Several prominent civic leaders and activists, many from the Bay Area, honored the hundreds of thousands of Americans who’ve lost their lives to both AIDS and COVID-19 during this year’s World AIDS Day on Tuesday.
This year’s event marks 40 years since the first cases of AIDS were reported in the U.S. and also coincides with a new major virus — COVID-19.
During Tuesday’s virtual event “World AIDS Day — A National Conversation,” put together by the San Francisco-based National AIDS Memorial, speakers drew several parallels from between the two pandemics.
So far, some 270,000 American lives have been lost so far due to COVID-19, while the AIDS pandemic has taken as many as 700,000 lives nationwide.
“If the AIDS crisis has taught us anything, it has taught us that out of those dark days, a community rose up and out of love, compassion, activism, and resilience, they found hope for a future,” said John Cunningham, executive director of the National AIDS Memorial.
“By 1985, almost everyone I know was dead, or dying or caring for someone who was dying of HIV,” said AIDS Memorial Quit Co-Founder Cleve Jones, an activist who organized alongside Harvey Milk.
“It was about surviving, getting through that grief and not allowing oneself and one’s friend to be paralyzed by the grief but to take action and fight back and understand what’s required of us,” Jones said.
“Then we were dealing with uniformly young men, almost exclusively gay young men at the time who had advanced disease for which we could do nothing, but as we could say, but put bandages on hemorrhages,” said National Institute of the Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was involved with AIDS research early on.
“It was the dark, dark years. And it wasn’t a dark month, or two or three. They were dark years,” Fauci said. “It was something that shaped how I looked at medicine and success and failure in the subsequent years. I cannot believe it but I look back now and it was almost 40 years and it’s an experience that just doesn’t leave you.”
With a possible vaccine for COVID-19 on the horizon, Fauci said he hopes “the world will much more appreciate the importance of science so that we can cut science loose in the sense of getting more people involved and utilizing the enormous potential of science.”
Other speakers at the event included New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Black Lives Matter Movement co-founder Alicia Garza, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The National AIDS Memorial, known as The Grove, is located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Last year, the National AIDS Memorial became the steward and caretaker of the iconic AIDS Memorial Quilt, which features more than 48,000 panels dedicated to more than 100,000 people who lost their lives to AIDS.