World AIDS Day Dec. 1 drew global observances in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and one of the most colorful came just a few days later with the opening Dec. 5 of the Whitman-Walker Clinic’s new cultural center — The Corner — and curtain-raising exhibition: “See You There: Making History at Whitman-Walker”!

The exhibition of photos, artwork and documents marks an effort by Whitman-Walker to launch “an ambitious long-term program at the intersection of art, health and education, determined to contribute to social justice and equality.”

Inspired by the Whitman-Walker Oral History Project, officials say that the exhibition tells the story of a clinic that was one of the earliest U.S. health care institutions focused on the LGBTQ community as well those fighting for HIV/AIDS.

The exhibition runs from Dec. 5 to March 28, 2021, and is available for in-person visits (with required mask use, limited capacity, contact tracing and social distancing in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19). Components of the exhibition are also available online for those who cannot attend in person.

“Our goal of ending the AIDS epidemic was already off track before COVID-19. We must put people first to get the AIDS response back on track. We must end the social injustices that put people at risk of contracting HIV,” said Winnie Byanyima, undersecretary-general of the United Nations and executive director of UNAIDS.

In a statement for World AIDS Day, Byanyima said, “There is no excuse for governments to not invest fully for universal access to health. Barriers such as up-front user fees that lock people out of health must come down.”

The event comes more than three decades after Acquired Immune-Deficiency Syndrome exploded into the global consciousness as an incurable disease associated with homosexuality.

But more than three decades later, HIV/AIDs is no longer a death sentence and on Dec. 1 residents in the District and around the globe celebrated World AIDS Day with a series of events where world leaders focused on the interconnectedness between the coronavirus pandemic and HIV/AIDS.

Advocates are still fighting indifference. Phil Pannell, 70, executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council and a longtime gay-rights advocate in southeast Washington, said, “Here in Ward 8, World AIDS Day is hardly known very much beyond those who are not connected with the Max Robinson Center.”

“In my mind, AIDS in the Black community has gone the same way as sickle cell. Today sickle cell is not the disease de jure,” Pannell said. “Everything pales compared to the [coronavirus] pandemic. When was the last time you see someone wearing a red ribbon?”

“The situation with AIDS is because of the advancements has gone in the same way as sexually transmitted diseases went in our generation. You go get your medicines and you keep getting up, but there [is] still a problem in our community.”

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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