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San Francisco Chronicle
Thousands join AIDS Walk in Golden Gate Park
<p>Kristen V. Brown</p>
July 21, 2013

For Angie Glielmi, the AIDS Walk in Golden Gate Park has become an annual memorial of sorts. It was 17 years ago that she lost her brother, Tony, to the disease. This was her 10th year walking in tribute to him.

"My brother left us too soon," said the San Francisco resident. "He would have loved to be here, raising money to fight this."

Glielmi was among the more than 25,000 who participated in Sunday's 10-kilometer walk.

"This walk keeps awareness of AIDS in the public," said her friend Mac McNamara, the other half of Team Tony. "People think the AIDS fight is over. It's far from over."

AIDS Walk San Francisco has raised more than $80 million in the Bay Area since the first walk took place 26 years ago. The walk benefits the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, which distributes funding among Bay Area groups that provide services such as free HIV screenings, sterile needle exchange, and health care for those living with HIV and AIDS. Next year, for the first time, the walk will benefit a new organization, Project Inform. This year, the walk raised more than $2.5 million.

"As we gather in the park today, we must not forget it's no walk in the park to fight HIV and AIDS," said San Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Neil Giuliano, after urging participants to join hands for a moment of silence.

"Now is not the time to let up on the fight," he said. "In fact we need to do more."

In 1987, the year of the first AIDS Walk, an HIV diagnosis was nearly always a death sentence. Since then, a wide range of new drug therapies has turned HIV infection into a manageable condition. Still, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation reports it sees one to two new infections every day in San Francisco, with nearly 16,000 living with HIV and AIDS in the city as of 2010.

The state of California reported more HIV diagnoses than any other state in 2011, according to a 2013 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The report also found that infections among gay and bisexual men were still on the rise nationally.

In San Francisco alone, there have been more than 19,000 reported AIDS deaths.

On Sunday, more than 700 teams participated in the AIDS Walk, some raising tens of thousands of dollars. Gap Inc., a top fundraising team, raised more than $70,000.

Philip Schneider, 75, has participated in the walk since its inauguration. This year he raised $1,600, earning him a paper crown and the designation "star walker." In the past five years, he has raised more than $8,000.

At least a half-dozen of his friends lost their lives to AIDS, he said.

On Sunday, he prepared to complete the event despite requiring a walker.

"I feel the need to do this every year," he said, "Every year until we have a cure."

Many wore matching company T-shirts, others shirts emblazoned with images of lost loved ones. One team wore fluorescent pink tutus over their walking gear; another group was dressed more for Mardi Gras than a mid-morning jaunt in feather boas and metallic beads. In neon yellows, ruby reds and other rainbow hues, walkers wore bright shots of color against a morning of steely gray fog.

Joining Giuliano on a stage in Sharon Meadow were TV personalities including cross-dressing "Glee" cast member Alex Newell, reality star Tabatha Coffey and Sally Struthers of "All in the Family" fame.

"I wish for this terrible scourge to become something that happened in history," said Struthers, who urged the crowd to get tested. The earlier HIV is diagnosed, the more manageable the disease. About 1 person in 5 with HIV has not been diagnosed, the Centers for Disease Control estimates.

Larry "Juicye" Edmund cheered Struthers on. Waving a rainbow golf umbrella adorned with tinsel and photos of those who have made strides in the fight against AIDS, the San Francisco resident caught Struthers' attention in the crowd. She shouted "I love you" back.

"You can fight it if you know about it," said Edmund, 52, who has been living with HIV for 24 years. "I'm living proof."

Kristen V. Brown is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. kbrown@sfchronicle.com @kristenvbrown



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