More Than 200 People Come Together In Support of Eastside AIDS Monument Despite Anti-Gay Opposition

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More than 200 people, including residents of Lincoln Heights and Northeast Los Angeles, clergy, labor leaders, elected officials, mothers who have lost sons to AIDS and others, came together at Lincoln Park in support of an AIDS monument that will soon be built there. The rally was organized in response to bigoted and homophobic statements made by opponents.

-More than 200 supporters of an Eastside AIDS monument, clergy, elected officials and residents, came together Friday night, lighting candles in memory of loved ones lost to AIDS, and in the spirit of acceptance and tolerance.         

The candlelight vigil culminated a rally organized by the Friends of The Wall, a coalition of community supporters for The Wall-Las Memorias Project, in response to hostile and bigoted statements in recent months by opponents of the AIDS monument that will soon be built in Lincoln Park, in the historic eastside community of Lincoln Heights, just northeast of Downtown Los Angeles.

“Tonight, we come together as a community to say that we support the construction of this monument, and, more importantly, that AIDS is an important issue in the eastside that we can no longer continue to deny,” said Tim Young, co-chair of the Friends of the Wall.

Speakers at the rally include a diverse range of individuals, including former city council member Mike Hernandez, residents of Lincoln Heights and Northeast Los Angeles, clergy, labor leaders and parents who have lost children to AIDS, among others.

Although construction of The Wall-Las Memorias will begin shortly, a small group of opponents has emerged in the past several months using various means to oppose the monument, including

flyers, a lawsuit from a right-wing legal center in Sacramento and a website: http://www.pinkpork.com. Opponents have argued that the monument belongs in West Hollywood, that it will only attract gay men who “will hold hands in public” and that the monument is pagan because it is in the shape of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl.

“We can only fight AIDS when we come together as a community, without fear, without shame, and without hate,” said Keith Malone, co-chair of coalition. Malone said that rally organizers were proud to have the endorsements of State Senator Gil Cedillo, Assembly Member Jackie Goldberg, Los Angeles City Council Members Ed Reyes and Antonio Villaraigosa and former Council Members Richard Alatorre and Mike Hernandez, former State Senators Art Torres and Richard Polanco, and other community leaders.

Speakers at the rally discussed the link between between social discrimination and sexual risk among Latino men. Recent research by Rafael M. Diaz, PhD, of San Francisco State University, looked at Latino men in Los Angeles, New York and Miami, their risk behaviors and the types of social discrimination they had faced over their lives. The study showed that men in the group with high-risk behaviors that can lead to HIV infection were more likely to have experienced more homophobia in childhood and racism in childhood and adulthood than their low-risk counterparts.

“Perhaps the great force that contributes to the spread of the devastating AIDS epidemic is the deadly silence that exists about anything sexual or homosexual,” said Dr. Diaz, “a silence fueled by deep rejection, the fearless condemnation and the inhuman stigmatization of homosexual love and sexual behavior.”

“The Latino community has a history of being inclusive and humane to those who are oppressed. AIDS should be no different,” said Beatriz Solis, a Northeast Los Angeles resident and health care researcher. “The Latino community has faced racial discrimination, and, sadly, continues to experience it. Who are we to shut the door on our brothers and sisters who have HIV or may be lesbian or gay?”

"The support we have here tonight overwhelming,” said Richard Zaldivar, executive director and founder of The Wall-Las Memorias Project, which is building the AIDS monument. “A movement has started in Los Angeles that has propelled our community to a greater height. Every sector from our community was represented at the rally. The message we share is ‘we are educating the community about HIV/AIDS and we are not going to stop because it is our community.’

"The people of Los Angeles have spoken here tonight. And they are saying that every time you call someone a name or write homophobic comments about someone who is part of the community, you are contributing to HIV/AIDS. We will continue to educate the community about this epidemic, until AIDS is eradicated.”

The Wall-Las Memorias Project (http://www.thewalllasmemorias.org) was founded in 1993 to educate the Latino community about HIV/AIDS, and to show how denial hurts families, communities, and people living with HIV and AIDS. The Wall-Las Memorias’ goal is the construction of a memorial in Lincoln Park to honor those who have lost their lives to AIDS, and to promote healing and understanding for their loved ones and the community. Photos of the mural panels and renderings of the monument can be viewed http://photos.yahoo.com/friendsofthewall.

The Wall-Las Memorias Project has grown to include other programs which promote self-esteem, understanding and community, including discussion and support groups for men, young adults and mothers, an HIV/AIDS prevention program that reaches out to communities of faith, and a men’s softball team. The not-for-profit organization also has a history of engaging in community activism and promoting community involvement.

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Keith Malone