On Friday, September 20, NYC’s LGBT Community Center (The Center) will kick off its 25th annual Cycle for the Cause, a bike ride from Boston to New York City that raises money to find and end AIDS. The Center – a staple organization providing LGBT support services, started in 1983 in direct response to the devastating AIDS epidemic that ravaged the community. In 1995, Cycle for the Cause was born as a movement to allow families and friends the opportunity to join in the efforts to fight the disease and promote or more global awareness about prevention.
To date, the 275-mile bike ride has raised $14 million, which has helped to fund and operate the robust programs and benefits made available through The Center’s HIV/AIDS prevention and support services.
Nearly every participant in Cycle for the Cause has a personal story of why they sign up every year. A common denominator among the riders is often the loss of loved ones due to the disease, however, for many riders, the event also provides an opportunity for more advocacy work and outreach.
Two examples of Cycle for the Cause riders making an even more significant impact, are Reginald Osborne and Ahmed El. The two close friends are dedicated to not only spreading the word about all the life-changing services offered by The Center, but they are committed to also raising awareness for the need to continue education and outreach within urban areas where many HIV infections continue to occur. With their cycle group, “The Baldwin Flyers” named in honor of gay, outspoken, African American novelist, James Baldwin, the duo shared with me some of their personal reflections and objectives as they prepared for this year’s race.
Speaking first with Reginald, I addressed how, in recent years, there has been a growing recognition of racial divide within the LGBT community. For me, this has been unsettling considering that as a whole, despite ethnicity, the LGBTQ people remain a marginalized collective group. As African American gay men, Reginald and Ahmed see Cycle for the Cause as an opportunity to increase the visibility of men of color in the event, thus promoting more inclusion among our LGBT brothers and sisters of all backgrounds and ethnicities.
It’s a win-win, as such efforts while uniting us, also come with the dual benefit of informing the community of The Center’s support programs, which include mental, physical and sexual health services, substance abuse treatment and recovery, career counseling, family services and more.
As the countdown to the iconic bike ride begins, Reginald who heads the Baldwin Flyers shares with me his personal connection to the annual event and his passion for fundraising in general for The Center as a vital resource for the LGBTQ community,
“Cycle for the Cause is something I believe in as a gay man who came out in the 1980s. I’ve lost many friends over the years who died of AIDS, and today I have many friends living with HIV and AIDS, so I do the ride to honor all of them.”
A veteran of the advertising industry, Reginald points out pervasive concerns he attempts to address through his advocacy efforts, specifically among gay men of color. Three of the main matters to address are the inherent homophobia, lack of education, and sexual health awareness. From a marketing standpoint, he also sees an opportunity to include more diversity in the advocacy materials so that inclusion will inspire people to ‘see themselves’ in the media representations and not feel isolated.
In more detail, he explains how these components can combine to create a health crisis,
“Homophobia is an issue in our community that stops many gay men from coming to terms with their sexuality, which in turn prevents them from responsibly taking care of themselves. So that leads to their lack of knowledge of preventive measures they could be taking to protect themselves, so there are then fewer health screenings, not knowing one’s HIV status – which leads to more infections. Then too, there is a cost for an organization to fund services such as free testing to the public. That’s why Cycle for the Cause is so important because, for every $100 we receive in donations, 5 people can be provided HIV tests and counseling.”
Serving as The Baldwin Flyers’ Team Captain this year, Ahmed shared his personal story with me as well when I posed the question of what drives him to ride in Cause for The Cure,
“I was actually challenged by a colleague who thought the ride would be a great way to honor my best friend of 30 years, who died of AIDS in 2005. My friend had been diagnosed and went on AZT, but that was a very toxic drug, so he decided to stop taking it and lived a healthy life as best he could until he succumbed to the disease. He’s one of countless friends and classmates I lost to AIDS since being a college student in New Orleans in the 80s. Cycle for the Cause is how I honor all of them.”
Reginald and Ahmed’s efforts to increase the visibility of men of color in the Cycle for the Cause has been a success. Reginald expresses joy in sharing that today there is an increase of nearly three times more people of color taking part in Cycle for the Cause than when he did his first ride. At the same time, he also understands that cycling itself can be an expensive and prohibitive endeavor; the cost of bikes alone can give a person sticker shock.
That’s important to keep in mind because it indicates a past lack of involvement by those with low to more modest incomes does not necessarily mean there’s a lack of interest. In fact, a newer operation, The OutCycling Fearless Flyers program is a 10-week training program that works with LGBTQ youth to teach them cycling and leadership skills and foster group camaraderie. It’s resonating with urban youth.
We’ve come a long way in the fight against HIV/AIDS since its dark inception in the 1980s. Still, there is so much to be done to find an actual cure and eradicate the disease altogether. I urge the public to discover The Center’s passionate life-saving work and support the Cycle for the Cause. Donations can be made to the bike ride until the end of 2019, and you can support The Center with donations 365 days a year.
The Cycle for the Cause’s mission is to help in the global effort to end AIDS, and they can’t do it alone. Learn how you can help.