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Human Rights Rally Rocks the Streets of Vienna

By Lynya Floyd

July 21, 2010

Human Rights Rally Rocks the Streets of Vienna
On her 28th birthday, Tabeth Masengu of South Africa, didn't plan a romantic, evening at home or meet up with friends to paint the town red. Instead, last night, she slipped on some comfortable shoes and took to a crowded street in Vienna, Austria, to join thousands of other men, women and children in an impassioned march for human rights.

Drumlines pounded out rhythms, participants blew whistles, red plastic horns wailed and there was dancing in the street during the event, part of the "Human Rights and HIV/AIDS: Now More Than Ever" campaign. The march was spearheaded by several organizations including the International AIDS Society and AIDS Activist Annie Lennox's SING campaign.

"People believe individuals who are HIV-positive, homosexual or lesbian don't deserve health care or dignity," explained Masengu as she embarked on a half-mile walk from Vienna University to Heldenplatz Square. "I'm marching because it's time to remind people that those living with HIV, gays and lesbians are just like everyone else. We all have the right to dignity and equality, to be respected and treated well."

Throughout the march there was a repeated refrain. "Now more than ever," one man called out over a megaphone. "Human rights now," many answered. An appropriate message for the 18th International AIDS Conference which is affiliated with the event and whose theme is: Rights here, right now. But not everyone shouted out their message in English, Spanish, German or whatever native tongue. One woman silently rolled down the street in her wheelchair with a sign proclaiming "Criminalize HATE not HIV." Two others carried a black coffin over their heads with a sign that read: "Stop PLHIV From Dying Of TB." PLHIV stands for People Living with HIV.

Twenty-one-year-old Audrey Grelombe, of ACT UP! Paris carried a black-and-white poster that read: "Homophobia kills." "In France, LGBT people don't have the same rights as heterosexuals. We can't marry our girlfriend. Adoption is prohibited," she explained while passing by three-storey red ribbons draped over the facades of Parliament and the Bergtheater along the march route. "Our government doesn't give us visibility so we're here to shout and be visible!"

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"We need treatment, we need a cure and we need funds," proclaimed 39-year-old Letonde Gbedo who with her symbolic red umbrella -- one of scores in the crowd -- championed the rights of sex workers. It's canopy read: "Only rights can stop these wrongs."

Amidst the sea of bright orange t-shirts stamped with the Human Rights and HIV/AIDS campaigns logo of a red ribbon with a fist inside was one gentleman with a unique perspective. "Scientists don't get to come out and do this kind of thing. This is amazing to see," said Manu Pratt, an assistant professor at Georiga Institute of Technology, who admitted he'd never been to a march like this for HIV before.

"This is the biggest part of curing the disease," said Pratt, filled with hope. "We can do all the work to find out things in the lab, but if it doesn't get out to the people it means nothing. In the international AIDS community, everyone plays a part." And everyone played their part last night. The march ended on a high note with a rally and free concert performed by the inimitable Annie Lenox in the square.

Lynya Floyd is the senior editor covering Health and Relationships at Essence magazine.




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