“I felt seen.” Meet William Pettway, 2022 Non-Binary Winner of AIDS Run & Walk Chicago

July 13, 2023


By Livvie Avrick, Digital Communications Manager


“We’re all born naked, and the rest is drag,” RuPaul famously said.* That’s the first thing that came to William Pettway’s mind when learning of this year’s AIDS Run & Walk Chicago’s new slogan, Show Up, Show Out. William Pettway is a Black nonbinary actor, teaching artist, server and content creator – and first place winner of the nonbinary category of last year’s AIDS Run & Walk. “I am really excited for this year’s event to have an invitation to show out, and it tells me I have to step up my game and be a little louder and a little bolder," said William. “I am still going for first place overall; I want two medals at the same time!” 


William began participating in AIDS Run & Walk Chicago through their work in communications at the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination (CCHE). “My time at the CCHE and fundraising towards other folks in nonprofit sectors gave me an opportunity to engage in community and give back in ways that might not be accessible for them,” said William. 


When they noticed that AIDS Run & Walk Chicago had a non-binary gender category for both races,  William felt seen. They wear the nonbinary pride flag at all races they participate in for visibility and representation. “I've been an athlete all throughout school and cross country was my main sport, but when I was in high school there weren’t gender categories for me,” said William. “I felt like I didn’t have any role models to look at, especially as someone who still liked sports being queer because I felt alienated in queer spaces.”  


Growing up, William felt disconnected from their peers, but from joining their high school's Queer Student Alliance, they began thinking about gender and learning different vocabulary that helped them realize they are nonbinary, specifically agender. Someone who is agender does not have a gender identity; they don’t fall within any gender category. “Agender really clicked for me because it felt like a rejection of expectations based on gender overall, and I was like ‘yep that’s me,’” said William. “That is when I really felt comfortable in my gender identity because I was like, ‘no I don’t have to be a boy.’ I felt like when I was trying to be a boy, I was messing up somehow all the time, especially being in the super masculine sports spaces, where I can tell that my gender experience is different from my teammates.” 


In all of their work, it is important to William to be loudly themself. “Overall, I try to expand on ideas of gender and sexuality expression because I felt like I was only presented with a few options on how I could exist,” said William. “Heavy on my heart is recognizing how few openly Black queer and happy folks there are just out in the world doing their jobs, doing their normal things like anyone else.” 


William’s favorite part of AIDS Run & Walk Chicago is the sense of community and support they feel during the race. “During the part of the race when you are losing steam and no one is around you, younger me, child me, would be extremely happy to see a bunch of folks screaming and cheering for the person wearing the Nonbinary flag telling them to keep going, said William. “That was the moment I needed.”  


Support William’s AIDS Run & Walk Chicago’s fundraising here: Will Pettway's fundraising page for AIDS Foundation Chicago (RW) ( 


Sign up and join us at Soldier Field on Saturday, September 30th at


*William is not a RuPaul fan and does not agree with a lot of what they have to say, but this quote captured something true to expressing yourself that William resonates with.

Categorized under Advocacy, AFC news, Chicago, Illinois, Inside Story and Prevention.

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