MANNY LOPEZ – Opens Minds and Wallets Via AIDS Walk New York

Photo by Erotiese

When AIDS first ravaged the gay community in the early 1980s, few resources were available, compounded by societal fear, stigma, and blatant homophobia from the public. As a result, New York’s many art, culture, and commerce communities ultimately came together to begin their fundraising efforts. Their social circle of loved ones had been the most impacted by the early HIV epidemic, and collectively, survivors took matters into their own hands, forming AIDS Walk New York in 1986.

One of the most committed New Yorkers to support the cause is Manny Xtravaganza—Lopez of the House of Xtravaganza—the legendary Ballroom house founded by Hector Valle, who passed away in 1985. 

For years, Manny’s passionate efforts have raised thousands of dollars during the AIDS Walk, which helps to fund a myriad of social services and support for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC).

No stranger to the dark times that prevailed in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, Manny explains that he and many other youths were thrown out of their homes because they were gay. Despite being initially alone and homeless, kids like Manny found a refuge in the NYC Ballroom scene. And its vibrant, out, proud characters became each other’s chosen family. 

Photo by Maximo X

As this was also the height of the AIDS crisis, Manny shares how he lost many young friends who contracted the virus and lost their battle with it. Additionally, a lot of them also struggled with despair and substance abuse issues as they tried to cope and sustain. 

For Manny, a survivor—who today is a successful Nurse Practitioner–AIDS Walk New York is his way of giving back to a community that saved him. 

He explains: “At 15 years old, I lived on the streets and slept on strangers’ couches–random people I had just met–and was doing anything and everything to survive. After hitting rock bottom, I decided to go back to school. 

“I had never finished high school, so I got my GED, Bachelors, and Masters degrees, and I’m currently working on my Doctorate. If it wasn’t for Karl Xtravaganza, my uncle in the House, and the House of Xtravaganza, I could have never become a Nurse Practitioner. He/they helped me pay for my licensing exams. That’s what it’s about–supporting each other. This is why, now that I’m in a position to help others, I do.

“AIDS Walk New York donations provide the GMHC with invaluable resources to fight for social justice and preventative services, testing, nutrition, legal aid, mental health care, and education and advocacy for thousands of persons living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. The GMHC is an expert in dealing with such issues because it was the first HIV and AIDS care organization in the world.” 


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