Lavender: A Tradition of Community Care

From Mae Whitney | Lavender Magazine

Restrictions are lifting, patios are opening, and events are popping up around the Twin Cities. It is once again time to dawn your rainbow regalia and join Rainbow Health’s 33rd Annual Walk to End HIV. The walk welcomes teams, sponsors, community members, and vendors to Minnehaha Park, where participants won’t just walk for the cause but also celebrate and remember together.

Rainbow Health’s 33rd Annual Walk to End HIV will be held on Sunday, May 15th, at Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. Metro Transit will be offering free passes to anyone attending the Walk. The fundraiser boasts a variety of events during the “post-walk celebration” that are sure to draw a crowd. A spokesperson said the event “ includes food trucks, musical performances and a wellness village where folx can participate in self-care activities such as yoga.” The event will also have COVID vaccines and tests available to attendees. Outreach and providing access to healthcare resources is the longstanding goal of these walks, which originated in the 1980s.

Since 1988, the walk has raised approximately $15 million in support of HIV prevention and to enact HIV care initiatives. Rainbow Health reports donations to services that support about 2,500 Minnesotans every year. Rainbow Health is a relatively new name that some community members may not recognize.

The Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP), Training to Serve, and Rainbow Health Initiative (RHI) all merged in 2018, and the newly formed organization is now known as “Rainbow Health Minnesota.” The walk’s origination within MAP is a fine example of Minneapolis’ history of grassroots organization. Bruce Brockway founded MAP in 1982. Bruce was the first Minnesotan to be diagnosed with HIV.

Minneapolis community archivist and oral historian Myra Billund-Phibbs describes the early years, “ MAP was a ragtag effort, staffed entirely by volunteers and driven by their passion. It drew strength from the militancy of the gay liberation movement of the 1970s and a belief in community support in the face of a frightening and mysterious epidemic. The organization operated out of volunteers’ homes, and began its work by opening a hotline. Volunteers answered callers’ questions about symptoms, explained how to care for people with HIV/AIDS, and gave out information on friendly health and social services in Minneapolis.”

Rainbow Health’s revamped mission is to “work for equitable health care access and outcomes for people who experience injustice at the intersection of health status and identity. The organization focuses on providing support and resources to community members at-risk or living with HIV or facing barriers to equitable health care access and outcomes because of their gender, sexual, HIV status or racial identity.”  The money supports Minnesotans living with HIV by providing funding for housing, transportation, assistance with health insurance, and legal services.

The walk is a time to remember the lives of Minnesotans who lost their battle with HIV. Minnesota has experienced an uptick in new cases of HIV, mainly in the Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, as well as in Duluth. In 2020 the Minnesota Department of Health first announced the sudden increase in positive tests. Christine Jones with the MDH said, “people who inject drugs and experience unstable housing are most at risk.” It may be easy for some to forget the epidemic that began in 1981, especially in the shadow of COVID. Still, the Annual Walk to End HIV reminds us of the lives lost and the thousands of Minnesotans whose daily lives continue to be affected by HIV/AIDS today.

There is still work to be done. Our city’s strong sense of community, justice, and compassion for our neighbors once again is on display during the Walk to End HIV.

Find out how you can support Rainbow Health’s 33rd Annual Walk to End HIV by going to their website