Chelsea LGBT center raises record donations from awareness ride



Cyclists pull through the finish line of the Cycle for the Cause ride on September 22, 2013, at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Chelsea. Photo: Karim Lahlou.

Crowds cheered as more than 100 cyclists cleared the finish line on September 22, completing a three-day ride from Boston to New York to raise money for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.

Cycle for the Cause, an annual 275-mile bike ride, raised $606,091 this year, topping last year’s take by more than $135,000. The proceeds, raised through online donations to riders and crew members, were the highest in the race’s 18 years, and will fund counseling programs and health services of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Chelsea, which organizes the event.

Founded in 1983, The LGBT Center, which sees 6,000 visitors each week, provides HIV testing, support groups for those recently diagnosed with HIV, and counseling sessions for individuals, couples and families living with HIV/AIDS. Some 107,000 New Yorkers are living with HIV, and about 4,000 will be infected with HIV this year, three times the national average, according to the New York State Department of Health. More than 100,000 New Yorkers have died from AIDS-related causes. Eleven cycling teams and 40 crew members participated in this year’s ride.

Derek and Romaine, popular gay and lesbian hosts of a daily afternoon radio show on Sirius XM, greeted the exhausted cyclists from a stage on the sidewalk next to the LGBT Center. Romaine, who completed the ride last year and rode on the support van this year, began pumping up the crowd. “Their asses are tired, their legs are tired, their spirits are tired and I want you to lift them up on your shoulders and carry them through the finish line,” she said. During the three days on the support crew, Romaine dressed up as Superman and Batman. Costumes are an important Cycle for the Cause tradition because they grab onlookers’ attention. This year, riders and crew members wore eccentric costumes with feathers and flowers. Some used stuffed animals as a part of their costumes, while others wore belly-dancing attire.

To cheers and applause, Romaine praised the efforts of rider Jeff Adams, 45, who rode as the “caboose” for the second year in a row. The job of the caboose is to ride at the rear of the pack and help any rider who falls behind, whether that means fixing a flat, getting the rider into the support van, or just keeping him company. Adams’s determination inspired Billy Clark, a rider for Team Eagle, who struggled through the hilly, 84-mile course on the second day. On his third and final day, Clark’s tire exploded in the Bronx — and Adams, knowing how much the ride meant to Clark, handed over his bicycle.

John Lichioveri, 45, began visiting the LGBT Center when he was in high school, in the mid-80s, after he saw an ad in The Village Voice. The LGBT Center “was a different avenue, as opposed to learning stuff on the street or going out to clubs,” he said. “It was a different environment, a healthier environment where you could meet people your own age and maybe have a little bit of counseling or guidance from older people who didn’t just necessarily want to get in your pants.” He was diagnosed with HIV in 1999. Ten years later, his then boyfriend, Mark Mileti convinced him to participate in the ride. Mileti and Lichioveri married two years ago; their team, Star Wars, raised its first corporate donation from The George Lucas Family Foundation this year.

The exuberant riders joined friends and relatives in a beer garden at the LGBT Center for cold beer provided by a sponsor, the Miller Brewing Co. Funk music, laughter and cheers filled the enclosed space as riders posed for group photos. “The bottom line is we all come together as a family, we help each other and we get through it all no matter what, one step and one pedal at a time,” said rider Maria Bruno, whose father, Jose, died of AIDS.

Outside, the event space had all but cleared. But the white registration tent, where prospective participants could register for next year’s race, was buzzing with activity.