Saturday, December 1, 2012
Rain or shine, rogram begins at noon sharp, and includes:
- Bestowing of the National Leadership Recognition & Local Unsung Hero Awards
- Musical Performance by The Festival Bells
- Presentation of Young Leaders Scholarship Program Awards
- Reading of Names
The Observance and light lunch that follows are free and open to the public.
This year, the National AIDS Memorial Honors Local Unsung Hero, Gina Gatta
In her typical fashion, even when talking about being honored as the National AIDS Memorial Grove’s 2012 World AIDS Day “Local Unsung Hero,” Gina Gatta tries to deflect the conversation away from her. Quietly, consistently, often behind the scenes, Gina has maintained an incredible dedication to the care of and the memories of those with HIV disease. For over 12 years, Gina Gatta served as a member of the Board of Directors for the National AIDS Memorial Grove, resigning in 2011 after having had been Board Co-Chair for two and one-half years. While on the Board of Directors, Gina chaired ten consecutive World AIDS Day observances held in the Grove.
“Being of service to the Board and to the Grove was an honor for me. But more importantly, being of service to my community, being there to help friends, to be the voice on the other end of the phone, to help feed and care for and fight for my friends, my community, THAT means the world to me. I absolutely believe in giving back to my community, being a part of my community. I have been very fortunate to have both the time and the capability to give to my community, to continue to do community volunteer work. I was brought up believing that you have an obligation to help out those who are in need. When a crisis arises, you respond.”
Gina has been the Editor-in-Chief of the Damron Company’s LGBT travel guide series since the early ’90s. In 1992, she became Damron’s President. She and her partner of 13 years Erika O’Connor and their dog Peaches O’Connor live in San Francisco. Gina is the first woman to serve on the Board of Directors of GRGR West, the producers of REAL BAD, an annual San Francisco community fundraising event celebrating its 25th Anniversary in 2013.
“I was brought back to the Grove in 1998 by Thom (Weyand), who was the executive director at that time. I had been at an early work day for the Grove when the Grove first began pulling blackberries, but had lost so many friends that by 1992 I was just numb and unable to even go to memorial services. Those were such dark days. But I was coaxed back first into helping out with the communication activities for the Grove which then eventually led to me being asked to serve on the Board. The Grove is a very special place. If I had to say one thing that the Grove has given me, it would be peace. It became a place for me where I could come to terms with the AIDS epidemic that was not necessarily a hospital bed or another death or another illness. It gave me hope, it gave me peace. It has let me heal. Slowly, it has let me heal.”
As the annual World AIDS Day observance in the Grove evolved into the nation’s signal event, Gina co-chaired ten consecutive observances, managing and growing the event into its current iteration. When asked, Gina points to the honorees from the last World AIDS Day event she chaired (in 2008) as one of her proudest moments.
“In 2008, we brought the Stirling family to San Francisco to be our honorees for World AIDS Day. I will never forget that day and how seeing this family who was literally living with AIDS (all three children and one parent) on stage so powerfully demonstrated the changing face of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. At the same time, it also reminded me that the courage and strength and dignity they had was exactly the same that I experienced with my friends living with HIV. “
Her involvement with the Grove has given Gina the opportunity to work alongside individuals she considers heroes, including Thom Weyand, Marsha Raulston and Representative Nancy Pelosi. The Grove also afforded her the opportunity to also honor other heroes in her life, namely all those she has loved who have died from AIDS.
“If you really want to know my favorite spot in the Grove, you have to look up on the South Slope. You might just find me sitting in one of the trees, looking down into the Grove.”