Paul Katami - who is challenging the constitutionality of Prop 8 in federal court with his partner Jeff Zarrillo and lesbian couple Kris Perry and Sandi Stier - was not with his American Foundation for Equal Rights as they waited to hear whether the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals would re-hear the case with more judges (they won't). He is on the 7-day AIDS LifeCycle 11 Ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles that has already raised $12.6 million for HIV/AIDS-related services at the LA Gay & Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
But this isn't just great exercise and fun in the sun - actually they were rained out in Salinas. This is about real people with HIV/AIDS, as Center CEO Lorri Jean noted in her opening remarks (see full text below), telling the story of a longtime PWA who lost his company during the economic troubles of 2008. Lorri said:
He lost his job and with it, his health insurance. Tom still hasn't been able to find work. Through tearful eyes he told me that he didn't know what he would have done without the Center's Jeffrey Goodman Special Care Clinic. He said: "I used to raise money so other people could go to your Clinic. Now it's what's keeping me alive."
Paul Katami greeted by his cousins at the end of the line on Day One of the AIDS LifeCyle (Photo courtesy Jeff Zarrillo)
Another "real" person on the ALC ride this year is Susan, who was diagnosed HIV-positive in the early 80s and with AIDS in the 90s. She finally told her kids 10 years after her diagnosis. Since then, her daughter, Kari, has been on ride for seven years in a row. The ALC staff says Susan was "going to be a roadie last year but she was diagnosed with breast cancer and couldn't do it. But, she beat cancer and is now a roadie this year, serving lunch while her daughter rides!" HIV-positive Susan being comforted by a Positive Pedaler as she listens to her daughter Kari speak at the AIDS LifeCycle 11 opening ceremonies (Photo courtesy AIDS LifeCycle)
Before Kari spoke, Lorri Jean rallied the crowd of riders: LA Gay & Lesbian Center CEO Lorri Jean rallying the ALC 11 riders (Photo courtesy ALC 11)
Rained out in Salinas (Photo courtesy AIDS LifeCycle 11)
Hellooooooo Riders! Hellooooooo Roadies!
Welcome to AIDS/LifeCycle 2012! This is our 11th year as the AIDS/LifeCycle. Counting our first 8 years as the California AIDS Ride, that means we've been doing this for 19 years. For 19 years we have been gathering at this ungodly hour. For 19 years, we've packed our gear, donned our spandex, prayed for sun and prepared to hit the road. Most important of all, for 19 years we have been riding to help people with HIV and AIDS and to end the pandemic.
How many of you are riding for the very first time? How many of you are wondering what in the hell you've gotten yourselves into? As a 3 time rider myself, I understand exactly how you feel. Let me assure you, you're in for one of the most amazing weeks of your lives. The AIDS/LIfeCycle team is going to take very good care of you, and you've got veteran riders and roadies who will be there to help every mile of the way. You're part of the AIDS/LifeCycle family now.
Not only are we going to have a great time, but your efforts make it possible for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center to help people living with HIV and AIDS, and to stop the spread of the virus in the first place.
I had a stark reminder recently that many of us may be just a few mishaps away from needing the services of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. A week and a half ago I was in the grocery store and I ran into a former AIDS Rider whom I hadn't seen in years. Right there, amidst the Tide and the kitty litter, Tom and I had an AIDS ride reunion. I asked him how he was and as told me, he began to cry. Tom had enjoyed a successful career as a business executive for 25 years. He's also a long-time survivor of HIV. But late in 2008, as the economy crashed, so did his company. He lost his job and with it, his health insurance. Tom still hasn't been able to find work. Through tearful eyes he told me that he didn't know what he would have done without the Center's Jeffrey Goodman Special Care Clinic. He said: "I used to raise money so other people could go to your Clinic. Now it's what's keeping me alive."
I felt relieved that the Center's state-of-the-art medical clinic could be there for Tom, and hearing his story made me look forward even more to this year's ride and what its success means for so many people. For one phenomenal week, no matter our differences, no matter our age, our race, our gender, our sexual orientation or our HIV status, we will become a community. A community of people dedicated to a single and noble goal: making a difference in the fight against AIDS.
Thank you for being a part of the AIDS/LifeCycle! Thank you for helping to make possible the programs and services that give Tom, and many thousands more like him, something to fall back on. You give me great hope that someday, together, we really will achieve a day when AIDS is only a memory.
I'm so proud of all of you! And I hope your hearts are swelling with pride this morning too! Pride at the support of your friends and loved ones who helped you get here. Pride at your own courage and tenacity. Pride at your commitment to do something that is truly meaningful and important--something that makes a life-saving difference for people like Tom.
For that, you have my greatest respect and admiration. I look forward to spending the next week together and to the memories we'll make.
Now I'd like to introduce one of your fellow riders, veteran Kari Samuels!
It is now my pleasure to declare that AIDS/LifeCycle 2012 is officially open to the road. Be safe!