Walk fundraisers have been a part of the response to HIV since the very early days of the epidemic. The world’s first AIDS Walk fundraiser was organized by AIDS Project Los Angeles in 1985 with a goal of raising $100,000. They achieved that goal and then some, raising over $600,000 with thousands of walkers participating. Walk fundraisers have been an important part of our history and continue to be an important part of our ever changing and evolving movement.
Our organization (then called the Hamilton AIDS Network for Dialogue and Support or HANDS) held our first AIDS Walk fundraiser in 1993, and have continued this tradition to this day.
As the work of AIDS Service Organizations changes, some things have stayed the same. While HIV is no longer an epidemic ending lives, we are now responding to an epidemic of opioid overdose. Populations that bear a disproportionate burden of the HIV epidemic also continue to face marginalization and oppression which affect their health outcomes and puts them at higher risk, and HIV stigma continues to impact people living with and vulnerable to HIV in our communities.
In 2018 The AIDS Network rebranded our Walk as a way to adapt to new realities while also getting back to the roots of what has always made AIDS Walks important. Taking to the streets and showing the world that we are here and we matter. We wanted to highlight the important new context of the groundbreaking U = U awareness message, and centre that message in our walk. As a result our walk was re-imagined to feature awareness pieces more prominently and Walk Away from Stigma was born.
Stigma continues to impact all of us who are living with and affected by HIV. Whether its HIV-stigma, homophobia, transphobia, anti-black racism, stigma against people who use drugs or misogyny, the one thing that all populations that are disproportionately affected by HIV have in common is that we all face stigma. When we walk together, we show the world we are still here and we deserve dignity, equality, and long healthy lives.
Last year, due to COVID-19, The AIDS Network continued its 27-year tradition of holding a walk event, reimagined. Our first virtual AIDS Walk was a resounding success, raising record funds to support some of our most crucial programs and services. This year we are once again unable to hold an in-person Walk event, but although we cannot be physically together at this time, we can still be seen and be heard. Our 2021 virtual Walk Away from Stigma will take place between September 19th and October 3rd, and we invite our friends and allies in the communities we serve to help support our work through fundraising, and to help us spread some stigma-smashing awareness!