The AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) transformed the ballrooms of the Chicago Hilton into a crimson Arcadia on May 16 as the organization's gala celebrated thirty years of relentless action which has led to once believed as impossible dreams realized and the ability to look ahead to the most coveted goal of allthe eradication of the spread of HIV/AIDS in Chicago and worldwide.
Flanked by a massive number 30 that had been completely covered on all sides with the signatures in red of AFC's supporters Star of the Amazon Prime Series Transparent and former AFC employee Amy Landecker served as both Master of Ceremonies and keynote speaker for the black-tie evening which was attended by the AFC's past board Chairs, staff members, CEOs and an array of LGBTQ political leaders including United States Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James "Wally" Brewster and Ald. Tom Tunney.
"This is a moment that that sees fewer than 1,100 new cases [of HIV] in Chicago each year," AFC Board Chair J. Ben Stringfellow said in his opening remarks. "I'm proud of what we have accomplished so far and the lives the AFC's work has saved. I believe we're inspired by the impossibility of this moment."
AFC President and CEO John Peller admitted to being "astounded by the progress we've made in the HIV epidemic. New cases have been cut in Chicago by forty percent in the last decade," he said to resounding applause.
However, in looking ahead, Peller was fundamentally clear that "AIDS is still a problem. Our challenges are huge. "
High among those challenges is the disproportionate impact of the disease among the transgender population. The discrimination that transgender individuals face in almost every area of their daily lives was the focal point of Landecker's address after she was proudly introduced by her father John.
"The statistics of murders, suicides and HIV/AIDs is extremely high," she said adding that it wasn't just cultural understanding of the transgender community that is needed but "real financial help."
Landecker noted Transparent's hiring of transgender individuals in almost every facet of the show's production both in front of and behind the camera. "Employment is key to the trans community and as a society we have to do more," she said.
Two AFC champions were honored during the gala. Over two-decade long volunteer and HIV/AIDS educator Ernie Rodriguez received the Lori Kaufman Volunteer Award while designer Thomas Kehoe was presented with the Community Impact Award.