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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Advocacy and Underwear on Full Display at Red Undie Run

“All of you are heroes, sheroes, and theyroes,” Dylan Boyer of the Aliveness Project said as he kicked off the run. Photo by Ella Stern ’27.

In a burst of confetti, three hundred people wearing red underwear and not much else began to run. 

These people were participating in the fourth annual Red Undie Run, an event hosted by the Aliveness Project to raise funds and awareness for HIV/AIDS. This year’s run happened this past Saturday, Dec. 1, near the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. It came at a significant moment, amidst the U.S. Congress cutting funding for HIV/AIDS and just one day after World AIDS Day. 

HIV/AIDS spread into an epidemic in the early 1980s. At first, people incorrectly believed that the virus only affected gay men, so the government looked away. This enabled the epidemic to ravage its way through queer communities, those living with hemophilia and IV drug users, with devastating results. 

Even though much progress has been made since, including treatments that allow people with HIV to live and become non-transmissible, HIV/AIDS is still an epidemic. It disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic communities today. According to the CDC, of 32,050 new HIV infections in the U.S. in 2021, 13,000 were in Black people and 9,300 were in Latiné people. In January 2020, the Minnesota Department of Health declared an HIV outbreak among IV drug users in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties and in Duluth. The outbreak was especially serious amongst gay men and unhoused people. It is still going on today. 

Despite the continued harm of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, House Republicans this year introduced a bill that would cut $767 million in funding for federal HIV programs, such as the Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative and the Minority AIDS Initiative.

“In the state of Minnesota, Aliveness [Project] has a really good lobbying relationship with our elected officials, so a lot of our services are going to remain fund[ed]…, but I know on a national level, a lot of organizations are feeling the stress of those giant HIV funding cuts that are passing through Congress right now,” Ezra McNair said, the Volunteer Coordinator of the Aliveness Project. “There definitely is a reason to call your Congress representative.”

The Minnesota chapter of the Aliveness Project was founded in 1985. It originally provided spaces for people living with HIV to gather and eat together. Now, it aims to offer holistic support to those living with HIV. In addition to providing free HIV/AIDS medication to all its members, it helps them with food, housing and fighting stigma.

Ultimately, the Red Undie Run staff and participants are hoping for a cure.

“Our long-term goal is if we didn’t have to exist,” McNair said.

Although the organization has not yet reached its ultimate goal, this year’s Red Undie Run raised around $48,000 for Aliveness Project programing. This year’s event also had the highest-ever turnout, at 306 participants.

Apart from the Aliveness Project, other organizations, companies and volunteers helped organize and support the Red Undie Run. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is a nonprofit organization of drag nuns that has been working closely with the Aliveness Project ever since the first run four years ago. 

“We just take care [and support] our community,” Sister Tasha Salad said. “Our mission is to spread joy all over the world.” 

Kristyn Hamm and Katrina Clouse, pharmacy technicians at Walgreens in Minneapolis, also decided to volunteer after seeing firsthand how the lack of awareness and constant stigmatization of HIV and AIDS harm the Twin Cities community.

“We have a lot of patients that we help that are either living with HIV or with AIDS or are at risk, and so [we] and the organization work really closely to help those patients,” Hamm said. “[For] me, as a pharmacist, to have [a] time where I don’t have to do diagnosis, where I don’t have to counsel someone to get on HIV medication, is my dream.”

Brad Eainey, who recently moved to Minneapolis, decided to join the Aliveness Project as a volunteer. 

“Although I don’t live with HIV or AIDS, it’s just something that I see, as someone who is in the gay community,” Eainey said. “It is very close to my heart to help people living with HIV and AIDS and give them the resources they need.” 

People of all generations attended the event, bringing a wealth of stories and experiences with HIV/AIDS in a way that is not often present, even in queer spaces.

The Red Undie Run was far from Willy Lee’s first time engaging in HIV/AIDS activism. 

“AIDS/HIV has been a challenge that I’ve been wanting to help fight for decades now. One of my first fundraising events was an AIDS walk back in the 90s, and I’ve been involved in this for quite a while,” Lee said. “[I’m] just continuing to raise money to help us provide better support for the positive community and do what we can to keep people doing okay in the system that doesn’t really support that.” 

Young queer people today are lucky enough to grow up in a world with HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. However, so many queer people of older generations died in the AIDS epidemic that some young queer people feel a lack of older queer role models. 

“I think it’s important to honor the history of what our gay elders and what our trans-cestors went through,” said Nathan Hofferber, who ran in the event. “HIV is not over. You’d think it would be, right, but it really decimated—we don’t have a lot of queer and trans elders. That’s a problem.”

Hofferber described the need for young people today, especially young queer and trans people, to learn about what happened in their community.

“We can’t forget the people who looked out for each other, and how our community looked out for each other,” he said. 

The Aliveness Project is located at 3808 Nicollet Ave in Minneapolis. They are open from 9:00 a.m–4:00 p.m. Monday–Thursday and from 9:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m. on Fridays. 


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Ella Stern, Associate Features Editor
Ella Stern (she/her) is a first-year prospective Poli Sci and/or History major from Natick, Massachusetts. She spends her free time thinking about Simon and Garfunkel, and also donkeys.

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