After taking part in AIDS/LifeCycle, the seven-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2010, Xiaogang Wei returned home to China, inspired to make a difference for people living with HIV there.
It was seven years ago that the dedicated activist participated in the fundraiser, produced by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Two years later, Xiaogang launched China’s first AIDS Walk, held on the Great Wall, to raise public awareness about HIV/AIDS and to eliminate stigma and discrimination.
On September 23, more than 150 people participated in the sixth annual event which raised nearly $50,000.
That’s a significant amount for a fundraiser in China and more money is still being raised. The final tally will be announced on World AIDS Day on December 1.
Among the participants this year was Kin Cheng who became the first member of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s board of directors to participate in the event.
“I was so happy to do the walk and to learn about the vital work that LGBT organizations are doing across China to educate and advocate for people with HIV/AIDS in a country with a population of 1.4 billion,” Chen tells Vanguard.
Actor Brian Newkirk (pictured above), married to Center board member Loren S. Ostrow, participated in the walk for the fifth time in six years and was, once again, the event’s top fund raiser.
“They just keep getting better and it’s beginning to really snowball,” Newkirk said after returning from his week in China. “The day couldn’t have played out more beautifully. This community really fills my soul with such love and positivity. They work to make the impossible possible.”
This year’s walk coincides with a worrisome rise in the HIV infection rate among youths in China.
People between the ages of 15 and 24 accounted for 14.7% of new infections in 2015. This is a 35% increase from the previous year, according to China’s National Centre for STD/AIDS Prevention and Control.
Since its inception, the event had raised more than $122,000 (not counting the money raised this year). The donations fund things such as powdered milk for babies in poverty-stricken families and to provide emergency relief for people living with AIDS.
The funds also go toward anti-discrimination initiatives and other grassroots projects to help people affected by HIV/AIDS.
Newkirk said this year’s walk was more festive than others, citing a number of participants who wore costumes for the 2.5 mile-duration.
“It is a hard walk with all the steps,” he said. “It is not easy. But shouldn’t it be a difficult journey?”
Newkirk and Cheng were particularly moved by the participation of a middle school teacher and her students. The teacher wanted the students to learn about HIV/AIDS.
“It really made this year incredible and prompted a dialogue in their school,” Newkirk said.
Each year when Newkirk reaches the highest point of the walk, he takes a few minutes to be by himself and to remember the many friends he lost to AIDS in the 1980s and 90s.
“I saw so many of them die,” Newkirk said. “I think of my friend Billy especially and at that highest point I take a minute to say, ‘Billy, are you seeing what I’m seeing?’”