Roughly one month ago, on Sunday, June 5, 2,350 riders and 600 volunteer “roadies” prepared to set off on the 7-day, 545-mile journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles for the 10th anniversary of the AIDS LifeCycle, a unique and challenging fundraiser for HIV/AIDS services at the LA Gay & Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. This year the event broke all records for AIDS fundraisers – bringing in more than $13 million.
Significantly, the AIDS LifeCycle day of departure also fell on the 30th anniversary of the first CDC report of what would be called AIDS. At that point, LA-based Dr. Michael Gottlieb and Dr. Joel Weisman identified five gay men with a strange new disease that the medical community soon realized was communicable. From 1981 to 1995 when the combination drug therapy breakthrough was announced, AIDS killed more Americans than the Vietnam and Korean wars combined – thanks in large part to the apparently intentional neglect of the Reagan Administration.
With friends and lovers no longer dying on a daily basis and HIV appearing to be a “manageable” disease, the fear of AIDS disappeared and along with it, attention to the ongoing epidemic. As Center CEO Lorri Jean said at opening ceremonies and again in her first dispatch from the road:
While AIDS is no longer the No. 1 cause of death among adults in America, more than 1 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS; 60,000 people will be infected this year and 18,000 will die. This is still a public health crisis as far as I’m concerned!
To capture this historic anniversary, the ALC team decided to invite a number of reporters, bloggers and videographers along for the ride. Earnest Winborne and I were the oldest of the embeds with fresh memories of those who had died during the AIDS holocaust of the 1980s and 1990s. Earnest was there to record Janora McDuffie, the open lesbian co-host of his web-based show, NoMoreDownLow.TV. She rode to remind people of the impact of HIV/AIDS on Black women.
But for the most part, the young media embeds were there to unemotionally record the event. That changed as the hours melded into each other and over 3,000 people enjoyed one powerful shared experience. Videographer Nick Vivion of Seattle-based Worldli Film explains:
I was blown away by the impact that the AIDS/LifeCycle ride had on me. While I was prepared for a week-long marathon of blogging, shooting and editing from various cars and tents, I was not prepared for the emotional impact that the experience had on me. The pure passion that the riders, roadies, volunteers and staff had for the ride was all-encompassing, and I found myself completely wrapped up in the enthusiasm. You could feel the positive vibrations of people united against a common enemy everyday. I realized this week how much HIV/AIDS has impacted our community, and I started to discover that it impacted far more lives than I could have ever imagined. And I realized, somewhat forcefully, how much this disease has re-emerged in our community. It is ravaging us once again, and I have been activated to do my part in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Jim Key, Public Affairs Director of the LA Gay & Lesbian Center and James Loduca, his counter-part at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, came up with this brilliant idea for an iconic photo to capture the historic nature of the event. Only problem: San Francisco was experiencing record-breaking rainfall. And then suddenly, the rain stopped long enough for the shot.
Time-lapse shots of the human AIDS Red Ribbon by Chase Whiteside and Erick Stoll: