This is How You Can End AIDS — and Look Fabulous in a Red Dress

Written by | Lifestyle

Red Dress AIDS Benefit Ride

(Photo courtesy Alan Barnett)

If you’re looking to make a difference in the fight against AIDS, take some advice from the late David Bowie: Put on your red dress, then spin your blues away. You’ll be reminding the powers-that-be that we’re still here, HIV is still out there and that politicians should keep their promises.

This Thursday, from 6:30-8:30pm, rows and rows of red dresses will line racks at Housing Works’ Bookstore Café at 126 Crosby St. Drop by to pop on a frock, be fitted and purchase a dress to wear for the 300-mile Braking AIDS Ride, a scenic route from Cooperstown to New York City to raise funds for Housing Works.

Red Dress Day is one of the highlights of this physically and mentally challenging effort when all of the 150-plus riders and volunteers make a stop in front of the State House in Albany, wearing dozens of the dresses they’ve chosen for the day.Together, they observe a moment of silence in memory of those who’ve died from AIDS-related causes. This year, that moment of silence carries the intention that by 2020, the HIV epidemic will be successfully ended in New York State, with the level of new transmissions per year reduced to fewer than 750 statewide – a major focus of Housing Works’ continued advocacy.

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Seeing Red Yet?

Tom Hennes, who has lived with HIV for the past 33 years and has been one of the ride’s most successful fund raisers says, “Many people would prefer that those of us with HIV disappear. Wearing a red dress makes us visible and reminds the world that we and our wonderful community are still here. For one day, we have the privilege of exulting in our presence and our joy at persisting beyond the bounds of a mainstream society that has far too often turned its back on us. It lightens the load and draws us together.”

Each year, Housing Works Thrift Stores sift through their stock, setting aside some of the most fabulous selections – from full-length designer gowns to sexy red bustiers and slinky spandex action-length sheaths. Original price tags on some of these dresses is in the hundreds, yet here, they’re available for $10-$40, all of which is donated right back into the coffers of Housing Works.

It is definitely a spectacle of people in helmets and gear dressed to the nines (some folks also enjoy creating their own “runway looks” for the event) but the main goal is to highlight a commitment these riders have made to ending HIV/AIDS once and for all.

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Money Changes Everything

In that effort, Housing Works has provided shelter and supportive services to thousands of New Yorkers living with HIV or at risk of infection since 1990. They have also attracted national recognition for developing innovative, client-centered models of housing and services for hard-to-reach populations. The organization and its members engage in ongoing grassroots advocacy in pursuit of its mission to end the dual crises of AIDS and homelessness.

Riders in the Braking AIDS Ride often train for months before their road trip. Nearly every weekend, many riders put on their gear — rain or shine — and pedal for miles, solo or in organized events, to get in shape for the ride weekend. This year, the ride is scheduled for September 13-16.

So far, the ride has raised more than $2 million dollars in support of Housing Works. Riders must raise at least $3,500 to participate, but some have raised in excess of $30,000 in a single year.

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Why They Ride

“The Braking AIDS Ride reflects our commitment to fight every day to end HIV as an epidemic and to achieve health equity and social justice for the most disenfranchised New Yorkers,” says Housing Works President and CEO Charles King. “2016 data indicates we are on track for achieving most of our ending-the-epidemic targets, but we are lagging behind on several fronts outside New York City.

“We have not seen sufficient declines in new infections among women, especially transgender women, and we have also seen a frightening rise in new infections among foreign-born Latino gay and bisexual men. Donations to the ride are helping us defeat ongoing efforts to destroy our nation’s health care system and also support our advocacy campaigns to expand rental assistance for low-income people with HIV outside New York City, to ensure that all service providers are supporting viral suppression, and to ensure that everyone at risk of HIV has access to pre-exposure prophylaxis. Together, we can end AIDS.”

For more information visit the Braking AIDS Ride site or Housing Works.

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Last modified: August 13, 2019