Political Notes: Schiff aims to be 1st US Senator to do CA AIDS ride

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday April 15, 2024
Share this Post:
Congressmember Adam Schiff held his bike aloft at the finish line of the AIDS/LifeCycle ride in 2014. Photo: From Congressmember Schiff's Facebook page
Congressmember Adam Schiff held his bike aloft at the finish line of the AIDS/LifeCycle ride in 2014. Photo: From Congressmember Schiff's Facebook page

A decade ago Congressmember Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) became the first member of the U.S. House to ride in the AIDS/LifeCycle. The 545-mile bicycle fundraiser across California nets millions of dollars each year for co-beneficiaries the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Now Schiff aims to be the first U.S. senator to participate in the weeklong event held annually in June. (Launched in 1994, the fundraiser went on hiatus for the first time during the first two years of the COVID pandemic and returned in 2022.)

Schiff survived the March 5 primary for the Senate seat long held by the late Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. Lesbian Democratic U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler, appointed to fill the vacancy created by Feinstein's death last fall, chose not to seek a full-term and will depart later this year.

With Republican retired baseball player Steve Garvey also advancing to the fall ballot, Schiff is the odds-on favorite to easily win their November 5 general election contest. An avid cyclist and multiple triathlon participant, Schiff is already looking toward his being able to again participate in the AIDS fundraiser as its highest-ranking elected leader ever to do so.

"I am proud to serve as vice chair of the LGBTQ caucus and I'm the only member of Congress to ride the 545 mile AIDS/LifeCycle to raise money for the Los Angeles LGBT Center. And I look forward to being the first U.S. Senator to do the same!" Schiff told the Bay Area Reporter in his candidate questionnaire he returned ahead of the primary contest.

A spokesperson for the AIDS foundation confirmed to the B.A.R. that Schiff would be highest-ranking politician to ride in the AIDS/Lifecycle should he participate as a member of the U.S. Senate.

In an emailed reply to the B.A.R. SFAF CEO Tyler TerMeer, Ph.D., a gay Black man living with HIV, expressed delight at the prospect of having Schiff once again among the thousands of participants bicycling from San Francisco to Los Angeles over seven days. (This year's ride takes place from June 2-8, and registrants must raise at least $3,500 by May 22.)

"We are proud of the long-standing history of Congressional backing from California delegates in support of HIV and LGBTQ+ communities, and we would be delighted to welcome back Congressman Schiff to the AIDS/LifeCycle community," stated TerMeer. "His steadfast support and previous participation in AIDS/LifeCycle has helped us continue our fight to end the epidemic, and continue to provide the crucial, life-saving and life-changing services at San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Los Angeles LGBT Center."

2014 ride

In his Senate campaign bio Schiff notes his being the first congressional member to take part in the bike fundraiser. During his ride in 2014 he had posted daily updates to his Facebook page about the experience.

In his Day 5 musings Schiff noted how he had been matched with "a great tent-mate in the lottery system," as he camped each night rather than sleep in a nearby hotel.

"His name is Steve and he's been a great guide to the whole experience. Leave it to the ALC ride to turn Adam and Eve into Adam and Steve," joked Schiff, whose wife is named Eve.

As he had explained in a guest opinion piece for the Advocate LGBTQ newsmagazine, Schiff had been invited by the L.A. center's former chief executive officer Lorri Jean to address the riders at the closing ceremony of the event in 2013. It is dedicated to "the riderless bicycle" that represents those lost to HIV and AIDS.

"Afterward, as I talked with the riders and constituents who had participated, I remember thinking that if the legislative calendar ever allowed me to participate in the ride, I would love to do so," wrote Schiff. "As fate would have it, and much sooner than I expected, I discovered that this year's ride coincided with a district work period without votes in Congress. So I signed up with only a few weeks to prepare."

It turned out to be "an adventure" for Schiff. His bike he had shipped to San Francisco to use got lost en route, requiring him to buy a cheaper one he was unused to riding.

"Anyway, going on a ride like this with a bike you've never ridden before is not ideal. For one thing, on day one I couldn't figure out why I couldn't get it into the third front sprocket until I realized there was no third front sprocket because this bike had a lot fewer gears than my other one. Ah well," Schiff disclosed in his Day 6 write up on Facebook.

The following year Schiff cheered on his niece, Rachel Schiff, as she crossed the finish line of the ride. Before the ride had to be canceled in 2020, Schiff had helped to honor his friend who was planning to do his third ride that June.

Strong advocate for HIV funding

In the Senate Schiff will be following in the footsteps of Feinstein in terms of being a strong supporter on AIDS issues and for HIV funding at the federal level. Feinstein had served as mayor of San Francisco during the first years of the epidemic in the 1980s and, despite policy fights such as closing the city's gay bathhouses, she won praise for budgeting more money to fight the mysterious new disease in the city's budget than that being spent by the federal government at the time.

When she went to Washington, D.C. Feinstein continued to call for government resources to be directed toward fighting AIDS. After her death last year amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, praised Feinstein for joining, in 2000, "a group of senators calling for funding for HIV treatment and prevention to be included in the government's coronavirus response package."

During his time in the House Schiff has also been a champion of LGBTQ rights and health issues. He was among the voices calling for an end to the "discriminatory ban on gay blood donors," as he noted to the B.A.R., and more recently authored a bill aimed at eliminating "out-of-pocket costs and other barriers to access for lifesaving HIV medications PrEP and PEP."

It comes as little surprise considering Schiff, 63, hails from the Bay Area. He graduated from Monte Vista High School in Danville then attended Stanford University before enrolling in Harvard Law School. His being hired as a federal prosecutor brought him to Los Angeles.

He would go on to serve in the state Senate before being elected to Congress in 2000. His district includes the LGBTQ enclave of West Hollywood.

In his questionnaire for the B.A.R. Schiff noted he has "consistently supported — and sought to increase — funding" for the federal programs HOPWA, which stands for Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS, and the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. In 2022, Schiff noted he had voted to authorize over $2.5 billion in funding for the Ryan White program through September 2025.

"I've been fighting my whole career for the rights of all citizens to be treated equally under the law, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and I'll keep up that fight in the Senate," pledged Schiff.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko.

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

Never miss a story! Keep up to date on the latest news, arts, politics, entertainment, and nightlife. Sign up for the Bay Area Reporter's free weekday email newsletter. You'll receive our newsletters and special offers from our community partners.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!