SPECIAL TO CLIFFVIEW PILOT: Few knew what to make of the John Lennon lookalike in a Sgt. Pepper’s jacket who stood with a group of poster-toting AIDS activists at the entrance to Central Park’s Strawberry Fields today. “I don’t get it. What is this?” asked Alexa Collins, who came in from Long Island to mark the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s death. “AIDS? Beatles?”
Ray Brisson (PHOTOS/VIDEO by JULIE TURKEWITZ)
Here’s what the man in the green jacket — a nearly blind former history teacher — was thinking:
He’s been HIV-positive for 31 years, Ray Brisson said, and he’s alive today only because of a joint federal-state program that makes AIDS medications affordable to people like him.
In the past year, thousands have been dropped from the program because states are slashing budgets. Last week, the wait list to get on the AIDS Drug Assistance Program hit a record 4,369.
So, Brisson thought, why not use his resemblance to a man who stood for compassion and justice to draw attention to the situation?
Hundreds gathered at the memorial, lighting candles and tossing flowers onto the “IMAGINE” circle. They included a group of AIDS activists from Housing Works accompanied Brisson, holding signs reading “Stand up for compassion. Stand up for people living with AIDS.”
“I’m telling you, if this problem isn’t solved, this is going to be horrific, people will die because they don’t have drugs, and it’s going to be one of the saddest things that America has experienced in 30 years,” said Brisson, 50.
More than three decades ago, a car driven by a drunk motorist smashed his head-on in Hawaii. Over the next year, Brisson received more than 90 units of blood through transfusions.
“I remember this doctor coming and standing about eight feet away from the bed and telling me, ‘You have full-blown AIDS.’ And I’m like, ‘What?’ I didn’t understand what he was saying. I said ‘There must be some mistake, you gotta be kiddin’ me.’”
Since then, Brisson has developed a TV program about HIV and created a weightlifting regimen for those who are HIV-positive. His medications cost about $50,000 a year — impossible to afford without ADAP.
Now, Brisson wants to take his Lennon activism national and reach politicians who have been reluctant to funnel money into the nation’s ADAPs.
“Like Lennon said, ‘I’ve had enough of reading things by neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians.’ We need these medications, and I’m going to keep fighting for them even if I have to crawl through all 50 states.”
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