By Craig E. Thompson
Originally published on Advocate.com August 20 2012 4:00 AM ET
Few could have imagined that a small fashion show, held in 1982 in the employee cafeteria of a San Francisco Macy’s, would transform the fashion industry into one of the strongest forces in the fight against HIV. But it did, and since that modest start, Macy’s Passport (now Macy’s Passport Presents Glamorama) has raised over $30 million to fight HIV/AIDS nationwide.
Living with HIV is not easy – I know first-hand. Twenty-five years ago, I was a young lawyer living out my twenties in New York City. The city seemed like an endless series of opportunities to me, a young man from a small town in Washington State.
Meanwhile, across the country, physicians at UCLA were preparing to publish a report describing a strange cancer occurring in gay men. Each case report began, “A previously healthy gay man…” and eventually concluded with a death. The patients described in the article became cases one through five of the AIDS epidemic in the United States.
These separate stories converged that very summer, when I became infected with HIV. In 1989, my partner and I moved west, frankly to live out my time before I died. This was the calculus of the time.
Yet somehow, I survived while so many others have died. Nearly 30 million people worldwide have died of AIDS-related causes since the beginning of the epidemic.
Thirty years later, we are still facing some of the daunting challenges that we faced at the beginning of the fight. Government support remains unsteady, and private giving rises and falls in sync with HIV awareness – which has arguably plummeted since the 1990s. All this despite chilling new infection rates. But amid these shifting sands, events such as Macy’s Glamorama remain a crucial source of funds to support services that help people living with HIV/AIDS and reduce HIV infections.
The highly anticipated annual event will return on September 7 with “Macy’s Passport Presents Glamorama 2012, The British Invasion: The Music Then, The Fashion Now!” The iconic fashion show will be held at the Orpheum Theatre and will feature performances by singer-songwriter Robin Thicke and pop duo Karmin. Proceeds benefit AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) and Project Angel Food.
In these days of shrinking resources and doing more with less, charitable organizations must control the costs of providing services and raising funds alike while still finding a way to captivate an audience and convert fans into supporters. Glamorama stands as an outstanding model of this balance: Macy’s and its partners deliver each year on their dual promise to feature exciting and inventive fashion while making an indelible mark on the fight to end an epidemic that has claimed nearly 30 million lives since it began.
But Glamorama is more than simply a fundraiser: It has galvanized an entire industry of people to fight AIDS. In the days when I learned of my own HIV infection, public support was rare, and knowledge of the disease was scarce. HIV wasn’t something that was openly discussed. But with forward-thinking corporations like Macy’s, who would partner with progressive stars like the late Elizabeth Taylor (the event’s Founding Chair), the world suddenly took notice.
As the event marks its 30th year, the fashion world will stop as all eyes focus on one glamorous evening. This year’s event will showcase the latest fall fashions from Calvin Klein, Bar III, Material Girl, Sean John, Diesel, and the runway debut of the exclusive, limited-edition Nicole Richie for Impulse collection.
Glamorama has also become a launching pad for the philanthropy of other corporate supporters: American Express became its Founding Partner in 1984 (and remains so today), joined by a diverse range of others, including OfficeMax, LUNA, M·A·C’s VIVA GLAM, Tequila Patrón, See’s Candies, 102.7 KIIS-FM, Los Angeles Magazine, Los Angeles Times, SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, and the Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown Hotel. Sponsorships allow corporations a powerful link to a charitable cause, creating a culture of giving that its employees and their friends and families are now a part of. People now have a personal connection to the epidemic.
Glamorama also offers tremendous media exposure to its beneficiaries. That exposure draws new participants and event attendees who may not have known about the organizations otherwise. While a Glamorama guest might initially attend because of the press that the event receives, she or he will leave knowing a bit more about APLA and the services that we provide to over 11,000 clients annually.
In fact, we all make it a point to tie the event directly to our cause. We remind attendees that the glamour and glitz is there for a reason. And, thanks to Macy’s own brand of magic, we create an unforgettable experience for all who attend. Learn more and reserve your seat at the runway at macys.com/glamorama.
CRAIG E. THOMPSON is the executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles.