At Key Crossroads, GMHC raises $5.1 million at AIDS Walk

Kelsey Louie, GMHC’s incoming chief, speaks at the opening ceremony. | MICHAEL SHIREY

As many as 35,000 walkers helped raise more than $5.1 million dollars for the 29th annual AIDS Walk New York. The 10-kilometer event supports the work of Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and other local AIDS service organizations.

Janet Weinberg, the group’s interim chief executive officer, in remarks during the opening ceremony, highlighted the services GMHC provides, including serving hot meals, free HIV/ AIDS testing, and youth prevention and education.

“You are the people who keep us going strong,” Weinberg said. “GMHC will never stop advocating for all people affected by HIV. We can be so much more helpful today than when we started.”

Kelsey Louie, GMHC’s new chief executive officer, due to take the reins in early June, spoke of this being an historic moment in HIV/ AIDS history. He credited what he called “landmark progress” to the availability of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a regimen of anti-AIDS drugs for HIV-negative people to take to avoid infection.

Mayor Bill de Blasio in an unannounced appearance at the AIDS Walk. | MICHAEL SHIREY

Despite controversy over whether PrEP users will be consistent in their use of the drugs, the approach was endorsed two weeks ago by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for people at high risk of infection. It is also a key component of a plan endorsed by the Cuomo administration and under review by the de Blasio administration for ending AIDS in New York by 2020.

Mayor Bill de Blasio made an unannounced appearance to thank GMHC and the walkers.

“This work is so important,” the mayor said. “This is one of those things a citizen can do to change things. Sometimes people drift away, but you haven’t let that happen. Because you haven’t stopped fighting.”

“Mothers and Sons” playwright Terrence McNally and its costars Tyne Daly and Bobby Steggert were among the many notable participants at the opening ceremony.

“I’m always startled when I’m asked why I chose to write about AIDS. There was no choice,” McNally said. He added that “each of us here, in our own way, is writing about AIDS.”

Actor Bobby Steggert sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone” | MICHAEL SHIREY

Actor Bobby Steggert sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone” | MICHAEL SHIREY

Steggert closed the ceremony by singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel.”

Other notable participants included Randy Fenoli (“Say Yes to the Dress”), Lana Parilla (“Once Upon a Time”), Nick Wechsler (“Revenge”), and Dot-Marie Jones (“Glee”).

The Walk came at a critical moment for the agency, when a lengthy search to replace former CEO Marjorie Hill, who left late last summer, finally resulted in Louie’s appointment. Having served most recently as chief operating officer at Harlem United, another AIDS service group, Louie, upon his appointment, immediately faced allegations published on that he was at the center of a fraud scheme to “rig” a board election at the gay sports club Front Runners to keep fundraising dollars flowing to Harlem United. Despite the charges, many of the facts in that controversy remain unclear.

The turnout and funds raised in this year’s AIDS Walk continue a declining trend dating back three years. The 2011 Walk raised almost $6.5 million and drew more than 40,000 participants.

Playwright Terrence McNally and actress Tyne Daly. | DONNA ACETO

Playwright Terrence McNally and actress Tyne Daly. | DONNA ACETO