Metro Weekly

How Washington, D.C. is commemorating World AIDS Day 2020

Online events and remembrances, as well as free testing, are hallmarks of the 33rd Annual World AIDS Day in the DMV area.

A mobile HIV testing unit and outreach site set up by Us Helping Us, People Into Living, Inc. – Photo: UHU.

World AIDS Day, occurring this year on Tuesday, Dec. 1, is a time when national and local HIV/AIDS service organizations pay respect to those lives felled by the disease, engage in HIV prevention and education outreach, and offer free HIV/STD testing. Now in its 33rd year, it is a time of reflection and remembrance, and of recommitment to the cause of putting an end to a virus that has taken so many lives, many of them LGBTQ.

Due to an inability to gather in large groups as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, several events will occur in the days following World AIDS Day.

The majority of the following events are based in the D.C.-metropolitan area, but some can be accessed online globally. All times are EST unless noted.

Us Helping Us, People Into Living, an HIV service organization focused on LGBTQ and Black communities, will provide free HIV and STI testing at the Safeway on 2845 Alabama Ave. SE, inside a secure room from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The organization will also host “Unity in the Community,” an outdoor event at the Anacostia Metro Station from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The event, co-sponsored by the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, will feature music, giveaways, and will connect attendees with needed services, including mobile unit HIV/STI testing, UHU’s case management services, mental health services, and needle exchange programs. 

“We are excited to get back into the community,” Mario Gray, program manager for UHU, said by email. “With the climate of the world as it stands, a majority of our outreach events were canceled since March of this year. This will be one of our first times stepping back into the community in months. We look forward to having fun while keeping staff and our clients safe.”

Washington, D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health, a federally-qualified health center specializing in LGBTQ-competent and HIV/AIDS care, will kick off its commemoration of World AIDS Day at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 30, with “A Day With(out) Art 2020,” a project of the organization Visual AIDS intended to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention and remember those who died from the virus.

That event serves as a precursor to “See You There: Making History with Whitman-Walker,” at The Corner, Whitman-Walker’s cultural space at its Elizabeth Taylor Building at 1377 R St. NW. The exhibit, which opens on Saturday, Dec. 5 and runs through March 28, includes documents, personal accounts, and artwork that tell the story of Whitman-Walker’s early history as one of the first clinics in the country to specialize in LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS care. 

On Dec. 1, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Whitman-Walker, in partnership with the National AIDS Memorial, will sponsor a virtual discussion, World AIDS Day 2020: A National Conversation, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. The moderated panel discussion will include various HIV activists, health experts, and policymakers who will discuss different aspects of the HIV epidemic, as well as the comparisons and similarities between the early days of AIDS and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to health care, social justice, social activism, remembrance, and resilience.

Participants in the discussion include U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Dr. Anthony Fauci; Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot; Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; Alicia Garza, Principal at Black Futures Lab and Co-Founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network; Cleve Jones, Co-Founder of the AIDS Memorial Quilt; Kristin Urquiza, Co-Founder of Marked by COVID; Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign; and award-winning actress and longtime HIV advocate Judith Light

Whitman-Walker will also participate in a virtual quilt display of the Names Project of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which is presenting a display for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Whitman-Walker is hosting the D.C. site and has requested panels that name programs or people important to Whitman-Walker’s history, including Max Robinson and Dusty Cunningham. The virtual exhibit can be accessed online at www.aidsmemorial.org.

AIDS Memorial Quilt — Photo: Carol Highsmith, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

“In past years, we have had our candlelight vigil. And that was very special and very deeply personal and moving for the people who participated,” says Joshua Riley, director of community commitment at Whitman-Walker. “But it seems appropriate to participate in larger-scale observances this year with the intersection of COVID and HIV.”

Whitman-Walker will also participate in two different social media events. On Dec. 1, at 6 p.m., the health center will take to Instagram Live to promote the Know Your Status Campaign that advocates regular HIV testing, linking those with the virus into treatment regimens to better manage the disease. Then, on Dec. 2, at 6:30 p.m., the organization, in collaboration with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., will participate in an Instagram Live session aimed at raising awareness around the prevalence of HIV among Black women, and offer safer sex tools and advice for people to avoid contracting the virus.

At 4 p.m. on Dec. 1, the national HIV/AIDS advocacy organization NMAC will honor U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) for their longstanding commitment to fighting the HIV epidemic during a virtual ceremony in which the organization will present the two congresswomen with its inaugural Hill Champion Awards for Minority Health

Pelosi will be awarded the John Lewis Good Trouble Award, named for the late Georgia congressman and civil rights leader who advocated for marginalized groups, while Lee will be honored with the Elijah Cummings Award for Minority Health Equality, named for the longtime Baltimore-area congressman who was an advocate for those affected by the disease.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (left) – Photo: Todd Franson/Metro Weekly; and Rep. Barbara Lee – Photo: Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

In Virginia, the Alexandria Health Department and the Alexandria Commission on HIV/AIDS, in partnership with the Northern Virginia chapters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and the Northern Virginia National Council of Negro Women will host a World AIDS Day virtual event on Dec. 1, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. focusing on efforts to end the HIV epidemic by stemming the tide of new infections.

The event will feature a presentation by Anthony Gutierrez, of Gilead Sciences, on “The Evolution of HIV Treatment,” followed by a panel discussion featuring local HIV/AIDS service providers, representatives of faith-based communities, and people living with HIV. Several guest speakers will talk about advancements in HIV prevention and HIV treatment, particularly with respect to controlling viral load and reducing the possibility for transmission of the virus. Other speakers will focus on lessons learned from the HIV epidemic that can be applied to the current COVID-19 pandemic, particularly when it comes to barriers in reaching underrepresented or marginalized communities.

Also as part of World AIDS Day, NovaSalud, Inc., a local service organization that serves the Latino community in Northern Virginia, will host in-person HIV testing on Dec. 1 at its Falls Church headquarters (2946 Sleepy Hollow Rd., Suite 3C) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Attendees will be asked to practice social distancing, and will be provided with COVID-19 kit bags providing information on testing resources, face masks, and hand sanitizer, as well as free testing for Hepatitis B and C. For more information, visit www.novasaludinc.org or call 703-533-1858.

The District of Columbia’s Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, in conjunction with the D.C. Health Department, the Human Rights Campaign, ServeDC, Makers Lab, and the Love Life Foundation, will host Mighty Real and Mighty Resilient, on Dec. 1 starting at 7 p.m., that will draw comparisons between the HIV epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic, remember those who lost their lives to both viruses, and celebrate the activism of frontline heroes and survivors who have dedicated themselves to combating the diseases.

The online-only event will feature remarks from Tori Cooper, HRC’s director of community engagement for its Transgender Justice Initiative, as well as performances by drag performer Vagenesis, singer Raheem DeVaughn, and vocalist Patience Rowe. The event is free but pre-registration at hrc.im/worldaidsday is required to attend.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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