December 1, 2015 at 10:48 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Whitman-Walker commemorates World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day, gay news, Washington Blade

Whitman-Walker Health holds a World AIDS Day vigil on Dec. 1, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than 100 people gathered at Whitman-Walker Health in Northwest D.C. on Tuesday to mark World AIDS Day.

Nick Gourdine of Concerned Black Men National is among those who spoke during the event that took place at the service organization’s new facility on 14th Street, N.W., in Logan Circle. Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, Office of National AIDS Policy Director Douglas Brooks and Michael Kharfen, director of the D.C. Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA), also attended.

Darren Smith, founder of Respect Yourself, an HIV/AIDS service organization that seeks to fight the stigma around the virus, sang a song at the end of the commemoration. Actress Mary Beth Wise recited Walt Whitman’s “To a Stranger.”

Bishop Allyson Abrams of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral in Silver Spring, Md., and Achim Howard, a member of the Whitman-Walker board of directors who is a deacon at Unity Fellowship Church in D.C., led a moment of silence and a candlelight vigil in which people used the lights on their cell phones to pay tribute to those who have succumbed to the epidemic.

“We want to remember tonight partners, lovers, spouses, friends, family members, colleagues and community members,” said Abrams. “We remember tonight those wonderful souls and spirits that have crossed over to the other side.”

Whitman-Walker Executive Director Don Blanchon acknowledged his younger brother who passed away from AIDS in 1999.

Blanchon said he has “never been more optimistic” about the fight against the epidemic, but acknowledged that “we’re not done yet by any means.” Blanchon also urged those who attended the commemoration to bring one person to Whitman-Walker or an organization with which it partners in order to get tested.

The latest surveillance report from the D.C. Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA) notes there were 16,423 people in Washington — or 2.5 percent of the population of the nation’s capital — living with HIV in 2013.

The report notes the number of newly diagnosed HIV cases in the nation’s capital dropped from 916 in 2009 to 553 in 2013.

Black men who have sex with men accounted for 25 percent of new HIV diagnoses in D.C. in 2013. The report also notes those between 20-29 were the age group with the highest number of new infections.

World AIDS Day, gay news, Washington Blade

Whitman-Walker Health Executive Director Don Blanchon speaks at the World AIDS Day event at his organization’s Northwest D.C. facility on Dec. 1, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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