World AIDS Day

December 1 is World AIDS Day, and the red ribbon is used to promote awareness of the deadly disease.

For anyone who is interested, the World AIDS Day site offers a source for HIV facts, a list of events promoting awareness, and other information: http://www.worldaidsday.org/.

So why is today important? Well, as a starting point, I just read in Toronto’s weekly NOW magazine that an astonishing one in 120 adults in Toronto have now been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS (based on a Casey House report). According to the story, mayor Rob Ford is proposing massive budget cuts to many things near and dear to my heart – including libraries, the public transportation system, and the Toronto Arts Council, to name but a few. The Ford administration’s budget also proposes to eliminate two or three of Toronto’s 41 HIV/AIDS prevention programs.

To eliminate any of these programs when such appalling (and still rising) statistics on how many citizens have been diagnosed with the disease seems counterintuitive at best and, more realistically, will prove to be directly harmful in the long run. NOW reports that the estimated budget savings would be about $157,000. The social cost for cutting these programs at a point when they are so urgently needed, however, is undetermined – and the repercussions for achieving Ford’s stripped-down budget likely won’t be adequately assessed until years in the future, when the damage will already have been done.

I am truly sorry that Google showed me this photo.

Luckily, we are not forced to merely stand by, gawping in bewilderment while the government razes the budgets of such social programs in an attempt to separate what it perceives as the wheat (the quantifiable benefits of these programs) from the chaff (liberal overspending), often plowing down the valuable parts along with the waste in the process.

Thus, on Sunday, Mink and I participated in a flash mob in Dundas Square as part of CANFAR’s GO RED event to promote awareness for AIDS research. According to its website, the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) “is Canada’s only independent charitable foundation dedicated to eliminating AIDS through research.” For more information on their story, their goals, and how to get involved, you can click here.

Sunday’s performance was based on a medley of songs from RENT, the 1994 musical that deals with the harsh reality of living with HIV/AIDS. A live band, singers, and professional dancers began the medley, stepping out of the crowd with microphones. The flash mobbers were casual bystanders who appeared so moved by the power of the music that we had to join in with the singing and dancing at the appropriate moment.

The movie is also good.

You can see the entire performance in Dundas Square here (for just the flash mob part, skip to 6:20):

An hour or so of nervously waiting around and trying to act casual erupted into about five minutes of actual dancing, but I can’t deny that performing in public heralds an unparalleled adrenaline rush. We celebrated our successful flash mobbery with beer and nachos at the Three Brewers down the street, and it turned out to be an awesome afternoon despite the fact that many of us were complete strangers. Choreographed dance – or, more accurately, an intense fear of performing said dance – and nachos are great for bringing people together.

The performance received significant media coverage, which is exciting. I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t hoping this brief foray into musical territory would catapult my show biz career into existence (spoiler alert: it didn’t). More importantly, though, the afternoon embodied that feeling of camaraderie, of being a part of a larger movement – however brief and limb-flailingly awkward for all of us – to promote awareness for a pressing global issue.

For World AIDS Day, wear the ribbon, educate yourself about HIV/AIDS, donate to CANFAR. It is knowledge and compassion that we need to be spreading.

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