EVENTS | ACTIVISM

World AIDS Day:

“Out Of The Darkness” Vigil In St. John’s Lutheran Church

Family members and loved ones gathered to hold this year’s candlelight vigil for World AIDS Day with guest speakers and performances.

Family members and loved ones gathered at St. John’s Lutheran Church (81 Christopher Street) to hold this year’s “Out of the Darkness” candlelight vigil for World AIDS Day. At the gathering, members of the community read the names of those we have lost to AIDS, along with commemorations from guest speakers, flag and fan dance performances, and choral songs.

The rainy weather made it challenging, yet the vigil was filled with dozens of families, members of the community, and first-time attendees. The event began with the reading of names of those we have lost to AIDS by Jeff Bosacki, Pilar Gomez, Heritage of Pride, A.R.E.A., HOP and IAPI volunteers, followed by a flag and fan dance performance dedicated to activists and caregivers lost to AIDS. 

“and you’re like ‘I’m not hopeful’ and yet you are here, and you’re active, and you’re not letting the despair win, but instead you are living hope and so I thank you because it is inspiration within our community is an inspiration to the world.”

Reverend Mark E. Erson of St. John’s Lutheran Church welcomed the attendees to the “Out of the Darkness” vigil and thanked everyone for participating despite the unfortunate rainy weather. The reverend spoke about the meaning of hope, and the importance of continuing to celebrate the legacy of those who we’ve loss to AIDS.

Brent Nicholson Earle, President and founder of American Run for the End of AIDS (A.R.E.A.) gave the opening remarks, reminding us about the hardships our community faced in the ‘90s when former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani proclaimed himself the enemy of AIDS activism and pushed his agenda to dismantle the Department of AIDS Services. Brent also acknowledged our resilience in never giving up the fight, and remembered those who lost their lives to HIV-related illnesses.

“The Journey of Acceptance is a Struggle”

Jason VernaKular Walker of Voices of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL-NY) spoke about his coming out and being HIV+, and introduced his loving mother Renee Van Dyke, who brought the crowd to tears with her kind words of acceptance. Ms. Van Dyke showed so much support and appreciation for her son’s work and the positive things he is doing, not just for the LGBTQ community, but also other important causes; to see the great work Jason and his fellow activists are doing, check out VOCAL-NY.

Gregg Bruckno, Long-Term Survivor Specialist at GMHC, shared a heartfelt story about coming out as gay to his mother and sister and being diagnosed with AIDS in 1999, but out of fear of criticism by his family and friends did not share this news with anyone until 2017 at a time when he felt it was the right thing to do, Gregg began educating others about the importance of not being ashamed by.

The NAMES Project Memorial Quilt was first introduced in 1985 by AIDS activist Cleve Jones in remembrance of the 1978 assassinations Harvey Milk and George Moscone in San Francisco. Jones had people write the names of loved ones that were lost to AIDS-related causes on signs, the first display of The Quilt was 1987 on the National Mall in Washington, DC. with the goal of bringing awareness to how massive the AIDS pandemic really is, and to bring support and healing to those affected by it as well as to raise funds for community-based AIDS service organizations to increase their funding for AIDS prevention and education.

About Reflection on the Quilts 

Displayed in the church sanctuary and supplied by the International AIDS Prevention Initiative are sections of the Global Quilt from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, South Africa, and Venezuela. The original Out of the Darkness Signature Quilt, displayed at the front of the sanctuary, is adorned with names and messages from 10 past World AIDS Day gatherings. In recent years, memorials have been left on separate panels which are sewn into 12 x 6 foot quilt sections, one of which is displayed amongst the International Quilts in the sanctuary.

This was the eighth such effort to bring the Rainbow Flag as a symbolic “torch” from “Athens” of the Gay Games to current Quadrennials. As this series of events has evolved over the years, breast cancer has been added to AIDS in this effort for awareness and prevention. Thus, the signature Quilt is not exclusive to AIDS and, therefore, memorials may be left for anyone, regardless of the cause of death. The honoree of the Streicher, and Dr. Tom Waddell as an honoree in perpetuity. As she has done since 1994, Gert McMullin, Quilt Production Manager, has made all of the Signature Quilts to accompany the Rainbow Flag on its journey around the world.

Brent Nicholson Earle’s story about being involved in grassroots fighting against AIDS makes me see how times have not changed that much. Brent shared how

“…back in the ‘90s if you were wealthy, you’d go to a banquet, but if you were a gung-ho activist you took to the streets.”

Today we celebrate ourselves and we fight to end AIDS with this same similar objective, but with a larger megaphone. There are hundreds of nonprofit organizations, like the ones who participated in this vigil, that are dedicated to raising awareness around practicing safe sex and maintaining healthier lifestyles, encouraging those who have recently being diagnosed with AIDS to explore options to help them reach undetected status and extend their chances to live a longer life, helping those who seek to be protected with affordable PrEP medicine if it’s out of reach, and offering condoms and education on sexually transmitted diseases.

Co-sponsored by American Run for the End of AIDS (AREA), Fundación MAROZO, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), Heritage of Pride (HOP), International AIDS Prevention Initiative (IAPI), Keith Haring Foundation, St. John’s Lutheran Church and supported by ACT UP/NY, AXIOS (Eastern Orthodox LGBT Christians), Health GAP (Global Access Project), New York City AIDS Memorial, Rivers of Living Water UCC, SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders), Treatment Action Group, Visual AIDS, and VOCAL-NY.

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Family members and loved ones gathered to hold this year’s candlelight vigil for World AIDS Day with guest speakers and performances.