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October 30, 2006

Thomas Warfield hosts World AIDS Day concert Dec. 1

From: The Empty Closet - Rochester,NY,USA - Oct 30, 2006

Written by Susan Jordan

Thomas Warfield, Director of Dance at RIT/NTID and founder of PeaceArt International, will be presenting his annual World AIDS Day benefit concert on Dec. 1 at the Universalist Church, 150 S. Clinton Ave., downtown. This is the 25th anniversary of AIDS Day observances, and Thomas, an activist since the mid-‘80s, has seen many changes in attitudes toward the global plague.

The concert, titled “Hope for the Children,” will feature the Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus, Rochester Women’s Community Chorus, RIT/NTID Dance Theatre, and Indian dancer Dilshad Patel. Proceeds will go to AIDS orphans in India. Musician/activist Michael Lee will receive the first PeaceArt Creative Spirit Award.

Warfield notes that World AIDS Day was originally created by the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) to raise awareness that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is worldwide, and to remind Americans that we are part of the global human family.

Warfield has been active in the fight against AIDS since 1987. He said, “I was part of ACT-UP at the beginning. I thought it was so important because they really pushed the government to get the FCC to make medications available... I didn’t get involved in World AIDS Day until 1990. I volunteered at the AIDS Resource Center, a sort of pre-Gay Men’s Health Crisis. I would go to men’s homes and shop for them, cook and clean, sit and talk or read to them.

“In 1990, when the Berlin Wall came down, they discovered about 100,000 orphans in Romania in terrible conditions, some infected with HIV. When I saw this on TV I was horrified – it was bad enough to lose my friends, but to see these children – I knew I had to do something. That’s when PeaceArt was born.”

Warfield said that when he was in school at the University of Utah he organized a student group called DanceArt. “We did performances tied to social issues,” he said. “We raised funds for the Romanian orphans… Since then I’ve always tried to raise awareness of AIDS orphans around the world. I’ve done benefits in Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, China… when I came back to Rochester, I continued doing it here. We’ve raised funds for orphanages in Kenya, South Africa, Brazil, China and other places.

“The first year I did a benefit here I got a lot of flack from people who asked, why raises funds for kids from other countries and not for people here in Rochester. My answer was two-fold: first, I believe the idea of World AIDS Day reminds us we’re connected to the rest of the world and to humanity.

“Second, people here have a lot of resources, but the orphans in most cases don’t have anyone doing anything for them. And they are no less deserving than people here.”

Warfield believes that there is more involved than raising money. He said, “It’s also bringing awareness that this is happening and that we have a responsibility. There are people who are suffering, and we can bring some relief, not only with money but also with prayers, thoughts and energy. I believe strongly we are a global community.”

Over the years, both strategies and commitments to the fight against AIDS have changed. ACT-UP’s take-it-to-the-streets strategy has disappeared, Pride marches are now party parades, and a generation of LGBT people has grown up without much idea of what activism can accomplish.

“Many young people in their 20s or early 30s haven’t lost people yet,” he said, “and it hasn’t made a visceral impact on their lives. Young people see people with HIV living longer and seeming fine. There’s not an atmosphere of doom around it any more, it’s more relaxed. I’ve heard young people say, ‘I want to hurry and get (HIV) and get it over with so I won’t have to worry about it anymore.’ I try to tell them my story, what I’ve seen and done. It’s not as rosy a picture as it appears to be – there are side effects and your whole life changes, and you have a completely different outlook.”

Warfield added, “I worry about the future. If the next generation isn’t being nurtured with the idea of activism and standing up for what’s right, what does that mean for the future for all of us?”

Some of the panels from the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt will be displayed at Equal Grounds until Dec. 10. Warfield said, “The Quilt was started in 1987 in San Francisco. It brought a kind of community together, as people lost friends, lovers, sons, brothers – and they were brought together in grief, and it mobilized the culture around HIV/AIDS.”

The Red Ribbon symbol was created in 1991 by Broadway Care/Equity Fights AIDS, which still presents annual fundraisers with Broadway stars. Warfield said, “Yesterday Bono unveiled his new ‘Red’ campaign aimed basically at HIV issues. I think it may cause the idea of engaging people in activism to re-emerge. We don’t want to be here 25 years from now still doing this!

“One of the things about World AIDS Day – there’s hope in that. People think, ‘I can do that’ – buy a red t-shirt or a ticket to a fundraiser. That’s my challenge to everyone: do something. Whatever it is, just do it. We can’t wait any longer.”

© 2006 The Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley