Today is World AIDS day, which has been observed since 1987 in honor of the 25 million people killed by the disease. There are approximately 33 million people around the globe and 107,000 New Yorkers currently living with HIV/AIDS.
Runnin’ Scared spoke to several New Yorkers — from the Mayor, to someone who has sued a former Mayor regarding AIDS — and asked them who they were thinking about or remembering on this day.
Mike Bloomberg, Mayor
The Mayor told RS that he was thinking “About a friend who died about three years ago. I don’t want to say his name, but he was the nicest guy, just a lovely human being. And when I saw what I was doing this morning, it brought back…”
Bloomberg trailed off and started talking about the city’s response to fighting HIV/AIDS.
The Mayor was on hand at an event in the Brooklyn Public Library, to announce the start of the Brooklyn Knows Campaign. It’s based upon the highly successful Bronx Knows Campaign, which was (until Brooklyn’s undertaking) the largest effort ever to get an entire population tested. The Bronx Knows ultimately got 400,000 New Yorkers to learn their HIV status. The City says they identified 1300 new cases of HIV/AIDS in that process, of which two thirds are now receiving care. The city will partner with 53 organizations, from hospitals to churches, to encourage Brooklyn residents to learn their HIV status, with free tests for the uninsured.
The Mayor and other speakers addressed frankly that while a lot of progress has been made in HIV/AIDS in the city, there are troubling signs. Since 2002, the Mayor said, AIDS deaths are down a third, and new diagnoses are down 27% overall. But his Commissioner of Health pointed out that from 2002-2008, new infections in young gay men have increased some 50% — an unfortunate by product of the fact that treatment makes AIDS seem less scary.
Henry Bradley, plaintiff, Henrietta D. v. Giuliani
Henry Bradley, who was diagnosed with HIV almost 28 years ago in 1983 (before there was even a name for it), sued Bloomberg’s predecessor. He spoke about multiple friends who have died of AIDS while being given the run around by the City.
Bradely was a co-plaintiff in the landmark case Henrietta D. vs. Giuliani. The lawsuit alleged that people with AIDS who received social services and medications from government agencies were so sick, they could not go through the bureaucratic hoops to keep those services. Bradley himself lost all access to medication at one point and went without it for 22 months. Until the lawsuit, he saw many friends die, who would miss appointments with government agencies because they were too sick to leave the house and then lose their services. After the courts found in their favor the city was forced to use caseworkers, who would travel to homebound AIDS patients, treating them in a similar manner to others with physical disabilities.
Christine Quinn, City Council Speaker
Speaker Quinn spoke about a mentor, who is still living with HIV.
“I’m thinking about [State Senator] Tom Duane. Thank God he is doing really, really well. But, the work I did with him when I was his Chief of Staff and his Campaign Manager, some of that work around HIV/AIDS I’m most proud of, and I think his being the first person to run as openly HIV elected official to win, and his really aggressive advocacy, is a lot of what changed the whole political dynamic in New York.”
Gayle D., volunteer, Gay Men’s Health Crisis
Gayle remembers a friend and former boyfriend who died of AIDS.
She said she believe he is now “in a better place and not suffering.” She came to the breakfast to support the Brooklyn Knows campaign.
Rev. Jerome Payne, Minister
Rev. Payne spoke about a young man named James, who died of AIDS in 1994. He says that is what triggered his call to get involved with the disease.
“Within the black community, you have stigma, cultural differences,” says Payne, talking about why he goes out to meet people wherever they are as a non-denominational pastor. “And those are some of the things I think we can address primarily through the various bases of faith. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim…those of us who are clergy need to reach out to people so that they know we’re here for you. You’re not in this by yourself. You’re not alone.”