This fall in China, 200 people are expected to participate in the country’s first AIDS Walk; not through a park or along an urban street, but on the country’s iconic Great Wall, with support from the Center.
People in many parts of the Western world have walked and ridden bikes to raise awareness about HIV and to raise money for HIV/AIDS related services. But in China, this kind of fundraising represents a new frontier. The LGBT activists organizing the walk on the Great Wall are former participants in the Center’s intensive Emerging Leaders program, a partnership between the Center and the Chinese organization Aibai, and were inspired by their participation in AIDS/LifeCycle.
To make this bold idea a reality, these trailblazers are overcoming tremendous obstacles:
- Leaders of LGBT organizations, like those organizing the Walk, must keep a very low-profile for fear of being shut down by a government that refuses to sanction groups that serve LGBT people.
- Because the Chinese government has allocated so few resources to fighting HIV, misconceptions about the virus abound. Many of those who talk about the epidemic focus on people who contracted HIV through blood transfusions; only more recently have people started paying more attention to how the epidemic is affecting gay and bisexual men and transgender women—the groups that are most commonly affected in China.
- China doesn’t have the same culture of philanthropy. In the U.S., the idea of giving to charity is much more of a cultural norm and people are familiar with the idea of sponsoring a friend who participates in a fundraising event. That’s not the case in China.
Despite these challenges, young LGBT leaders from Beijing are making final preparations for the China AIDS Walk on Saturday, Oct. 13. To participate in the five-to-six-hour hike on the majestic and historic Great Wall, each participant is expected to raise at least $400.
A Glimpse of the Future
AIDS/LifeCycle, a seven-day bike ride from San Francisco to L.A. that supports the Center’s HIV/AIDS-related services, served as the inspiration for the China AIDS Walk.
In 2010, Xiaogang Wei, 35, spentfive weeks at the Center as a participant in the Emerging Leaders Program, which brings activists from China to the Center to develop and hone their skills through intensive internships. During his 2010 internship, Xiaogang became the first emerging leader to ride in AIDS/ LifeCycle. (Many have served as volunteer “roadies” on the ride.)
“To Xiaogang, it was like seeing the future of China,” says Waiting Wei (not related to Xiaogang), 24, the coordinator of the China AIDS Walk. “He saw people with HIV being accepted for who they are, without being stigmatized, and he found that so inspiring. We believe things can evolve, that we can bring change to China by educating people about HIV and supporting important services.”
Waiting now works for Xiaogang at the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute, the organization that is developing the event with support from the Center, AIDS/LifeCycle staff and several partnering organizations. Like Xiaogang, Waiting graduated from the Center’s Emerging Leaders Program, completing her internship earlier this year.
Participants in the event will include Center sustaining donor Brian Newkirk, husband of longtime Center board member Loren Ostrow. In 2011, Newkirk was part of a Center-led delegation of LGBT leaders who traveled to China to meet with nearly 1,000 young activists. Now he will return to support an event organized by LGBT leaders who are blazing new trails in China’s LGBT movement. Newkirk hopes to raise $5,000, all of which will support HIV/AIDS organizations in China. Donations can be made at lagaycenter.org/brian.
China AIDS Walk
Great Wall of China
Saturday, Oct. 13
To learn more about the Center’s Emerging Leaders Program—part of its Leadership LAB (learn act build)—visit lagaycenter.org/lab.