Tuesday, December 2, 2008

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

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 dancefloor. 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 dancefloor 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 savior 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.


Mark said...

It was thrilling to see all the young people who had come out for the demonstations these past few weeks. In fact, I almost felt out of place, an old dinosaur lumbering among the chickens. I was relieved to realize that one could no longer consider oneself "post-gay", and that new generations had been mobilized.

Eric, it's been 28 years since my friend Sydney died in a matter of weeks from something completely unexplainable. There came an uncountable number of people after that.

It's been my experience that many people who did not live through that Holocaust have much interest in hearing about it. There have been several exceptions, but mostly, it's just been epic eye-rolling at the bitter musings of a tired old queen.

I do my mourning in private these days, and hold those memories sacred to me.

It means next to nothing when some old duffer like me attends yet another memorial service. It speaks volumes when a man your age does. Don't dispair. Be the only person in your age group there! You won't be alone long.

Scott said...

I clicked on YES on the Facebook page and did show up, and even re-introduced myself and came out publicly as person living with AIDS. I also brought a 27 year old friend as well as my husband (we got married in Connecticut last week.)

That being said, I agree with you that it was a frustratingly low turnout. Maybe we can work together to make this event bigger and more well attended by youth next year.

Thanks for creating the Facebook page. And thanks for the blog -- always great stuff you have to say. It really means to much to have your voice out there in our community.


- Scott...

Anonymous said...

I found out about the vigil the same day and was inspired enough to click yes on your FB page.
Unfortunately I'm in the middle of changing up some of my AIDS meds and just didn't feel up to it, when it was time to travel downtown.
Sorry Eric and sorry the turnout was so low. Perhaps there is still too much stigma and shame attached to this virus for the younger gays to want to be associated.
You are a rare young man Eric. xo

Matthew said...

I think I may have you beat for the youngest person in the crowd. I'm 18. I was there. I came late - I met the procession at about 15 Street - because at ten past six I was overwhelmed by a strange new sense of obligation to pay some kind of homage to something of which I couldn't possibly have any personal memories, but that means more to how I am able to live as a gay person today than anything else. That sense of duty was inspired, at least in part, by KnuckleCrack, by reading about your commitment to respect and remember that saga as much as you can, as another person who may have little living memory of the peak of the crisis.

I was moved to tears by the service, something that has never happened to me in regards to the AIDS epidemic. And I am more than glad that I went; despite the participation being small, it had at least a little effect on a member of this generation.

Thank you.

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

Continue to follow your instincts. If you do, others will take notice and follow you. I look at you sometimes and see a bridge from the past to the future.

the zak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the zak said...


Scott said...

I understand your frustration, but have my own as well. I used to work for a National AIDS Organization here in DC and spend the greater part of 5 years running around the country trying to convince people to change their behavior.

After a while, the burnout came big and hard-all that Preaching to the choir.

These days, I speak out, but am so disappointed at all of it, especailly the gay boys who like you said, would rather slog back beer and whiskey while watching bareback porn. The irony of it all.

That being said, I laud your efforts and want to say that if even they make a difference for even one person, you're a champion.

Jeremy said...

Hi Eric,

I want you to know that if I hadn't had class then, I would have been right there with you.

Keep on speaking out. I'm only one person, but I've been really inspired by what you're doing. I hope I can do the same for someone else.


the zak said...

        > I understand your frustration, but have my own as well. I used to work for a National AIDS Organization here in DC and spend the greater part of 5 years running around the country trying to convince people to change their behavior.

The Three Sex Rules

Sex Rule Number 1
Sex is more important than dying.

Sex Rule Number 2
Sex is more important than killing somebody.

Sex Rule Number 3
If people could change their sexual behavior we wouldn't be here.

Rami said...

Stop judging other people on their lack of activism, and stop suggesting that the rest of your generation was out being irresponsible somehow. A little presumptuous don't you think?