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Performers and Politicians, Cheers and Chants at AIDS Conference

  • Suzanne Presto

WASHINGTON — Thousands of people gathered at the convention center in Washington, D.C. Monday for the second day of the International AIDS Conference. Celebrities and diplomats took center stage, and fans and protesters gathered at the conference's Global Village site.
HIV-positive singer Jamar Rogers commanded the stage, just as he did as a semifinalist on the popular U.S. singing competition television program, "The Voice."
But Rogers was not the only action on the Global Village stage at the International AIDS conference.
Protesters demanding more housing for HIV-positive residents in Washington, D.C. rushed the stage when Mayor Vincent Gray spoke. HIV is an epidemic in the U.S. capital.
Jeromy Dunn, a radio show host from North Carolina, finds the activism invigorating. "That's what this is all about about. It's all about getting up and getting angry again," he said.
Dunn, who is HIV-positive and takes antiretroviral drugs, says medical breakthroughs have had an unintended side effect during the past 20 years. "Since the advent of Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy, or HAART combination therapies, we've become complacent as a nation. And this is the kind of anger and the kind of vitriolic response that we need," he said.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a community organization founded in San Francisco, California, battle complacency with flamboyance and humor.
Sister Vicious reflects on the days since he began organizing AIDS awareness and safe sex programs in 1981. "Well, there's still stigma attached to it [i.e., HIV / AIDS], not in the amount that we experienced in the early 1980s. And the whole AIDS crisis has gone global, of course, and touched more communities than the gay male community that was experiencing it in America originally," he said.
Sir Elton John speaks at the XIX International Aids Conference, July 23, 2012, in Washington.

Sir Elton John speaks at the XIX International Aids Conference, July 23, 2012, in Washington.

British rock star Elton John said the stigma makes it more difficult to fight the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. "The AIDS disease is caused by a virus, but the AIDS epidemic is not. The AIDS epidemic is fueled by stigma, by hate, by misinformation, by ignorance, by indifference," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged that the United States will continue to battle HIV and AIDS.
"Well, I am here to make it absolutely clear, the United States is committed and will remain committed to achieving an AIDS-free generation. We will not back off; we will not back down. We will fight for the resources to achieve this historic milestone," she said.

Related video report by Jerome Socolovsky

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