thirty years have passed since the epidemic began, and many people think that the HIV/AIDS crisis has come to an end. What do you think about that?
MH: It’s true. Many people think that there is no longer a crisis. Some people incorrectly think that because we have new treatments, that there is in fact a cure. While things are better than they were 30 years ago, there still isn’t a vaccine against AIDS. Education and prevention continue to be the best tools in this struggle.
EDLP: Why do minorities in New York, especially Latinos, continue to be the most affected?
MH: That is absolutely right. HIV/AIDS disproportionately impacts Latino and African-American New Yorkers. Part of the reason is that not everyone has access to medicine and messages of prevention, and their healthcare providers are not culturally competent or don’t speak their language; so the message isn’t getting across to those who need it most.
There is also a huge stigma in that community, and people refuse to talk about HIV/AIDS. When the epidemic started, one slogan said, “Silence equals death.” That silence is killing individuals in communities of color, because Latinos and African-Americans don’t get tested. They discover that they are HIV positive at a more advanced stage of the illness.
EDLP: Young adults believe that HIV is a controllable illness and that if they get infected they are not going to die. What do you think?
MH: That is correct, partly because young adults think they are invincible and their primary concern isn’t getting sick. During the first years of the epidemic, people who were unfortunately dying came to GMHC seeking support, and we helped them to die with dignity. Today we are helping people to live with dignity, but many of the people that use our services face challenges in the areas of housing, domestic violence, and immigration; so despite having the virus, their main concern is not HIV.
EDLP: What is your message for young Latinos?
MH: It’s important to get tested and know what your status is. GMHC provides free testing. It’s not important where they go; what’s important is getting tested. If they find out they are HIV positive, they can seek the help they need, and if they are HIV negative, they can also seek the help they need to stay negative.