Walkers congregated on the New Haven Green this Sunday for the eighth annual AIDS Walk New Haven, a fundraiser for the city’s AIDS-affected community.
Around 400 people attended the event, which donates all of its proceeds to nine member organizations of Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s Taskforce on AIDS, a citywide advisory board that supports those affected by the disease in greater New Haven area and includes groups such as AIDS Project New Haven and Planned Parenthood. Though it was planned and directed entirely by Yale students, attendance by Yale undergraduates was low, according to organizers.
“This year’s Walk received a lot of support from the community, and we had students from other universities [than Yale], too,” Renee Wu ’14, one of the event’s co-directors, said. “But we wished we had seen more Yalies around.”
Adam Ford ’13 and Connor Buechler ’14, who also co-directed the event, said that this year’s AIDS Walk is expected to raise about $10,000, half of the organizers’ goal of $20,000. Ford said the organizing group may not have begun promoting the event soon enough.
Organizers hypothesized that the low attendance among Yale students may have been due in part to the lack of students with AIDS-related experiences.
“Community members are more affected than Yalies. Many walkers have family members who died of the disease,” Adam Ford ’13 said. “But we’ll keep working hard to expand to more people, beyond Yale and New Haven.”
New Haven resident Cathy Lang came with her family to honor her eldest brother Richard Lang, who died of AIDS in 1991 after returning from the Air Force, she said. She added that she attends many events related to HIV/AIDS in the gay community, although she said she thinks “AIDS is not a gay thing anymore.”
Bill Lauro, another New Haven resident, said he came to the walk with his boyfriend after gaining interest in the cause by participating in AIDS fundraising events through work.
“AIDS is not as stigmatized as it was,” Lauro said. “But you are still able to find gay people who have AIDS, and that’s just not right.”
Several politicians delivered speeches at the event. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 commended the organizers’ efforts and said that HIV/AIDS is still an issue that deserves crucial attention. State Rep. Patricia Dillon, Democrat of New Haven, said that although the stigma around HIV/AIDS is not as pervasive, it is still necessary to raise awareness and teach younger generations about the disease.
Local advocacy organizations set up booths on the Green, distributing free educational pamphlets, books, shirts and condoms. Allan Hillman, the president of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Greater New Haven Chapter, manned a booth and handed out pamphlets explaining how his group opposes discrimination faced by people with HIV/AIDS. Ellen Gabrielle, the director of Liberty Community Services, a homeless services provider, said she attended the event because as many as 75 percent of the residents of her organization’s shelters have HIV/AIDS.
Joyce Poole, co-chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on AIDS, said that the New Haven community tends to be supportive of people with the disease. Advocacy organizations, however, still need to raise awareness, “to step out of the office and get in the community,” she said.
According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, more than 19,000 cases of HIV were registered between 1980 and 2010 in the state.
AIDS Walk New Haven has raised over $175,000 since 2005, according to the event’s website.