SMC GSA walks in 30th Annual AIDS Walk

There was a festive feeling in the air as nearly 25,000 people gathered at West Hollywood park. Music boomed over loudspeakers as groups in matching t-shirts held up signs, waved banners, and chanted slogans. Volunteers in bright vests and hats handed out water and snacks to the walking masses passing under a giant inflatable archway at the entrance to the event.

Volunteers seemed dedicated solely to keeping up enthusiasm, thanking those who had showed up and shouting words of encouragement. The crowd began singing along as live performances started in the park, audible to everyone for miles around.

But it was not some Coachella-esque music festival or early West Hollywood Halloween celebration that brought such numbers out with such enthusiasm. No, this time 25,000 people showed up with the singular goal of raising money and awareness to fight an epidemic that has taken quite a toll on the community.

On Sunday, the 30th annual Aids Walk Los Angeles took place in West Hollywood. Walkers who marched the six mile trail down San Vicente Blvd., La Cienega Blvd., Melrose Ave., La Brea Ave. and back down to Beverly Blvd., dedicated their foot steps to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Many raised money, and many more simply came out to show their support.

Among the indiviudals and teams that participated was Santa Monica College’s Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA). AIDS and the LGBT community have a well known, tragic history together, so it comes as no surprise that this community is particularly passionate about finding a cure. In fact, homosexuality and AIDS are so closely entwined in American history that when it was recognized in the 1980’s, AIDS was originally called GRID, or Gay-related

Immunodeficiency Disease. It was once thought to be an exclusively homosexual disease, according to an article in the October 1993 issue of The American Journal of Public Health, and it was only when more research was done on the subject that this was proven to be false. It is stigma-breaking research like this that the AIDS Walk Los Angeles funds.

“We typically do it, almost every year,” said Co-President of SMC’s GSA, Andy Cabrera, and they are never alone. “There’s GSA’s here from all other high schools, universities, and colleges.”

Cabrera explained some of the reasons why his club braved the crowds, heat, and long trek to show their solidarity. “The main reason is for support, because of the LGBT community. Because AIDS is a big issue in the LGBT community. So we need to be out here for the cause, you know, to promote awareness, and also to help reduce the stigma of people with HIV and AIDS,” he says. He adds that the money from this event is used for AIDS research, and medication for people who are diagnosed with HIV.

Cabrera, passionate for this cause, believes that by coming out and participating in the walk, he and his club truly made a difference.

While Cabrera understands the importance of fundraising, he expresses the importance of participation. “Even if you can’t donate yourself or can’t fundraise, just show up. It’s for the cause. I think as long as we show some unity by coming out and having our presence, they’ll [the LGBT community] know that Santa Monica College GSA club actually does care about the cause.”

The long march began down San Vicente Blvd. and turned right to follow Santa Monica Blvd. Even the few, scattered protesters, holding up signs with slogans such as “Homo sex is sin” and “Stop AIDS? Stop sin” could do little to affect the atmosphere of the event. In fact, as the crowd passed these dissenters, they cheered even louder, their collective resolve strengthened by their commitment to this cause. And as the walk progressed, these anti-gay protesters grew fewer and farther between, eventually disappearing altogether.

The marchers of the AIDS Walk Los Angeles looked like a mobile carnival as they continued up Santa Monica towards La Cienega Blvd., with radio and DJ booths placed to keep the party going the entire way.

Henry Vivar, a second year volunteer, handed out water and encouragement on one of the street corners.

“It makes me happy to see so many people supporting people who have AIDS,” he said, remarking that the aura

surroundng this event is one of the things that carried over from last year. “The route is different, but the enthusiasm is still there.”

Volunteers such as Vivar threw more of their energy into keeping the crowd pumped as they continued their trek down streets and across intersections under the hot sun.

Eight year veteran volunteer Blake Manship described some of the planning that went into the event. “I’m a Conehead,” he said, “I shut down the street. I caution tape the lines where the walkers stay, and then I monitor the race.”

While this may seem like a tedious volunteer position to some, Manship comes back year after year in solidarity of the people in his life who are HIV positive or have died from AIDS. “It’s to help eliminate that disease,” he says.

Stories like Manship’s are common at an event like this, and evidence that underneath the joyful feeling of the walk is a deeper issue. AIDS is an often fatal disease that affects over 1 million people in the United States, with one in six of those not even knowing they have the disease, according to the CDC website’s page on HIV/AIDS.

This event is designed to raise awareness of the tragedy that is the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and many, such as 16th year walker Bill Colgan, dream of a day when AIDS Walk Los Angeles is no longer necessary.

“One year it’s going to stop, and that’s what I’m hoping for,” says Colgan.