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The Importance of World AIDS Day for Black and Latino LGBTQ New Yorkers by Carmen Neely, President of Harlem Pride

December 1, 2020
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December 1 is World AIDS Day, a day observed since 1988 to bring attention to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. While our attention in 2020 has been on fighting a different virus — Covid-19 — the search for a vaccine and a cure for HIV continues.

The theme this year is Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Resilience and Impact. This is such a profound theme, especially this year because we have all discovered our own resilience in the face of ongoing trauma. The LGBTQ community has been on the frontlines of the HIV/AIDS battle since the early 1980s, and while we’re not the only ones impacted by HIV/AIDS, we’ve borne the brunt of the struggle. Our Black and Latino brothers and sisters have been especially hard hit over the years, not only in fighting for medicine and treatment but also in fighting the stigma that is still associated with HIV/AIDS in some communities.

Our resilience is the basis for our impact. We can do the work on the ground — education, outreach, organizing — and we’ve made that case, but this is where we need assistance. We know the next few years will be a more productive time in fighting HIV/AIDS at the local level because we will have greater support coming from Washington, and that’s where the funding priorities, the resources, and the tone are set.

I’m hopeful because our communities are civically engaged, more so than they have been in years. We need that engagement; it’s the only way we can help others.

Our focus at Harlem Pride since our founding as a block party in 2010 has been on education and outreach. Since then we’ve grown as an organization, a community, and an event, and we’ve moved our annual Pride celebration to several prominent locations in Harlem. We always partner with a range of organizations throughout the city to conduct HIV testing, share information and resources, and make referrals. Ryan Health is frequently on-site conducting HIV testing, and we appreciate our partnership.

One of my biggest priorities is reaching out to young people, so they learn about HIV/AIDS. Today’s young people are educated and informed about HIV/AIDS, but, like all young people, still feel a sense of invincibility about their own personal safety. I always say that when we are young, we jump on every roller coaster, but as we get a little older, we’re more aware of the risks. Our goal is to mentor and teach our young people about the risks of behavior that can lead to HIV/AIDS. We’re not shaming them, just sharing information so they can be aware.

To empower young people in the community, we formed the Harlem Pride Youth Advisory Board that brings together people ages 16 to 30 to create and manage programs for youth that go beyond health and wellness issues like HIV/AIDS. The Board also focuses on community engagement and entrepreneurship, and plans events and activities aimed at fostering support, positivity, and civic action. One of the highlights is sponsoring attendees for the National LGBT Task Force’s Creating Change Conference, an annual gathering of LGBTQ leaders and activists centered on learning, connecting, and committing to freedom and equality for all LGBTQ people. We send our next generation of leaders to this conference every year, who come back energized and full of ideas for our organization and our community.

Beginning nine years ago, we created Harlem Pride Community Forums as a place to address wider concerns affecting the community. Everyone is welcome to participate, and we also feature forums for specific segments of the LGBTQ community, such as young people and trans people. We meet on economic empowerment and run workshops on a range of topics to strengthen the skills of Harlem’s LGBTQ community.

World AIDS Day is a time to keep pressing for a cure. It’s a time to encourage our Black and Latino brothers and sisters to participate in vaccine trials if they can, so that minority communities will be represented. It’s a time to break down the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS so that everyone can be protected and receive the care they need.

Importantly, World AIDS Day is a time to remember those we have lost and loved and to let that loss motivate us to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Carmen Neely2

Carmen Neely is a community activist who is President of Harlem Pride, Co-Chair of the Black and Latino LGBTQ Coalition, and a leader in New York City Pride and Power. She also is a retired special education teacher with the New York City Department of Education.