By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Rev. Al Sharpton: 'A civil rights issue'
Hundreds gathered at a bandstand and Jumbotron set up in Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn on Saturday to hear advocates, politicians and entertainers call on the government to “Keep the Promise” on AIDS funding in New York City.
Speakers said a recent $2.7 million budget cut as a result of sequestration will mean 68,000 fewer HIV tests in the city.
The Reverend Al Sharpton drew cheers as he said the cuts are a civil rights issue. “If we don’t fight for civil rights for everybody, then we don’t fight for civil rights for anybody,” he said. “There’s one standard, one world and one promise.”
Council Member Stephen Levin (D - Downtown, Brooklyn Heights) said that more people are getting their HIV diagnosed late. “Thirty percent of women in New York City receive a late diagnosis. Eighty percent of people receiving a late diagnosis die. Is this the time to cut funding?”
Michael Weinstein, the president and co-founder of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, called on President Obama to “keep the promise” and restore funding cuts. “AIDs rages in gay black men as strongly in America as AIDS rages in Africa,” he said. “That’s the consequence of devaluing a life.”
State Senator Velmanette Montgomery (D - Red Hook, Central Brooklyn) spoke out against the recent arrests of people who were carrying condoms, which persecutors claim are proof of prostitution. “This undermines sound health policy,” she said. She endorsed the “No Condoms As Evidence Bill” which will prohibit police officers from using condoms as justification for arresting individuals.
Condom Nation, a safe sex group, distributed free condoms at the rally, and hip hop impresario Cassidy – “I go by the name of Cassidy the Hustler” – brought the house down with his catchy rendition of "Stroke ‘Em Condom Style” (a remake of PSY’s viral hit “Gangnam Style”).
The afternoon’s entertainers also included radio and TV personality Sway Calloway, DJ Lina, and Grammy Award-winners Bridget Kelly and Miri Ben-Ari. The Rude Mechanical Orchestra accompanied the crowd as they marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to bring their message to City Hall.
Other participants included Vaughn Taylor-Akutagawa, Interim Executive Director, Gay Men of African Descent; Elder Stacey Latimer, Founder, Love Alive International Group; Sam Rivera, Executive VP Exponents; and Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo (D - Bronx 17th District). The event was created by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.