AIDS Walk New York draws 40,000 people

New Yorkers turned out 40,000 strong Sunday to honor the memory of loved ones felled by AIDS and support those living with the dreaded disease.

The 26th annual AIDS Walk New York drew throngs of marchers to Central Park, their enthusiasm undampened by intermittent rain.

Tina Minter, 51, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, came to remember her sister Lisa, who was just 31 when she died 15 years ago. Sunday would have been Lisa’s birthday.

“My sister was a very beautiful person, always lending a helping hand,” Minter said. “I’m sure she’s looking down on us, and she’s proud. I raised $1,000 in her name.”

The 10-kilometer walk – billed as the largest AIDS fundraising event in the world – raises money for HIV programs and services throughout the tri-state area. Recipients of the funds include AIDS prevention, care and advocacy group GMHC, which was originally known as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and three dozen community organizations that help people with AIDS.

Christina Hart marched to honor her uncle, Cuban immigrant Ramon DeVilliers, who died of AIDS at age 37 in 1987.

“Ramon, you won’t be forgotten,” said Hart, 32, of the upper West Side, who carried a sign saying “Team Ramon” and wore a necklace with a butterfly pendant because he loved butterflies.

Lydiana Diaz, 22, brought a group of 20 friends and relatives to march for her father, Alfredo Diaz, who died in 1993 at age 33.

“I was his only child; I’m keeping his memory alive,” said the Jersey City resident, who wore a T-shirt decorated with a picture of herself and her father and the words, “RIP Dad – I Love You.”

Ashlee LaBoy, 25, came from Schenectady to honor her mother, Katherine Abdur-Rahman, who died in 1995 at age 36.

“It’s very important that people know what AIDS is and how to protect themselves,” said LaBoy.
Onlookers cheered and clanged cowbells as marchers crossed the finish line.

More than 107,000 city residents are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Robert Branda, 31, found out he was HIV-positive in 2004.

“It was a very rough period of my life – I made some bad decisions,” said the Chelsea resident, a former GMHC client who now works as an executive assistant at the nonprofit.

“I’m grateful to GMHC,” said Branda, who takes meds twice a day. “They saved my life. They do that for so many people.”

To mark AIDS Walk Day, local pols called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve the over-the-counter sale of rapid HIV test kits. Nearly 300,000 people nationwide who have HIV don’t know they’re infected.

“There is good reason to believe that some individuals who would otherwise test themselves for HIV avoid clinics and outreach centers because of the perceived stigma involved,” Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn) said in a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.


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