New York City’s New AIDS Memorial Reminds All To Keep Fighting

Every December 1st, people around the world pause to commemorate those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS and rededicate themselves to fighting this epidemic. This year, Mayor Bill de Blasio joined New Yorkers in dedicating the New York City AIDS Memorial in St. Vincent’s Triangle Park in Greenwich Village. This new memorial is the largest memorial in the United States dedicated to those we have lost to HIV/AIDS. The Mayor gave these selected remarks to the crowd.

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

This is one of those moments where you have to reflect, you have to feel emotionally the history that we’re here to commemorate — and it is a history filled with pain. It’s a very personal pain. It’s something — every single person here has a story — those they lost, those they knew, those they loved and lost. There is clear pain. And, at the same time, what this symbolizes is hope because of the fight that was waged.

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

I remember the first days of this epidemic — the confusion, the frustration, the fear. New York City was pushed back on its heels, flat on its back, dealing with an overwhelming challenge. But one thing we know about our beloved city — we are not intimidated. We are never held down for long.

New Yorkers fought back; activists fought back; doctors, nurses fought back; scientists fought back, and worked to turn this around over years and years, and to demand the help people needed, the investment they deserve. In this city — which so proudly was the birthplace of the LGBT rights movement and so many other movements for dignity — in this city was also one of the most profound movements to address this unknown scourge. When we first confronted something we had no idea the magnitude of, this city was one of the places where we decided to fight back and take it head on, and believe that we could beat it.

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

And that’s what I see when I look at this memorial. It makes me sad to think of the loss. It makes me proud to remember the fight, and a fight we are still waging to this day. And that work must deepen.

Now, I want to thank everyone who is here. I know you’re not just here for symbolism. I know you’re not just here because this is a moment of memory. This is also a re-dedication to each other and to a fight.

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

We know in New York City we have a special responsibility not only to each other, but to the nation. There are 1.2 million Americans who are HIV-positive right now — 10 percent of whom live in our city. We have an obligation to get this right and to be a beacon for everyone else around our country. We are creating — this is the most important point today to say — we are creating a future without HIV and AIDS.

Two facts I want to emphasize — in the year 2015, basically 30 years into this fight, we had the lowest number of HIV infections in 30 years in this city.

Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office

And that is thanks to the hard work of so many people present today. This has been a fight not just waged by government, but waged by people at the grassroots.

In 2015, there were no HIV births in this city. That is real progress.

A year ago, I said clearly — the policy of this city is HASA for All — an uncompromising vision of supporting those in need.

Pearl Gabel/Office of the Mayor

Since that time, almost 1,000 people who needed help and weren’t getting it in the past — they’re getting homes, they’re getting help with transportation, they’re getting the resources to heal. This city is embracing and supporting those who need that helping hand.

It took a long time for this memorial to be created. And it will stand for a long time to keep our memories fresh. But most importantly, it will remind us — we have set a goal and we must achieve it — end the epidemic by 2020. It’s as simple as that. Let this be the place where we recommit ourselves.

Mayor Bill de Blasio with the NYC Gay Men’s Chorus. Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office.