Driving tractors, raising chickens, and crafting describe a part of Gary’s childhood. At a young age, he did needle pointing, cross-stitching and made all sorts of Christmas tree ornaments. After college, he moved to New York and worked in the Men’s Sweaters and Knits buying office of a major department store chain. Realizing retail wasn’t his thing, he attended business school and had a nice, rewarding career in finance.
He took early retirement and moved to southern California with his husband to be closer to their aging parents as health challenges arose. Gary still does some part-time consulting work, but he’s enjoying a less hectic pace. He has used his downtime to take classes in Italian and Spanish and learn how to play the violin. And, of course, more knitting and crocheting.
During a recent interview, Gary talks about his knitting and AIDS/Lifecycle journey.
Talk about the first time you knitted.
Technically, I crocheted first. My partner at the time was an avid TV watcher, especially of football. I was looking for something to do while watching TV so that we could enjoy time together, and also do something “productive.”
A visiting friend crocheted and showed me the basics. I enjoyed it but was more drawn to projects I saw in knitting books and magazines. So, I bought the Stitch-N-Bitch book by Debbie Stoller and taught myself fundamentals with a little help from my grandma, and I was off to the races.
How would you describe your knitting journey and the benefits of it?
For most of my early knitting years, I did simple projects—hats and scarves. Finding a couple of friends who knit led to hosting a weekly Boys’ Night at a now-defunct yarn store in the East Village for a year or so. Immediately, I realized the positive meditative effects of knitting. While career and family led to less knitting over the years, I always tried to have a project on the needles, often a baby gift for a friend.
When my knitting really took off again in semi-retirement, it resulted in a new group of online friends who have taught and inspired me in knitting, but in my AID/Lifecycle journey. Last year I had the idea of combining my love of knitting and raising money for HIV/AIDS. Then, the concept of the End AIDS Knit-a-longs and Crochet-a-longs was born. The support of this community, from designers and dyers to other crafters, has been overwhelming. I’m now planning Season 2, which I hope will be even bigger!
What is your dream knitting project you would like to try?
This year I took a class in Tunisian crochet at Stitches West. At some point, I want to tackle stranded colorwork. I have a small project picked out for that, but who knows when I’ll get to it. The other near-term dream project is a sweater for myself. Last year was the first and only adult sweater I made for my husband. It was a challenge—dark gray yarn, cabled cardigan. I learned a lot but could have started with a simpler project.
What tips do you have for newbies to knitting?
Find a good local yarn shop (LYS) if you can. They are a great resource and often have amazing classes. Resist the temptation to start with a scarf. When you are just starting out, small, easy-to-finish projects are the way to go in order to build confidence and maintain momentum. Also, YouTube is your friend. It wasn’t around when I learned to knit but has been invaluable as I’ve worked to pick up new skills.
What’s it like participating in AIDS/Lifecycle? How did it begin? What accomplishments have you made so far?
The AIDS/Lifecycle is a physically and mentally challenging event, but you are surrounded with 2000 to 3000 of the most loving and supportive people (riders and Roadies) you will ever meet. They come from all walks of life and from around the world to participate. They call those seven days from San Francisco to Los Angeles the “Love Bubble” because of the amazing energy. But getting there requires a lot of work.
At my age, you don’t just wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to ride my bike 545 miles this week”, especially in the terrain we have to cover. I ride most of the year (a benefit of Southern California) but begin pushing my weekly mileages up earlier this year. Each rider has to raise a minimum of $3000 to be able to participate. I’ve pushed myself to try to raise a little bit more each year I’ve done the ride.
You’re passionate about the #Endaids cause. What should people know about the cause?
When I moved to New York in 1989, the HIV/AIDS crisis had already decimated the LGBTQ community. I would not come out for several more years because of the fear surrounding HIV/AIDS. When I moved back to New York after business school as an out gay man, I participated in the Boston—New York AIDS Ride, which raised funds for HIV/AIDS services in Boston and New York.
At that time, there was a series of AIDS Rides all over the country. Over the course of the next few years, I rode twice across Texas and finally across Alaska to raise money to fund research into finding an AIDS Vaccine. It was important for me to give back to the community. The work that all of the early AIDS activists did in terms of research and advocacy, and education probably helped keep me safe as a young man when I finally did have the courage to come out.
I felt compelled to help raise money to care for people living with HIV/AIDS. When I moved to California, a dear friend of mine had just joined the board of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, one of the beneficiaries of the AIDS/Lifecycle (ALC). She was not a cyclist but remembered that I had done cycling fundraisers in the past. She asked if I would consider joining her on the ALC, which is a 545-mile, seven-day ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles each June. I said sure and, through training that year, remembered how much I enjoyed cycling.
After my first ALC in 2019, I pledged to do the ride 10 more times with a goal of raising $200k for the charities by 2029. This will be my fourth year riding and my goal this year is to raise $26k.
What are some of the less obvious stigmas attached to AIDS?
The stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS continue to be rooted in value judgments and beliefs that only certain segments of the population are affected by the disease. These stigmas can lead to discrimination in housing, employment and health care for groups that are already marginalized. If internalized, these stigmas can result in people not getting tested or seeking important medical treatment, both of which can result not only in negative health outcomes but further transmission of the virus.
Your fundraising goal is $200k. How can readers donate? What will funds be used for?
Yes, I set a long-term goal of hitting $200k by 2029, when I’ll have done the ride 11 times. So far, I am on track to hit that goal. In the first three years, I’ve raised just over $60K and hope to raise $26k this year. AIDS/Lifecycle benefits the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Both organizations are global leaders in the fight to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS with a mission to end AIDS in our lifetime.
So far this year, we’ve raised $9 million for both organizations. I hope we can close that gap and beat our pre-pandemic total, which was $17 million. The money raised provides critical healthcare, education and prevention services to those communities hardest hit by HIV/AIDs. For example, $50,000 provides comprehensive HIV medical services for 45 patients through the Los Angeles LGBT Center. $25k provides a year of meals to participants in the SF AIDs Foundations Latino Programs, which help prevent the spread of HIV in the Latino community. At a more granular level, $280 provides rapid HIV tests for 20 clients.
There are several ways readers can help support me on my AIDS/Lifecycle journey and raise critical funds for these lifesaving organizations. They can help by joining one of my End AIDS Knitalongs and Crochetalongs. Some of the most amazing indie designers and indie dyers are participating, and portions of all pattern and yarn sales are donated to AIDS/Lifecycle. We have a lot of fun, and there are a lot of amazing giveaways during each KAL/CAL. Readers can follow me on Instagram @gary_knits_gary_rides to learn 2023 ride details.