For those of us who lived through the time when the media called it the “Gay Cancer,” who have lived through its terror, and who have been affected by the still present stigma associated with the disease, the existing ignorance on the prevention of the spread of HIV and AIDS, on the medical advances available, on the assistance that is available for those affected, and on the overwhelming numbers of worldwide infections, is still shocking.
World Aids Day is held annually as a day of remembrance of those lost, a reflection on how far we’ve come, and as a reminder to bring awareness that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the precursor to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), still plagues us.
The World Health Organization reports that HIV and AIDS has claimed “more than 34 million lives so far” and that in 2014 “1.2 million people died from HIV-related causes globally.”
To observe the annual day set aside through the World Health Organization 27 years ago, a vigil in Pasadena was held locally at All Saint’s Church on Tuesday, Dec. 1.
All Saints Church, in partnership with the new Foothill Aids Project, was a host site for the vigil. Juliana Serrano, senior associate for peace and justice in the office for creative connections, said it was an honor and a natural for the church to be a location for the vigil.
“We’ve always celebrated World Aids Day at All Saints,” said Serrano of the church that held services also on the Sunday leading up to World Aids Day and annually. “We wear our red ribbons and share them with the congregation as an active remembrance in solidarity for all those who suffer from HIV and AIDS … and so this is a small act that we can do to join the millions that we can do on this day of remembering.”
Serrano stressed the need for the restart of a conversation with our youth and the community since many have forgotten or are not aware of “what it was like in the 80s to watch people that they love die” and that there exists an indifference.
“People are forgetting or neglecting to take care of themselves and remember that this is a still a contractible disease,” said Serrano. “So I think that’s one of the things that I would want to see is for us to get back to a place of conversation around HIV and AIDs, in a way that doesn’t make it feel like it’s a non-issue anymore … Dare I say, maybe there’s a bit of apathy that is not deserved.”
Anthony Brazier, housing coordinator, and Shannon Matta, case manager of the Foothill Aids Project, attended the vigil as part of their outreach and in support as well. In January 2016, they will open a Pasadena location and will work with the city of Pasadena Housing Authority, Housing Opportunities for People with Aids (HOPWA), Aids Project Los Angeles (APLA) with their food program, and the Andrew Escajeda Comprehensive Care Services (AECCS) clinic in order to get services to those who apply and qualify.
A social worker for nearly eight years who commutes from Upland, Matta felt strongly compelled that she expand her skills to HIV care and awareness through the epidemic’s increase affecting her own community and those closest to her by joining the Foothill Aids Project.
“I recognized a large increase with women in color were being diagnosed … and then having worked with a lot of client that were positive, it just felt like a natural progression to come and service the community so we can try to reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS.”
Alex Possner, a member of All Saint’s Church and volunteer for the Children’s Hospital Child Life program, came in solidarity to the vigil and to also bring outreach. Through such work with the Life program, Possner hopes to most influence those who put themselves at risk through drugs and alcohol and to get themselves tested.
“The ones who refuse to get tested,” said Possner. “To all the youth out there, the college students, kids under 30 years old—kids over 30—get tested! It’s a very simple process. Find out what your status is. Once you know your status you can either protect yourself or get on proper medication and take care of yourself medically.”
Each participant had various reasons for coming to All Saint’s for World Aids Day, but all stressed the need for a community bonding in remembrance and in support of those currently affected. Possner was there for his friends currently in the fight.
“I’m just here to support all the people who have HIV,” he said. “The ones who are HIV positive, like my friend’s Matthew and Kevin. I am here for them both.”
“This is a vigil so that we can light our candles and be in community, and again remember. In essence, to recommit ourselves to the work that still lies ahead,” said Serrano. “We can certainly celebrate that there have been advances in medicine, and that’s wonderful, and we hope that one day that leads to a full-fledged cure. In the meantime, there’s more education and outreach work that we need to do to make sure that people are still aware.”
All Saints Church, committed to “both equal protection and equal blessing for LGBT children of God,” will hold one hour Christmas Eve services on December 24, 2015 at 3 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.