Sunny skies greet Central Park participants
of annual GMHC event
After the gusty winds and torrential downpour that soaked the city the previous night, participants seemed happy to greet the early morning sun over Central Park on May 16 for AIDS Walk 2004, the nation’s largest fund-raiser to benefit AIDS service organizations, sponsored by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. More than 45,000 people participated in this year’s annual fund-raiser that has happened since 1986.
Celebrities including Leslie Uggams, Tom Cavanaugh of “Ed,” Laura Innes of “E.R.” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” stars Carson Kressley and Jai Rodriguez entertained those who braved the somewhat sodden Sheep Meadow for the opening ceremony. After a final number by Kristin Chenoweth of the Broadway show “Wicked,” walkers stepped off for the six-mile trek through Central Park.
Spirits seemed high among walkers and in addition to the many teams from local corporations who turned out were the friends, families and lovers of some of the thousands of New Yorkers who have succumbed to AIDS.
A young, hip group of hairdressers from the East Village salon Panyc marched in memory of their friends, Marcus and Anthony. Stylist Paul Andrews commented, “My uncle Anthony was so young, he was only 30 when I lost him and I like to give back every day that I can, because he can’t. I walk and support this as a gay man, because we have all been affected by AIDS.”
An air of camaraderie permeated amongst the AIDS Walk participants. Even “Queer Eye” star Kressley locked arms with his gay brothers and put his best foot forward. Looking very well-heeled in a GMHC baseball cap, tailored walking shorts and red suede moccasins, Kressley strode through the park. There an estimated 143,000 people in the New York metropolitan area living with HIV, according to the city’s Department of Health & Mental Hygiene statistics for 2002.
Energetic cheerleaders from Cheer N.Y. boosted the crowd’s morale as walkers passed the first checkpoint and as the walk wound down Cathedral Drive back to Riverside Park, participants dug in for the final stretch.
Back at Central Park, the post-walk concert began shortly after 12:30 p.m. with entertainment by Eugene, Rick Day and The New Covenant, Lynn Loosier, and Leon and The Peoples. The event raised $5,426,397 for GMHC programs and services.
“This year’s success clearly demonstrates the public’s recognition that the AIDS crisis is not over,” said Ana Oliveira, executive director of GMHC. “Everyone who participated in AIDS Walk New York, whether a walker, volunteer or contributor makes a difference in the lives of those living with or affected by HIV and AIDS.”