GMHC’s Fashion Forward 2008
Last night was GMHC’s Fashion Forward SOLD OUT fundraiser for 2008 at Skylight Studios. GMHC, a nonprofit, volunteer-supported and community-based organization, is committed to national leadership in the fight against AIDS. It was also the official national launch of my HIV educational campaign, Living Positive By Design. It’s a partnership with Merck and local AIDS organizations, like GMHC, to combat the stigma that is associated with HIV. It was an amazing event which started with a cocktail party and silent auction. I had my eye on a fashion coffee table book that was signed by Oscar De La Renta, Besty Johnson, Michael Kors, Carolina Herrera and a slew of other fashion legends. The opening price was 400 dollars and I just couldn’t bring myself to bid. I’m trying to hire an assistant so I need to save my duckets. Christmas present anyone????
I hit the red carpet at the perfect time–just after Tim Gunn. So we were able to get some great photos together. Other celebs at the event included Miss USA, Greta Monahan, my buddy Kevin Christiana, Andrew Buckler, Derek Lam and the ABSOLUTELY flawless Beverly Johnson. I saw her at the cocktail party and muscled my way in to say hello. She was extremely gracious and gorgeous.
The highlight of my evening–besides the amazing fashion show was that I was introduced to the stage by Tim himself and I got to speak for about 3 minutes about how grateful I am to Gay Men’s Health Crisis for helping me deal with HIV in the early years. Then I shared some information about the amazing campaing Living Positive By Design.
A few people asked if they could have a copy of my speech so I thought I would post it here:
As Tim mentioned, we all know that HIV/AIDS has hit the fashion and arts community disproportionately. I wonder who else might be here tonight if AIDS had not picked so many flowers before their time. It’s a thought that should motivate us and inspire us to work harder to combat the disease. That is one of the many reasons I am SO thankful for GMHC.
Some of you may know me from” Project Runway” and some of you know me personally. But what you probably don’t know is that I have been a client of GMHC since the early 90’s when I first moved to New York. When I was diagnosed with HIV almost 20 years ago I was a young, scared, starving Parsons student. GMHC provided free counseling, patient advocacy and legal services that I desperately needed but could not afford. They were the single bright light in a fairly bleak horizon of my life. So thank you GMHC for possibly saving my life so I could be here tonight.
“Project Runway” was an amazing tool for national exposure and has brought many amazing opportunities in fashion that I would not have had otherwise. However, I am most proud of the fact that I was open about my positive HIV status on the show and exemplified that a person can manage HIV and live a successful life. Every time a person with HIV is open about his or her status it helps everyone who is living with the disease. That’s why I’m here tonight to talk about an inspiring HIV educational campaign I’m working on with Merck and many AIDS service organizations called Living Positive By Design. Living Positive By Design encourages people, both HIV + and HIV -, to engage in thoughtful conversations about HIV. Through these conversations, we hope to help eliminate the stigma still associated with the disease. We encourage people living with HIV to be proactive with their doctors to find a treatment regimen that gets their virus to an undetectable level, one of the most important goals of treatment. For physicians who treat HIV, we want them to consider treatment tolerability so patients are more likely to stay on their medications. In your gift bags tonight you will find a red scarf I have created as my interpretation of the classic red AIDS ribbon, which signifies the points of the Living Positive By Design campaign. I hope you wear it with pride and purpose.
I am a living testament to what you can accomplish by letting go of shame and being your own advocate. When I had to leave Project Runway prematurely, after hours of crying Tim said to me in the hallway as I left, “You are very talented and everything happens for a reason.” At the time I thought he was just comforting me, but now I know it’s true. Not everyone has the luxury of a support network like GMHC. We need to support each other. That is why I am so thankful that you all came here tonight to show your support. Please keep up all the amazing work that you are doing and know that every single person can make a difference. Thank you.
I was a bit nervous speaking to over 700 fashionistas but as soon as Tim welcomed me to the stage my nerves dissapeared.Everyone seemed very excited about the scarf in the gift bags so I that made me happy.
After my speech, GMHC CEO Marjorie Hill spoke about the state of HIV in the US. It was disconcerting but hopeful. Then onto the fabulous fashions. The runway show which featured Spring 2009 designs by Ports 1961 Tia Ciabani, Michael Bastian, Charles Nolan, Tim Hamilton, John Varvatos, and Betsey Johnson began shortly after 9 pm. It was amazing and the models were stunning as always. GMHC did an outstanding job as did everyone involved.
I had such a good time spreading information about Living Positive By Design. I met some amazing people with touching personal stories. Here is one I would like to share that I received via email today.
My family and I have experienced first hand the effects of HIV and AIDS. My grandfather came out of the closet in the 70’s after having 5 kids (my mother and her four brothers.) He left my grandmother for another man during that time. His partner was apparently not very faithful to him, in turn contracting HIV which he soon gave to my grandfather. He lost his battle with AIDS in 1990 and the only memory I have of him is on his death bed in the hospital. My mother and family struggled with the stigma and ridicule of it all during that time since not much was known about it. My grandfather was very well known in my home city and it was hard for them to escape the ridicule. I came out in 2003 and it was devastating for my mother. We are better now and she is more willing to talk about the whole situation and is becoming more open about it. I want to thank you for all of your hard work and dedication to the cause! Keep in touch and let me know if there is anything I can do to help!
HIV affects us all. Please visit Livingpositivebydesign.com for more information.