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Then And Now: Reflecting On The AIDS Epidemic With Leaders Of GMHC

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- We are less than a week away from AIDS Walk.

Three people taking part met with CBS2's Dave Carlin in Christopher Park across from the historic Stonewall Inn.

All are with GMHC, formerly the Gay Men's Health Crisis, on the front lines helping people living with HIV since the beginning.

They discussed HIV then and now, the stigma and the progress with CBS 2's Dave Carlin.

"Let's begin by talking about being in this spot, at this time," Carlin said.

"So what is it like then and now? I think being on this historic street, in this area... when the epidemic hit, this was a ground zero point," said Gregg Bruckno, GMHC assistant director. "So it's significant for me to sit here and talk about HIV and long term survivors."

"They were stigmatized and shamed due to homophobia, transphobia," said GMHC Community Relations Director Krishna Stone. "There has been some progress made, mostly in terms of HIV medications, yet we're still dealing with stigma and we're still dealing with the other elements that block people from getting services."

WEB EXTRA: Extended Interview With Leaders Of GMHC

"Services are better. Things are a little bit better," said GMHC Program Coordinator Luna Luis Ortiz.

"We're planning points on a journey here, where we can see progress but then we keep hearing the stigma is still there," Carlin said.

"I think the work is never done," Ortiz said. "I was infected in 1986, which is the year that AIDS Walk began."

"Discovering you are HIV positive at a very young age... because I was 14 at the time... is very traumatic," Ortiz added. "What I didn't get, I'm trying to give... I want be that person who can steer them because I didn't have that."

"My parents were very active in the civil rights movement and so it was natural for me to understand I have to continue to fight against social
injustices," Stone said. "As a straight ally I think it's so important for me to be of service, and that means to be of service to the LGBT+ community, to be of service to people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS."

"Then versus now... are you able to put that in any kind of perspective from your own life story?" Carlin asked.

"If GMHC wasn't there in 1999, I don't know where I'd be today," Bruckno said. "People still die of AIDS every year. We shouldn't be there. we should be in a better place... and that's why I want to do what I'm doing and why I'm so passionate."

"What still fires you up? Upsets you?" Carlin asked.

"Racism. It's homophobia, what really gets me going," Bruckno said. "I listen to long-term survivors talk about what they went through... where they were kicked out of their apartments or fired from jobs and that sentiment still goes on today."

"AIDS Walk is about remembering. It's about taking strides and it's about transporting us to a better future, quite literally. What do you think we need to do to get there?" Carlin asked.

"So this year...  marks the 35th year of AIDS Walk New York," Stone said. "We are going to be virtual this year. But we can still continue building community, still raise funds for our services and programs... to keep the energy going, to keep the momentum going."

"We're going to see a whole generation of people who are going through this again and they shouldn't have to. We should be better than that," Bruckno said.

"AIDS Walk And the work that we do, why it's so important is because we need to still continue to educate. And I think being visible in interviews like this helps parents who are home watching this understand maybe I should talk to my child," Ortiz said. "And this is education right here that we are doing."

As they walked through Christopher Park, Carlin was told the toughest challenge of the past year was how the pandemic brought back a similar isolation that people felt at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Then and now, it is support, and science and love that continue to be the solutions.

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