Wednesday, June 29, 2011

City Council Stands Up for People Living with HIV/AIDS in Latest Budget Negotiations

In the 30th year of the HIV epidemic, HIV/AIDS services faced the prospect of being gutted in the Mayor's Executive Budget.  HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) contracts were primarily on the chopping block, but the New York City Council stepped in and negotiated to restore this critical funding.  This was no easy task, considering the depth of cuts to critical social services.  Supportive housing for people living with HIV/AIDS faced a $5.1 million cut, and Momentum's nutrition services for people living with HIV/AIDS along with GMHC's Money Management services were slated to be eliminated.
"These restorations truly demonstrate New York City Council's unwavering commitment to people living with HIV/AIDS and ending the epidemic," said Marjorie J. Hill Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC).  "On behalf of our clients who will benefit most from these restorations, I extend my heartfelt appreciation to Speaker Christine Quinn and all of City Council." 

GMHC especially thanks the following council members for their help:
  • Speaker Christine Quinn
  • General Welfare Committee Chair Annabel Palma
  • Health Committee Chair Maria del Carmen Arroyo
  • Manhattan Delegation Co-Chairs Gale Brewer & Daniel Garodnick
  • Finance Chair Dominic Recchia
  • Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson
  • Melissa Mark-Viverito
  • Rosie Mendez
  • Jimmy Van Bramer
  • Daniel Dromm
  • Deborah Rose
  • Letitia James
  • Fernando Cabrera
GMHC remains committed to working with New York City Council, as well as all of our elected officials in the ongoing fight to end AIDS.  HIV continues to be a real and growing problem in New York City. According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene 3,660 people found out that they were HIV positive last year and 108,886 people were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of the year.  

Monday, June 27, 2011

Get Tested and Know Your Status on National HIV Testing Day

GMHC's HIV Testing Van

As we enter the fourth decade of the AIDS epidemic, the June 27th National HIV Testing Day is a greatly needed opportunity to promote HIV testing and awareness.

At present, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the U.S., a statistic that continues to increase annually. In part the increase can be attributed to people living longer thanks to improved antiretroviral therapies, but over 56,000 new people become infected every year.

Recently, the CDC estimated that 80% of people living with HIV do not know that they are infected.  Studies also show that those who do not know their status are more likely to transmit the infection.  This underscores the necessity for routine HIV testing in order to encourage early diagnosis and reduce HIV-related risk.

"GMHC remains committed to ending the epidemic," said Marjorie Hill, PhD, Chief Executive Officer of GMHC.  "That is why I am pleased to announce that GMHC is opening its first satellite, the GMHC Center for HIV Prevention."

The GMHC David Geffen Center for HIV Prevention & Health Education is re-opening at our new site, at 224 West 29th Street, on Tuesday June 28th.  GMHC firmly believes that HIV testing is critical, not only to know one's HIV status, but to also promote access to HIV prevention and treatment services.  Part of GMHC's commitment on National HIV Testing Day is to challenge HIV-related stigma.

Homophobia, racism, classism, sexism, and HIV stigma are structural factors that hinder access to HIV testing and treatment services.  Routine testing is necessary for people to know their HIV status and to take control of their health and well-being.

"Increasing HIV-testing services will go a long way towards ending the AIDS epidemic and GMHC encourages people to get tested and know their status on National HIV Testing Day," added Hill.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Passage of the Marriage Equality Act: A Milestone in the LGBT Civil Rights Movement

Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) lauds the historic passage of the Marriage Equality Act by the New York State Legislature as a historic step towards ensuring equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) New Yorkers. 

"On June 24, New York demonstrated leadership in the fight for equality and justice.  Allowing same-sex couples to marry represents a monumental achievement in the fight for equality, both for the LGBT community and New York State," said Marjorie Hill, PhD, Chief Executive Officer of GMHC.

According to the U.S. Supreme court, the freedom to marry is "one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free people."  For far too long, marriage equality and its protections and benefits have been denied to same-sex couples.

New York now joins five other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage.  The other states include Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  New York is the largest state, however, to do so legislatively.  "This is an enormous victory as the legislative branch most closely represents the interests and values of NY's citizens," said Hill.       

Passage of the Marriage Equality Act will protect same-sex couples and their families in their daily lives.  The physical, mental, and financial well-being of same-sex couples and families will be greatly strengthened with passage of this legislation. The privileges, protections, and responsibilities previously afforded to heterosexual couples will finally be available to all New Yorkers without being filtered by institutionalized prejudice.

Marriage equality will also extend critical protections to same-sex couples and their families in the healthcare system.  These include the ability to make healthcare decisions for one's partner and children in a time of crisis.  Marriage equality also improves economic security and provides legal protections to parents and children.  According to the Empire State Pride Agenda and New York City Bar Association, passage of the Marriage Equality Act extends 1,324 benefits and rights to same-sex couples, which were previously limited to married couples of the opposite sex.

Part of GMHC's mission is to fight homophobia and affirm the individual dignity of all members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.  Two-thirds of GMHC's clients self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual; many are in committed relationships and/or have domestic partners.  These relationships are meaningful families in every sense. GMHC has long supported, in both our public policy work and in the manner in which GMHC's services are provided to our clients, the rights of all persons in familial relationships, traditional or otherwise, to obtain equitable treatment and respect.  Historic passage of the Marriage Equality Act extends to same-sex couples the same basic human rights available to their heterosexual peers.

GMHC is grateful for the leadership of all of the Senators and Assembly Members who made history today by voting for justice and equality. The historic achievement would have been impossible without the undying support and activism of Senator Duane and Assembly Members O'Donnell and Gottfried, as well as Governor Cuomo for their commitment to marriage equality.  The extension of marriage to same-sex couples is a matter of civil rights and as Governor Cuomo highlighted, "marriage equality is a matter of fairness and legal security for thousands of families in this state - not of religion or culture." After much delay, GMHC commends passage of this historic piece of legislation in the New York State Legislature.

Monday, June 20, 2011

GMHC COO Janet Weinberg Talks Marriage Equality

So, this was supposed to be the big week for marriage rights for LGBT people in New York State. I watched with baited breath as each day passed and a Republican Senator agreed to support this bill. I was amazed when three democrats who refused to support this bill changed their minds and threw in their support.  Each email or action alert that I received from GMHC’s lobbyists surely would announce the Senate vote time. But alas, it is Friday and the vote has not been called. 

My domestic partner with whom I have been involved in a deep and committed relationship for 20 and 1/2 years sent me an email.  It said:

Gossip here is that 2 more votes gotten for marriage. Will u marry me? Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

My answer is, of course, yes. Just let it be so that we can get married. We shared the joy of our niece being born, nieces and nephews growing up and getting married, the death of our fathers, care taking of aging parents, our own serious health issues, promotions and job changes, the purchase of our new home and so many other life cycles. Each one of these life events was met with the same care, passion, love and concern as any other couple. The only difference is that I am a woman and so is my life partner.

Today, I can only call the love of my life a partner or my domestic partner. We do not have the right to marry in the state that we live in. We are so close to being able to refer to each other as wives but Senator Skelos is afraid to let this go to a vote. It is hard to make sense out of any of this. We are just two hard working women, who try to do the right thing for our world.  When will the NY Senate allow us to have the same rights as my heterosexual brother and brother- in laws? I will hold my breath and wait until Monday.

If you wish to do something about this, it is not too late. Please call Senator Dean Skelos (518) 455-3171 and ask him to allow the marriage vote. Also call Senator Ball (518) 455-3111 and let him know that you want marriage for LGBT people to happen.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Marriage Equality Would Most Benefit Black and Latino/a Same-Sex Couples' Families

Equal access to civil marriage would benefit all same-sex couples in New York State. Yet analysis of U.S. Census data on same-sex couple households indicates that those with the most at stake in the current debate are Black and Latino/a same-sex couples, and especially Black and Latina lesbian couples. This is because those in Black and Latino/a same-sex relationships are more likely to be raising children than White same-sex partners. They also earn less, on average, and are more likely to rent than own their home.
For these reasons, Black and Latino/a lesbian and gay couples have the most to gain from marriage equality. It would enable them to more readily access a partner's health insurance, save money to purchase a home, and save for their children's college education.

According to analysis of 2000 U.S. Census data on same-sex couple families, 14% of same-sex couples who self-identified were Black same-sex couples, and 17% were Latino/a same-sex couple families.

Higher rates of parenting 

Among same-sex couple households of all races, about one-third of lesbian couples are raising children under 18, as are about one-fifth of gay male couples. Black and Latino/a lesbian and gay couples parent at higher rates, on average, than White same-sex couples.

Black lesbian couples:       52% are raising children
Latina lesbian couples:      54% are raising children
White lesbian couples:      32% are raising children
Black gay male couples:    36% are raising children
Latino gay male couples:   41% are raising children
White gay male couples:   18% are raising children

The ability to marry is especially important to parents, not only for the economic protections it gives, but also for the peace of mind it provides in the event of an accident, illness or death of a parent.

Lower income, lower rates of home ownership

Black lesbian couples earn about $21,000 less per year than White lesbian couples. Black gay male couples earn about $23,000 less than White gay male couples.  Black same-sex couples also report lower rates of home ownership than White gay and lesbian couples.  Latino/a same-sex couples also earn less than White non-Hispanic same-sex couples, and are also more likely to rent than own their homes.

A disproportionate racial impact of anti-gay discrimination

New York State's refusal to legally recognize marriages of same-sex couples hurts all same-sex couples, but it disproportionately harms Black and Latino gay and lesbian families because of higher rates of parenting, lower income, and lower rates of home ownership. Marriage equality would afford lesbian and gay parents peace of mind, and also make it easier for these New York couples to save up to purchase a home, and to save for their children's college education.


Cahill, S. (2009). The Disproportionate Impact of Anti-Gay Family Policies on Black and Latino Same-Sex Couple Households. Journal of African American Studies. 13(3), 219-250.
Cianciotto, J. (2005).  Hispanic and Latino Same-Sex Couple Households in the United States: A Report From the 2000 Census.  New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.

Dang, A. & S. Frazer. (2004). Black Same-Sex Households in the United States: A Report from the 2000 Census.  New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

March with us at the annual NYC LGBT Pride March on Sunday, June 26!

We march to demonstrate our commitment to fight social injustice, support the lives of LGBT people and their allies, and raise visibility for our mission:  to end the AIDS epidemic and uplift the lives of all affected.   

As with last year’s NYC Pride March, the route has been shortened by about 20 blocks.  At 11:30 a.m., we will be lining up on West 39th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues (closer to 6th Avenue) on Sunday, June 26.  The March starts at 12:00 p.m. on 5th Avenue at 36th Street.  

If you would like to march with us, please contact or (212) 367-1016.  We will be distributing T-shirts on Thursday, June 23 or Friday, June 24 at GMHC’s new home at 446 West 33rd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues).  A limited amount of T-shirts will also be available on the morning of the Pride March. 

All are welcome!  Please bring friends, colleagues, partners and family members.  Don’t forget to carry bottled water, sunscreen, snacks, and money for food.  And of course, wear comfortable shoes for walking. 

Thank you.  See you on the 26th!

(photo by Adam Fredericks)

Pioneers Who Began as Volunteers: A retrospective on the AIDS epidemic at 30

Dr. Lawrence D. Mass (r.) with his longtime partner Arnie Kantrowitz, GMHC’s chief executive officer, Dr. Marjorie Hill (c.), and Janet Weinberg, the agency’s chief operating officer. (GAY CITY NEWS)
Published: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 5:36 PM CDT
I’m honored to be here today to help GMHC commemorate the 30th anniversary of AIDS, and to do so here in GMHC’s new home.

As too many still don’t realize, AIDS remains this great global scourge that has yet to reach its peak. In fact, it is now, alongside the great influenza epidemic of 1918 and the Black Death of Europe, one of the three greatest epidemics in recorded history.

Thirty-five million people have died. Tens of millions remain infected, with rates soaring in various cohorts around the world.

Here in America, people of color, Hispanics, women, urban teens, and gay men remain disproportionately affected and underserved as funding dries up and resources dwindle. Meanwhile, even as so many lives have been saved and normalized with treatment, too many still die and remain gravely ill from AIDS.

Prevention leadership remains invisible and prevention failure has become entrenched.

I turn 65 next week and my memory is no longer so sharp, but I do remember those early days when GMHC was entirely about its volunteers and their work. I remember the endless stuffing of envelopes, with their smudges from my fingers, and the dryness of my mouth from so much licking.

Some of the most vivid images of it all are captured in Larry Kramer’s play “The Normal Heart,” currently enjoying a sensational revival on Broadway. Larry Kramer, of course, was the principal and guiding force behind the establishment of GMHC. He was a visionary with what in those days seemed impossible dreams –– of sea changes in gay life, of waging war on discrimination, injustice, and apathy, of epic battles for services, research, and treatment. He will always deserve a lion’s share of the credit for GMHC’s founding, early organization, and for the brightness of its star.

This play, written before HIV was even identified, before the cause of AIDS was known with certainty, recalls as nothing else does the dread, pain, confusion, anger, suffering, courage, and humanity of our early gay men’s health crisis. Whatever the past conflicts between Larry and GMHC, some reflected fictionally in composite form in characters and incidents in the play, “The Normal Heart” is a must-see for every gay man, for every person having anything to do with AIDS, for every person with a heart.

I also want to mention here my own involvement, because the work of GMHC became all about people doing what they could in the absence of certainty of exactly what was needed. As a physician and writer, I wrote the first, albeit woefully inadequate fliers about risks and precautions, one of which Dr. Brookner throws to the floor as worthless in “The Normal Heart.” I also helped develop GMHC’s first newsletters.

Over time, as HIV was finally identified, I formulated a more incisive booklet, “Medical Answers About AIDS,” which GMHC published over the next ten years in four revisions. It never relinquished my early certainty that we must not become sex-negative.

And each edition ended with a concept that I’m proud of in light of today’s marriage equality struggles –– a plea for what I called “the cultural sanctioning of same-sex relationships as an essential consideration in the long range preventive medicine of HIV/AIDS and other STDs.” Thirty years ago, domestic partnerships and civil unions were only beginning to be talked about, and marriage wasn’t even an impossible dream. Of course, marriage is no guarantee of remaining HIV-negative, but civil unions, domestic partnerships, and marriage can be the same safeguards for same-sex couples as they can for everyone else.

I’m grateful to GMHC for giving me, as it did so many others, the opportunity to make a contribution.

I want to recall several other images of early volunteerism that came most strongly to me in anticipation of this event.

Judy Peabody, who was a key figure in getting the whole buddy system off the ground. I got an insider’s view of Judy, who died last year, via her friendship with my close friend Vito Russo. Judy, as most of you know, was this high society lady, very aristocratically appointed, and well spoken. When I first met her, it was difficult to take my eye off the large emerald and diamond brooch she was wearing.

I thought it both incongruous and brave of her to get involved in something as politically volatile and socially declassee and scrappy as AIDS was in those days, even though as it turns out she had done service work with drug addicts prior to that.

But what really amazed me was the depth of her commitment. Her volunteerism wasn’t just about guest lists or donations. It was an all-out, sleeves-rolled-up, tireless mission. I saw how she was frequently in touch with Vito, always getting feedback about the many aspects of our crisis and the people in it. Her genuine friendship with Vito seemed a reflection of how up-front and personal she became with AIDS and those affected by it.

I remember thinking, “Gee, even if I had her advantages, would I be able to do half the job she was doing?” What I took from the example of Judy Peabody is that this wasn’t about one’s status, one’s knowledge, one’s experience. It was about how much one cared and the willingness to try to act on that.

Which brings us to the next image, of GMHC’s first executive director, Rodger McFarlane, who took his own life in 2009. Rodger invented a lot of the volunteerism we know today. He took it as far as it seemed it could possibly go, and then way beyond that! Of all our losses, there is none greater or more painful.

As stated in the Wikipedia entry on him, McFarlane walked into the offices of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, offering to serve as a volunteer. He began a crisis counseling hotline that originated on his own home telephone, which ultimately became one of the organization’s most effective tools for sharing information about AIDS. Shortly thereafter, he was named as the first paid executive director of GMHC, helping create a more formal structure for the nascent organization, which had no funding or offices when he took on the role.

As summarized by Larry Kramer, who became his closest friend, GMHC is essentially what Rodger McFarlane started –– crisis counseling, legal aid, volunteers, the buddy system, and social workers as part of an organization that serves more than 11,000 people affected by HIV and AIDS. Rodger went on to become a founding member of the New York branch of ACT UP, as well as a co-founder of Broadway Cares: Equity Fights AIDS. In his last major role of public service, he was executive director of the Gill Foundation.

The final of these images is also, for me, the dearest. It’s from Victor Bumbalo’s 1990 play, “Adam and the Experts,” an AIDS play and exemplar of gay theater. It features Eddie, a gay man dying of AIDS. Extremely depressed, to the point of being speechless, he is visited by a GMHC buddy who is on his first assignment. The buddy is very insecure about what he’s doing. When he tries to introduce himself and offer help, he becomes bumblingly inarticulate and breaks down in a sobbing apology for being so incompetent. Paradoxically, this inspires Eddie, the guy who’s dying of AIDS, to break out of his depression shell to comfort his GMHC buddy! Their bond is forged. Moral of this story: The issue isn’t so much about getting it exactly right, or even getting it wrong. It’s about genuinely caring and the willingness to try to act on that.

So let this event be dedicated to these heroes of volunteerism –– Larry Kramer, Judy Peabody, Rodger McFarlane, and to all GMHC buddies and volunteers whose genuine caring and willingness have touched the lives of persons with AIDS and brought inspiration, hope, spirit and soul to us all.

Eddie’s buddy in “Adam and the Experts” was trying to be a care partner before highly active antiretroviral therapy ––HAART –– became available, when the prognosis for AIDS was still universally fatal. Since then, we’ve come a long way, thanks largely to the all-volunteer and activist efforts of the organization Larry Kramer went on to found and lead: ACT UP.

We still may not yet have a cure or preventive vaccine for AIDS, but on the basis of what has already been achieved, these otherwise impossible dreams are sure to come true. All it will take is the decision to take that first step to join in –– to care, to be willing, to volunteer.

In the May 18, 1981 issue of the New York Native, Lawrence D. Mass, MD, published the first written account of an outbreak of a rare type of cancer and other unusual illnesses affecting gay men that, taken together, would in time be known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Mass and the Native went ahead with the story despite being assured by officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reports of a “gay cancer” were unfounded. On June 5 of that year, the CDC’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report published the first official acknowledgement of what Mass had reported two weeks before.

Mass was among six gay men who met in Larry Kramer’s apartment in 1982 to found the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. The other four founders were Nathan Fain, Paul Popham, Paul Rapoport, and Edmund White.

Fain, Popham, and Rapoport each died of AIDS-related complications.

This article in Gay City News was a speech delivered on June 5 of this year at a Kudos Reception at which GMHC honored Mass for his three decades of activism fighting AIDS.