Long Beach commemorates World AIDS Day with virtual walk

On Tuesday, Dec. 1, red ribbons symbolizing AIDS awareness will mark a local walking route commemorating World AIDS Day, an international day of remembrance acknowledging the lives lost and impacted by HIV/AIDS.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, two events annually marked the occasion in Long Beach: a candlelight vigil that had participants walk from The LGBTQ Center Long Beach to Bluff Park, and a luncheon at St. Mary Medical Center, where the names of HIV positive clients who had passed in the last year were read aloud.

This year, a virtual walk, to be taken on one’s own time, any day this week, will start at Harvey Milk Park at 185 E. Third St. and end at Lions Lighthouse, one of a handful of Long Beach fixtures to be bathed in red light on Tuesday, along with the Convention Center, Rainbow Esplanade, Civic Center and the “Long Beach” sign located where the 710 freeway ends at Broadway.

You can find the 1.4-mile route here, which, from the park, takes walkers down The Promenade, past the Convention Center and along the waterfront of Rainbow Harbor to Shoreline Aquatic Park and the Lighthouse.

“Because we’re living in such strange times, and feelings of isolation and loneliness can make us feel disconnected, I feel it’s important to have opportunities for everyone, including those most vulnerable to COVID-19, to have a way to participate and feel that they are part of a bigger community,” said Michael Buitron, Community Co-Chair of the Long Beach Comprehensive HIV Planning Group, comprised of local individuals and organizations dedicated to HIV prevention and support, including The Center.

World AIDS Day 2020 Vigil & Memorial Walk route. Courtesy The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach

In addition to the walk, the HIV Planning Group launched a webpage where anyone can sign a virtual guest book with a message remembering loved ones lost to HIV/AIDS. And with statements from City Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis, whose father died of AIDS in 1991, Executive Director at St. Mary Medical Center, Paul Lovely, and other city officials, the website offers a place to land and reflect, despite not being able to gather.

There’s also a page dedicated to listing resources for HIV care, treatment, prevention, testing and more.

Buitron, who has been living with HIV for the past 27 years, and has worked with the Planning Group intermittently since it was formed in the mid-’90s, as well as several local agencies in HIV research, said he believed “it was important that the voices of those who had been most impacted by the AIDS pandemic locally be represented.”

“Each year, between 20 and 30 names are read, showing HIV/AIDS continued impact on our community. With 24 HIV+ persons having passed this year, 2020 is no different,” said Buitron.

“World AIDS Day has been observed on December 1st of every year since 1988—for the past 32 years,” Lovely said. “Most importantly, it’s a remembrance of the over 32 million people we’ve lost to AIDS worldwide, and an acknowledgment of the enormity of the pandemic. World AIDS Day is also an appreciation of how far we’ve come in treating HIV, and the contributions of countless others—researchers, health care workers, patients, activists—all the heroes whose efforts carried us to where we are now.”

World AIDS Day, commemorated annually on Dec. 1, will be observed in Long Beach through Saturday, Dec. 5. For more information, visit the Long Beach HIV Planning Group’s website here.

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Asia Morris has been with the Long Beach Post for five years, specializing in coverage of the arts. Her parents gave her the name because they wanted her to be a world traveler and they got their wish. She has obliged by pursuing art, journalism and a second career as a competitive cyclist.