By Gabriela Resto-Montero
GREENWICH VILLAGE — Liza Minnelli joined other celebrities on stage at Washington Square Park to honor World AIDS Day on Wednesday.
Minnelli, designer Kenneth Cole, actress Stockard Channing and model Tyson Beckford, among others, advocated for the equal treatment of AIDS victims globally at the "Light for Rights" event.
Minnelli said she became an AIDS activist after her good friend and fellow actor, Rock Hudson, contracted the disease in the 1980s.
"It's hard to believe it's been 30 years," said Minnelli, a Tony and Oscar award winning actress. "We're still living in the age of AIDS."
The event was part of a movement demanding governments and health organizations around the globe to treat AIDS the same as any other disease in an effort to help people who afraid to seek treatment.
"30 Rock" star Keith Powell read testimony aloud of a Ugandan man living with AIDS. He spoke about people who live "double-closeted" lives, afraid to come out as either gay or HIV positive.
Channing flipped a switch to dim the lights of the Washington Square Park arch at 6:15 p.m. to symbolize how efforts to fight AIDS are hindered by laws punishing victims with the virus.
Laws making homosexuality punishable by jail time in Uganda, and lack of property rights for women in India and the Middle East contribute to the AIDS epidemic by leaving people vulnerable to the disease without the legal standing to seek help, said Joseph Deiss, president of the UN General Assembly at the ceremony.
Although New Yorkers have a high awareness of AIDS prevention, residents still have to deal with the stigma of HIV and fear of getting tested, said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
"Our work very much continues," Quinn said, reminding the crowd that New York City still has three times the rate of infection of the rest of the country.
Minnelli worked up the crowd with an impassioned speech on finding a cure for AIDS and bringing equal rights to people living with the disease, borrowing a theme from her hit song "The Day After That."
"I'll be back next year, and the week after that," said Minelli. "And the day after that, and the day after that."