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AIDS Walk for Life takes new route to honour community’s history

Fundraiser celebrates 25 years, brings in more than $325,000

The 25th AIDS Walk for Life took a new route through Toronto’s gay village on Sept 22. Credit: Andi Schwartz

The 25th AIDS Walk for Life took a new route through Toronto’s gay village on Sept 22, raising more than $325,000 for the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT), with funds still rolling in until Sept 24.

The new route, designed for 2013, highlighted several meaningful sites along the way, including Glad Day Bookshop, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA), and the Phoenix Concert Theatre.

This year’s Walk for Life chair, Shaun Proulx, recorded an audio guide to explain why these spots are significant.

It notes that Glad Day was a gathering place for the community in the early days of HIV; a safe place to get information that still carries many volumes on the topic. The CLGA houses a journalistic history of HIV, featuring decades of headlines from across the country. The Phoenix Concert Theatre, previously known as the Diamond Club, was the birthplace of the fundraiser Fashion Cares. Famous designers, MAC cosmetics and others started the event that has raised more than $10 million since its inception in 1987.

Historical context is important this year, as the community celebrates 30 years of ACT and 25 years of the walk, ACT’s Kyle Greenwood says.

“It’s great to have those two milestone years in collaboration with each other,” he says.

Proulx came out as HIV-positive the Friday before the walk.

“I became infected with HIV because I’m human,” he said Sept 20 on CBC’s Metro Morning show. “I had unprotected sex, but that doesn’t make me wrong, that doesn’t make me dirty, that doesn’t make me worthy of any of the stigma, the judgment from other people or the self-judgment.”

With his announcement, Proulx hopes to inspire open and honest dialogue about contracting and living with HIV and to address the stigma head-on.

“Unlike many other diseases . . . the stigma that HIV/AIDS has is unbearable,” he tells Xtra. “The reason I came out this way and now is because I’m so tired of it.”

Proulx says he thinks people have thought differently about the Walk for Life and the disease this year, and that’s what makes the event a success in his eyes.

“My personal goal was about reviving the walk and making sure the honouring has been done,” he says. “It’s a little more important than money — maybe that makes me a bad chair!”

ACT was founded in 1983 in response to the spread of HIV/AIDS in the gay and lesbian community and government inaction. ACT runs programs and services to increase awareness, promote health and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The majority of people living with HIV in Toronto are gay and bisexual men: it is estimated that one in five gay men are living with HIV/AIDS. They remain one of ACT’s three priority populations.