San Francisco AIDS Foundation
Assembled as part of San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s campaign to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the first reported cases of what would become known as AIDS on June 5, 1981, the red ribbon has already garnered a response in the short time since it debuted. “People recognize what the ribbon represents, and people have seen the Chronicle coverage, so people definitely know about it and are talking about it,” says Megan Canon, marketing coordinator at SFAF, about the project she is overseeing. “The few people that I talked to today commented on how it was really inspiring to see—because you can see it all the way from the East Bay. I’ve gotten calls from people in Oakland who are able to see it. That’s pretty amazing.”
The project, conceived before Canon joined SFAF a few months ago, was inspired and encouraged by the Friends of the Pink Triangle, who use the same space on which to assemble a giant pink triangle, a symbol of LGBT oppression, in time for Pride Weekend every year.
“They’ve been a great help for us in this project because we’ve never done it before,” says Canon about the Friends of the Pink Triangle, who shared with SFAF advice, and design and logistical support about how to put together an emblem on a massive scale. “We wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without them.”
And, notes Canon, SFAF wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without the 100 volunteers, recruited from the nonprofit’s own pool, Facebook, and the staff’s own social circles. Under Canon’s direction on the morning of May 22, they arranged and secured the twenty-five tarps that make up the 225 feet-long and 165 feet-wide ribbon. It took only an hour when it was expected to take three times as long.
I mention that it sounds like a barn raising and Canon seconds my analogy. “I was the person who had the designs and point person in terms of giving instructions to make sure it was laid out the correct way, but it was all hands on deck. Everyone put their 150 percent effort into making it happen. Everyone was enthusiastic. It was a good feeling out there Sunday morning.”
Canon says that part of the reason for putting the ribbon up before June 5 was so its presence would coincide with the annual AIDS/LifeCycle event, a city-to-city AIDS bike ride that starts on the anniversary date. “We wanted a visual send-off for the riders. As they leave San Francisco, they’ll see the ribbon on their ride out and hopefully remain inspired for their long week ahead of riding from San Francisco to L.A.”
The red ribbon is only one part of SFAF’s thirtieth anniversary campaign.
Says Canon: “We’re also conducting a social media campaign on Facebook for people to share their stories and we’ve been sending out a lot of [print and Web] advertising with that. We’re also planning a huge outdoor ad campaign to sweep the city to direct them to our Facebook page to share their stories on-line. We’re blanketing the city as much as we can on-line and off-line, asking them to share their stories.” A banner is going up in the Castro MUNI station and ads will be strategically placed in neighborhoods that have been severely impacted and affected by the epidemic: the Castro, Noe, Fillmore, the Tenderloin. “It’s a coordinated effort, with all the different events that we’re doing leading up to June 5.”
With the tagline “How has HIV affected you?”, the ads will feature the same image in the hopes of saturating public consciousness and prompting a diverse array of experiences, memories, and messages related to AIDS.
Already the stories are popping up:
“Living with an AIDS diagnosis for 28 years has taught me to love myself no matter my doubts….”
“And my friend Dan, who lost his 8-year-old son; the kid beat leukemia but got HIV from a blood transfusion.”
“Hope can be found in education and prevention—get tested!”
“San Francisco AIDS Foundation has given me my life back. I am no longer depressed about being infected and I can now help others accomplish that same objective.”
“The two most important men in my life struck by HIV & AIDS, one lost to us forever, the other one still here thanks to the tireless efforts of countless individuals….”
Like other AIDS service organizations, SFAF is marking the anniversary in order to take stock of the past and look ahead to the future, but these practices are also something the nonprofit engages in every day of the year. As a city, San Francisco responded quickly to the epidemic. It was the first U.S. city to develop a comprehensive, tax-supported AIDS program. San Francisco AIDS Foundation coalesced through a series of responses to the pandemic: the start-up of the Kaposi’s Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation, a food bank for people with AIDS, client services, and safer sex initiatives, among other efforts.
Today, its services include financial benefits counseling, housing assistance, a sterile syringe access program, culturally tailored support groups, crystal meth counseling, among others. SFAF also promotes evidence-based programs and advocates for public policy that protects and improves the lives of those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Awareness is key to all of SFAF’s goals. Canon believes that people are receiving AIDS awareness messages, but that the epidemic is often not in the forefront of their minds. “Hopefully, by having this very visual reminder that you can see throughout all the city and especially in the East Bay, too, it reignites people to get involved with fighting the epidemic,” she says, knowing that the same fight can take different forms. “Whatever the ribbon means to them and [whatever] action it leads them to do is the intention of putting it up in such a very dramatic, bold-statement way.”
The immediate goal of the thirtieth anniversary campaign is to share stories. “In terms of long-term goals, it’s a reminder for people to still be involved, a reminder that the HIV epidemic is definitely not over, that we’re far from it,” says Canon. “Even though we’ve come so far we still have a lot more to go.”
She clarifies: “Our strategic goals are to make sure that every San Franciscan knows their HIV status, every person who is HIV-positive is linked into care, and to reduce HIV infections in San Francisco by fifty percent.” The work must continue. In San Francisco, two more people are newly infected with HIV every day. Nationwide, more than 56,000 people are infected every year.
The red ribbon so far has stayed where the volunteers have staked it.
“I’ve been up there the past two mornings to check to make sure that the ribbon is still there,” Canon says, when we spoke. “Every time I come into the city for work, I get anxious that chunks of it are going to be missing.”
But even when the ribbon does come down on June 19, something tells me that San Franciscans, like all of us who look back to those who are no longer with us, will still be able to see what is missing and what is yet possible on the jagged line of the horizon.
Share your story by logging on to www.sfaf.org, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.