COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A fan favorite drag queen from “Rupaul’s Drag Race” is taking part in an annual walk this weekend to raise awareness for Ohioans living with HIV.
Vanessa Vanjie Mateo, a contestant from the 11th season of “Drag Race,” will take the stage at AIDS Walk Ohio on Saturday at Genoa Park. Vanjie, an established queen with more than 1.5 million Instagram followers, will kick off Saturday morning’s opening ceremony.
Rob DuVall, Director of Events at Equitas Health, said the annual 5K walk, 5K run and one-mile stroll draws thousands across the state every year and raises funds for critical HIV and AIDS treatment and prevention programs.
“AIDS Walk Ohio is celebrating where we’ve come in 30 years in HIV treatment and research and development,” DuVall said. “Central Ohio is such a warm, loving community for most of us and it’s important, I think, that we all rally around each other, support each other.”
More than 25,000 Ohioans are living with HIV, with more than half of new diagnoses among people between the
ages of 20 and 34 years, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health. Male-to-male sexual contact makes up 59% of transmission in Ohio men, while heterosexual contact makes up 59% of transmission in women.
Proceeds from the annual walk increase access to medications like PrEP, a once-daily pill for HIV-negative people that offers protection against HIV. PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken as prescribed, according to data from the CDC.
Check-in for Saturday’s event begins at 9 a.m. at Genoa Park, located at 303 W. Broad St. The program hosted by Mateo begins at 9:40 a.m. on the amphitheater stage, along with Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin. The 5K run begins at 10:30 a.m., followed by the 5K walk and one-mile stroll. Food trucks, vendors and a DJ will also be on site.
In addition, this weekend’s festivities include a hip-hop night at Axis Nightclub on Thursday, followed by a VIP meet and greet with Mateo on Friday for participants who raised more than $1,000. A celebration at Axis at 8 p.m. on Saturday will wrap up the weekend, where participants who wear their AIDS Walk t-shirt can get in for free.
Ohioans can still sign up to walk, run or volunteer. In addition, there is an option to register as a virtual walker or runner and participate in your own neighborhood. AIDS Walk fundraising is open until April 21 at noon. Learn more, register or donate here.