Tourists looking for celebrity sightings in the tony and super gay-friendly enclave of West Hollywood, Calif., have been scratching their heads and looking more closely at a display in the window of the ES Collection, a local menswear boutique that sells swimwear and athletic clothing.
The store has installed a bald-headed mannequin in a wheelchair in the front window. The mannequin is dressed in a hospital gown and hooked up to an oxygen tank and IV line, depicting a man in the final stages of AIDS-related complications. It’s a scene straight from the 1980s and ‘90s, but its one that store owner NIr Zilberman says we shouldn’t forget.
To that end, Zilberman has orchestrated Fighting for Our Lives, a candlelight ceremony this weekend to both honor those who have died of AIDS complications and to support those community members still living with HIV or AIDS.
“This community has become lax in its fight against HIV [and] AIDS,” says Zilberman, fashion designer and owner of two Los Angeles-area men’s retailers, ES Collection and LA Jock, who is organizing this weekend's rally. “We don’t remember the millions of people who lost their lives to the disease. We forget the discrimination; how heterosexuals blamed the gay community for AIDS; and how many doctors refused to treat AIDS patients.”
At 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 12, activists will meet in front of the ES Collection store (8915 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood) where two stages will be set up for speeches and performances. At 10:00 p.m. sharp, participants will begin lighting candles. Organizers have secured the full support of the West Hollywood sheriff department.
“We must educate today’s youth about the disease,” continues Zilberman, pointing to recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that rates of new HIV infections among gay and bisexual men have been rising at alarming rates for more than a decade and that those men and boys between the ages of 13 and 29 comprise 27 percent of new infections.
“It's time we re-launch the fight against AIDS, hate, and ignorance,”
adds Zilberman. “The fight is against AIDS, not people with HIV [or] AIDS. People with AIDS need our love and compassion. They are our brothers and sisters and we are fighting this war with them.”
The Fighting for Our Lives candlelight ceremony is inspired by similar demonstrations that were held in New York and San Francisco on May 2, 1982, at the height of the first AIDS epidemic.