I have always cherished Pasadena’s Rose Parade. As a kid growing up just down the path in South Pasadena, it was a family ritual to take over a spot on Colorado Boulevard and bask in the pomp and circumstance of the most beautiful parade on the planet. More often than not, our beloved USC was in the Rose Bowl later that day, so the Miller clan had an entire holiday of ‘everything’s coming up roses.’ By the time I hit high school, one of our neighbors from the Busch beer family took to recruiting locals to ride on the Budweiser Float, pulled by the regal Clydesdale Horses. Almost a decade worth of ridicule for donning straw boater hats and striped jackets each year was more than mitigated by the free beer on tap in Lady Busch’s family room. Paid in brew got us stewed. Between the dumping of road apples and the whizzing of lads in empty bottles, the Anheuser Busch float with its long route most certainly required the sweet fragrance of flower to mask the rank ooze of wafting excrement from both man and horse.
When AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Michael Weinstein told me he wanted to honor Elizabeth Taylor with a float in the 2012 Rose Parade and use the opportunity to remind its mega-global audience that AIDS is not over, I was beside myself. If you read my eulogy of ET earlier this year (still available here), you know how much I loved the dame. Elizabeth single-handedly pointed the spotlight on AIDS for the Hollywood crowd and got them involved. This superstar didn’t give a damn about stigma. She was brash, a bully and a swell beauty who just never took ‘no’ for an answer when it came to fighting for our community. I have said it before, yet it is so important to remember, hers is a debt we will just never be able to repay.
The AHF Rose Parade float is titled “Our Champion.” It is the 500th float designed by Raul Rodriguez, the master virtuoso of the Rose Parade. It will be a stunning red ribbon packed with red roses shining in the shadow of iconic images of Elizabeth.
Warren Mikal Fujimori is a big fan of the Rose Parade as well. Warren is one of the 935 official volunteer ‘white suiters’ that oversee all aspects of the parade. His is a prestigious society that values commitment and tenure within the old organization. These guys are all about tradition. From formal teas at the Wrigley mansion (longtime home of the Tournament of Roses) to selecting the Rose Queen and her court, the parade theme and its grand marshal, old-school grandiosity is in their marrow. This is Warren’s first year as a white suiter, and when he heard about AHF’s entry in the parade, he wrote to me.
Warren was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS on Dec. 20, 1996, and was given five years to live. Today he is a long-term survivor after winning his endless battles early on with 35-pill cocktails, three times a day, severe side effects and dancing away from death way too often. Today he is a student at Pasadena City College and hopes to enter their RN program. Warren is also a longtime client of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and in large part credits their care to his wonderful place in the world today. His note to me was one of thanks to AHF. He has taken this float on as his own, and is so proud of its entry and message that he wrote a letter of thanks to Tournament of Roses President Richard Johnson. Warren wrote, “Thank you for your approval and acceptance of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s entry into the 123rd Tournament of Roses Parade. You and the Executive Board should be commended for your brave, provocative and courageous decision to sanction such an audacious entry. Your official approval and endorsement will bring attention again to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and crisis, furthering awareness, education and tolerance. PWA’s—or People with AIDS—today still suffer with stigma, negative stereotypes and prejudice."
Warren gets it. Mission accomplished. If this float can spark a moment of dialogue between a few on HIV and AIDS around this world, we will kick-start 2012 off in a wonderful way. AIDS is not over. People are still very sick. People are still dying. The number of new infections just in our community is still simply staggering.
There ain’t nothin’ pretty about AIDS. But in a few days, we’ll doll it up with roses, pay tribute to arguably our greatest guardian, and with some smoke and mirrors use the sweet fragrance of flower to mask the rank ooze of wafting excrement from a devastating plague to get people talking again. I’m thrilled with the possibility of even for a moment having AIDS back on the world conscience.
The theme of this 123rd Rose Parade is “Just Imagine.” In honor and remembrance of Elizabeth, the millions we have lost and the millions of Warren’s who are still in the fight of their lives, let’s use this occasion to just imagine and work towards a world without AIDS. Happy New Year!