Remember – Celebrate – Engage – Inspire
Vashon World AIDS Day was formed in 2018 to acknowledge and celebrate lives lost to AIDS on Vashon Island, WA. The number of islanders who succumbed to AIDS was unknown. Over a period of months, we identified and gather materials and information on 15 men who perished between 1986 and 2015. In November 2019 we learned of another recent death of a long-term survivor who lived on Vashon for many years. One of the projects for World AIDS Day 2018 was Lost To AIDS which involved Vashon High School art students creating artwork to memorialize each person. One of those art pieces, a “tile quilt”, was later part of the IN and OUT exhibition at the Vashon Maury Island Heritage Museum.
Over the years we come together every Fall to plan and develop new and unique programs and events to engage young people in an effort to bring awareness of the ongoing health crisis of HIV and AIDS worldwide.
Why We Are Doing This
The horror and scope of the AIDS holocaust of the 1980s and ’90s is impossible to adequately convey today when AIDS has all but disappeared from public discourse. Yet, the bigotry and marginalization that accompanied the epidemic, stymying our nation’s response to it, have not faded with time but are now front and center.
AIDS has cut a wide swath, killing more than 37 million people worldwide to date. An equal number are living with HIV and AIDS across the globe. However, in the early years, it was the gay community that bore the brunt of the epidemic. The list of dead is long, with some of the best and brightest, particularly in the arts, perishing often in terrible circumstances. The pervasive response to this health crisis was apathy, recrimination and even threats to quarantine people with HIV. “They got what they deserved” was a common sentiment. More shocking still, stories abound of health care providers refusing care and treatment to the desperately ill. With the deaths of celebrities Rock Hudson, Freddie Mercury, Liberace, and Arthur Ashe along with basketball legend Magic Johnson’s admission that he was infected with HIV the nation began to awaken to the reality of AIDS. No longer were the staggering numbers simply unknown “perverts” but people widely known and admired.
However, what truly turned the tide of apathy and inaction was activism in the gay community and among its supporters. Activists forced the government and regulators to listen and act. They worked hand-in-hand with scientists and drug companies to streamline drug testing and approval ushering in breakthrough drugs in record time. Today with treatment people live relatively normal lives with HIV. Activists quite simply saved millions of lives.
Why AIDS Is Still A Crisis
1. Nearly 1 million people died from AIDS-related causes last year alone – that is two people every minute.
2. The epidemic is growing by the minute. Globally, 1.8 million people became infected with HIV last year alone – that is three people every minute.
3. 15 million people with HIV still cannot get the life-saving treatment they need to live healthy and productive lives. Yet affordable and effective treatment options exist for as low as 20 cents a day.
4. Last year, 180,000 babies got HIV from birth or breastfeeding. Worse, this stat is trending in the wrong direction – 20,000 more babies were infected this year than last year. With treatment, mother-to-child-transmission of HIV is preventable.
5. Girls continue to be at higher risk for HIV than boys their age. Girls make up three out of four new infections among kids aged 10-19 in sub-Saharan Africa. These young people must be empowered and educated to stop this trend. However, on average only about one-third of young people in sub-Saharan Africa have the information they need to protect themselves from HIV.
As artists and activists, we have an obligation to keep the memory of those lost to AIDS alive and shine a light on the actions and legacy of those who fought back against the bigotry and indifference in the early years of the epidemic. Our interest is in highlighting and drawing attention to the lessons learned in an effort to make our community, our nation, and our world a better place for all. Our belief: one person can make a difference.
Who We Are
With a passion for theater and non-profits serving those most affected by HIV and AIDS in Africa, Cate has been on the frontlines of prevention and treatment efforts across the globe. Now based on Vashon Island, Cate consults with nonprofits, governments, and private sector entities to support public health, education, and environmental programs.
Chris Boscia is a director and actor who lives and works on Vashon. Chris has performed and directed several productions for Vashon World AIDS Day.
Artist and activist, West is the founder of the Vashon Remembrance Project With a broad range of other interests he is currently co-writing a musical called “Antifa”.