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Vince Crisostomo is a survivor. Diagnosed as HIV positive in 1989, he — along with so many others in the 1980s, when the first HIV cases were discovered — confronted the grim prediction of a shortened lifespan because of the virus. 

Says Crisostomo, “For myself, when I found out, I was 28, and I was told I would not live to see 30. This year, I turned 60. So for me, it was quite a milestone.”

World AIDS Day, held each year on Dec. 1, is a means to promote the visibility of HIV survivors like Crisostomo and to remember loved ones who have died as a result of HIV/AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). 

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Crisostomo currently serves as the San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s Director of Aging Services. The general mission of the SF AIDS Foundation, says Crisostomo, is to provide health justice for all, regardless of race, gender and age. It offers sexual health services, housing subsidies, harm reduction services and syringe access and disposal. The nonprofit organization also focuses on policy and advocacy. 

As he explains, “We imagine a world where everyone is able to get the services and the support that they need.”

Crisostomo’s program essentially serves those who survived the AIDS epidemic. According to the foundation, established in 1982, 70% of people with HIV living in San Francisco are over age 50. The current pandemic, then, is not their first encounter with a virus outbreak and associated health concerns.

Says Crisostomo, “Since March of 2020, we’ve been going through the second pandemic of our lives. For some of our members, they’re going through the third pandemic of their lives, having gone through cholera when they were kids. It’s been pretty intense.”

Says Vince Crisostomo, San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s Director of Aging Services, “I take action today because I can, unlike the 700,000 people HIV and AIDS have claimed since the start of the epidemic.” (Photo courtesy Vince Crisostomo)

He points out, though, that the experience stemming from the HIV/AIDS pandemic — and efforts to address and fight the human immunodeficiency virus — have contributed to the international response to COVID-19. He notes, “We wouldn’t be where we are with COVID if it hadn’t been for the work that was done, the foundation that was laid out with HIV.”

For Crisostomo, it is important to continue to focus on the AIDS epidemic, as it’s not over, and, correspondingly, continues to affect the lives of many. World AIDS Day is an opportunity to raise awareness about the disease and consider the profound effects it has had on many individuals, in San Francisco and beyond.

Notably, the disposition surrounding World AIDS Day has expanded to include gratitude and joy. As he shares, “There was a time when World AIDS Day was about the people we’ve lost, and it was so sad every year. In recent years, we [still] honor the people we lost and the memories, but we also celebrate those who are living. And that’s what my department of aging services tries to do: to celebrate those of us that are still here.”

To donate to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, visit its website at sfaf.org.

World AIDS Day events

On World AIDS Day, the remembrance event “Inscribe” invites the public to use colorful chalk to write the names of loved ones affected by HIV and AIDS on Castro Street sidewalks between Market and 19th streets. (J.L. Odom/Bay City News)

The following events are scheduled to take place Wednesday in San Francisco:

All day: “Inscribe” on Castro Street between Market and 19th streets, starting at 10:30 a.m., offers the public the opportunity to honor those affected by HIV and AIDS by writing their names, using colorful sidewalk chalk, on Castro Street sidewalks. 

3-5 p.m.: The World AIDS Day Gathering at the San Francisco Community Health Center, 730 Polk St., 4th Floor, commemorates World AIDS Day. Food and refreshments will be provided.

4-5 p.m.: The San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s World AIDS Day March and Candlelight Vigil will commemorate World AIDS Day and promote the visibility of those living with HIV. Attendees are asked to bring photos of loved ones for remembrance purposes. Everyone will meet at City Hall for the candlelight vigil and speeches by Rickey Beard of Black Brothers Esteem; TransLife founder Ms. Billie Cooper; infectious disease expert Dr. Monica Gandhi and Nikos Pecoraro of HIV Advocacy Network. After the speeches, participants will march to the Mission District’s The Episcopal Church of Saint John the Evangelist, 1661 15th St., for the AIDS Memorial Quilt display. Dinner and dancing will follow. Candles for the vigil will be provided. Due to COVID, attendees are requested to wear masks (masks will also be provided).

4:30-9 p.m.: The National AIDS Memorial Grove Display of Lights in Golden Gate Park is a free public display of lights and candlelight reflection in the Circle of Friends. It features the traditional reading of newly engraved names. The event will also be livestreamed via aidsmemorial.org.