Before the march, there was a quick registration and the handing off of a red umbrella, which would be used in creating a huge AIDS Ribbon at the foot of the Washington Monument.
The rally featured emcee Margaret Cho, a keynote speech by former Ambassador Andrew Young—who seemed more intent, to me, on replaying his connection with Martin Luther King Jr.—Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, and the Reverend Al Sharpton.
In the interests of fairness, I have never been a fan of Sharpton; I’ve always felt that his activism might be more self-promoting than needed, but he gave quite the fiery speech about HIV/AIDS, activism, the Black community and the rise in infections among African-Americans. He clearly drove home what, for me, was a most vital point, that this is not a “gay” thing, or a “male” thing, or a “white” thing; it knows no color, no gender, no ethnicity, no religion, no age, no social boundary, no wealth, no poverty.
Music was provided Wyclef Jean, and, as you can see, I got rather up close to the man backstage. He’s quite delicious, but, for me, the hottie of the event—and you had to know I was gonna get shallow at some point—was Billy, the sign language interpreter. Billy was hot. Billy was way hot. And when Billy was signing while Wyclef spoke, Billy proved to be quite the dancer.
Billy was hot. Did I mention that?
Anyway, where was I?
Oh yeah….Some of the speakers criticized President Obama—and rightly so I think—for not appearing at the rally. Now, he’d made no plans to attend, though he did send a recorded message to, the AIDS conference that began the next day, and, on the day of the event, he was in Aurora speaking to victims of the shooting out there; in fact, Marine One, possibly with Obama on board, flew over the Mall at one point during the afternoon.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation [AHF], which organized the rally and march, has repeatedly criticized the White House for what it says is the Obama administration’s inadequate response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In addition to the president’s decision not to speak in person at AIDS 2012, he was criticized for cutting funding to the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and was also accused of not doing enough to eliminate AIDS Drug Assistance Program [ADAP] waiting lists.
I will, however give Obama his due, because this is the first time since 1990 that the International AIDS Conference was held in the United States. Previously, it had been held outside the country because a ban had been placed on people with HIV entering the U.S. That ban was lifted in 2010 by President Obama, "finishing a process begun under [Yes] the Bush administration."
I was able to meet AHF President Michael Weinstein during the march. He is deeply concerned that, in the South, AIDS and HIV infection are on the rise, and wants to plan a march in Atlanta in the future, and maybe some smaller marches at other cities in the South. Due to religious bias, and deeply rooted conservatism, masking as denial, talking about HIV/AIDS is almost unheard of, and education, treatment, outreach, etc, are almost non-existent.
Speaker Tavis Smiley said, of Obama, ““No matter how well-intentioned he is, no matter how much better he is than the other choice, he will end up another garden variety politician. He will be transactional and not transformational if we don’t… in the spirit of love hold him accountable.”
Dr Cornel West spoke fiercely about how homophobia within the black community impacts the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this country: “We got to recognize that homophobia is as evil as white supremacy, as male supremacy, as anti-Jewish hatred, anti-other bigotry and anti-Islam sensibility. We want integrity and consistency and the only way to get it is you’ve got to bear witness.”
But, as I said, I was most surprised by Sharpton, who said, of the Black community, as well as the religious community, “They have not dealt with the issue because of their own bias and their own homophobia and their own misconception of what this is. Jesus healed people. He didn’t interview people. He never asked people why they were sick, all he asked is do you want to be made whole. Your job reverend, your job rabbi, your job imam is not to condemn people; it’s to heal people. And if you’re not down with the healing, you need to turn in your collar and get another kind of vocation.”
Margaret Cho said, “There’s this idea that AIDS is gone, it’s over. A lot of young people are not paying attention to the way I was raised with it. In my culture there was so much fear around it. There was a lot of not knowing the facts. At this point in time, 30 years later, the fear has subsided. It’s become a kind of apathy.”
Cho also spoke about how impactful a simple march can be—she attended the Millennium March for LGBT Rights back in 2000: “Every time there’s a march on Washington, it is really an inspiring thing. It was so amazing and I really feel like that march really led to people starting to realize that gay marriage can happen and now we’re seeing that over the last 12 years. It’s taken 12 years, but we’re starting to see it happen. That was I think a catalyst. When we have a march on Washington — and this is solely devoted to awareness, AIDS awareness, AIDS education and really just healing this city — that’s really powerful.”