California will officially recognize World AIDS Day

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 26, 2024
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The California Capitol was lit in red last year for World AIDS Day. Photo: Courtesy KCRA-TV
The California Capitol was lit in red last year for World AIDS Day. Photo: Courtesy KCRA-TV

California will now officially recognize December 1 as World AIDS Day in perpetuity. It becomes the third such day of remembrance related to the LGBTQ community to be celebrated by the Golden State.

On Wednesday, days ahead of annual Pride celebrations in San Francisco this weekend, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 1278 that requires whoever occupies California's gubernatorial office to annually proclaim December 1 as World AIDS Day. He did so without comment.

Gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), who authored the bill, told the Bay Area Reporter his bill will take effect January 1. Thus, the proclamation requirement will begin with World AIDS Day in 2025.

In a news release his office sent out, Laird noted, "Establishing World AIDS Day signifies California's ongoing commitment to the fight against HIV."

During the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, Laird led a nonprofit service provider that cared for people infected with the disease in Santa Cruz County, as the B.A.R. noted in a story last month.

"When I was executive director of the Santa Cruz AIDS Agency in the 1980s, my mission was to keep people alive," Laird recalled. "We are 40 years into the AIDS epidemic, and it is clear our efforts to educate and spread awareness are as important as ever. World AIDS Day allows us to stand with those currently living with an HIV or AIDS diagnosis and honor all the lives we have lost."

As of 2022, 142,772 Californians were living with an HIV infection diagnosis, according to an annual report by the California Department of Public Health. In that same year, 4,882 Californians were newly diagnosed with HIV, and 2,169 Californians with HIV infections died.

Yet, unlike with countless other days recognized with gubernatorial proclamations, one for World AIDS Day has not been issued by a California governor. Last December marked the first time the dome of the State Capitol was lit red for World AIDS Day since its founding in 1988, according to Laird's office.

Newsom will now be the first to issue a gubernatorial proclamation for the event observed across the globe. He was sent Laird's bill after the state Assembly passed it June 13 by a 77-0 vote with two abstentions; the state Senate had passed it May 13 on a 36-0 vote.

A legislative analysis of SB 1278 noted that in his 2023 proclamation proclaiming December 1 as World AIDS Day, President Joe Biden (D) had "encouraged the governors of the United States and the American people to join the HIV community in activities to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS and to provide support, dignity, and compassion to people with HIV."

Statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California was among a number of groups that supported SB 1278.

"Recognizing World AIDS Day every year is an opportunity to honor those we've lost and reaffirm our support for people currently living with and affected by HIV," stated EQCA Executive Director Tony Hoang, a gay man. "We are grateful to Senator Laird for his leadership on this bill, which will help raise awareness, reduce stigma, and reinforce California's commitment to funding lifesaving research, prevention, and treatment programs. It's a vital reminder to continue working towards ending the HIV epidemic and creating a world where everyone has access to the care and support they need."

Due to previous legislation enacted into law, California governors have been required to annually proclaim May 22 as Harvey Milk Day, in honor of the late gay San Francisco supervisor, the first out person to hold elected office in the state, and November 20 as Transgender Day of Remembrance, an event launched years ago by Bay Area Reporter Transmissions columnist Gwendolyn Ann Smith to honor those trans and gender-nonconforming individuals killed in the U.S. in a given year.

California governors also are required to annually declare June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month.

All 12 members of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus had signed on as co-authors of Laird's bill. It was one of a number of priority pieces of legislation it aims to pass out of the Legislature this summer and see Newsom sign into law.

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