World AIDS Day in Chico

EPIDEMIC’S TOLL Attendees at the candlelight vigil for AIDS victims bow their heads in memory of those killed by the virus.

EPIDEMIC’S TOLL Attendees at the candlelight vigil for AIDS victims bow their heads in memory of those killed by the virus.

Photo By Josh Indar

About 40 people came out on a cold and rainy night Monday, Dec. 1, to show support for those living with HIV/AIDS and to remember those who have succumbed to the deadly virus. Sponsored by Chico’s Stonewall Alliance and hosted by Trinity United Methodist Church, the event was held to commemorate World AIDS Day and to bring awareness to the worsening global AIDS crisis.

Leading off the night was Trinity pastor David Moss, who led a prayer for “our loved ones who have died of AIDS and all those in Africa and other Third-World countries who languish” without access to the life-saving medications that have saved millions in more developed countries.

Moss then gave the podium to Chico City Councilmember Scott Gruendl, one of the approximately 900,000 Americans living with HIV, who proudly told those in attendance, “I live in honor of those who have gone before me.” Gruendl, who became infected in the mid 90s, spoke about the loss of his partner to the disease and of his experience as one of the first HIV-positive men for run to state office in California when he tried to win an Assembly seat in 1998. Gruendl lost his 2000 bid for Chico City Council by only 70 votes. He called off a recount bid that year partly because of his deteriorating health, and soon after suffered a painful bout of meningitis. He said he gained strength to make it through his ordeal after he was visited by Jesus Christ, who at the time was wearing a Van Halen T-shirt and a foam hand reading “God is No. 1.” The peculiar apparition rekindled his faith, he said, and gave him the will to go on.

Gruendl’s revelation brought a chuckle from the audience and served as the sole note of humor in the otherwise somber proceedings. The night was not without hope, however, as Gruendl was followed by a county health official, a fellow HIV survivor, a social worker and a local doctor, all of whom reminded those present that there is life after HIV.

Hilary Regan, a care-giver for AIDS patients, said an AIDS-free world is still possible if more people choose to get involved and informed.

“AIDS is still associated with illness, death, sex and drugs, and so people still feel uncomfortable talking about it,” Regan said. “But it’s important we talk about it or we may lose more people close to us.”

The evening was ended with a candlelight vigil, during which participants voiced the names of loved ones they had lost to the virus.

Some statistics about HIV/AIDS:
• Out of the roughly 42 million people around the world who now carry the virus, about five million of them were infected in the last year alone.

• HIV/AIDS killed 3.1 million people worldwide last year, more than all armed conflicts combined, and continues to claim more than 8,000 people per day.

• In Southern Africa, one in five adults carries the virus. Southern African women aged 15-24 are 2.5 times more likely to be infected than males there.

• About half of those infected worldwide are now women.

• By the year 2005, the U.S. will be spending at least $10 billion a year to fight the virus.