Thursday, July 28, 2011

HIV Denialism and African Genocide

By Lawrence Mass, MD

IN THE PERIOD of the first reports of the new syndrome of immune deficiency (1981 to 1985), before we were certain about the primary role of HIV in the epidemic, sides were taken about putative cause(s), and about what the future held for the epidemic, gay sexual life, and the gay community in general. The range of viewpoints fell into several discernible camps.

First, there was Larry Kramer’s view, which he had already laid out in his 1978 novel Faggots, the image of gay men as obsessed by sex and fucking ourselves to death. Implicit in Kramer’s critique was the assumption that AIDS, the latest and deadliest in a series of STD epidemics in the gay community, was the inevitable culmination of it all...

Click here to read the entire article in the May-June 2011 edition of the Gay and Lesbian Review.

Lawrence D. Mass, MD, is a cofounder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the author/editor of four books. He wrote the first news report on what came to be called AIDS (in The New York Native, May 18, 1981). He is a specialist in addiction medicine in New York City.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

HHS Moves to Review Outdated Lifetime Gay Blood Donor Deferral

artwork courtesy of
Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) and the World Federation of Hemophilia laud the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for outlining concrete steps toward review of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) permanent deferral on blood donation by gay and bisexual men.  In a question-and-answer document, HHS described four areas of necessary study to allow a further review of the existing policy, and implementation of the June 2010 recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability (ACBSA). These areas include:

  • How the risk of blood transmissible diseases in the current donor population relate to the risk factors in donors;
  • The root cause of quarantine release errors (QRE), the accidental release of blood not cleared for use that potentially put the blood supply at risk;
  • If potential donors correctly understand the current questionnaire and if men who have sex with men (MSM) would comply with modified deferral criteria; and
  • If alternative screening strategy (e.g. pre- and/or post-qualifying donation infectious disease testing) for MSM (and potentially other high-risk donors) would assure blood safety while enabling data collection that could demonstrate safe blood collection from a subset of MSM or other currently deferred donors.
"We are pleased to see that the federal government has taken critical steps to review outdated blood donation policies," said Nathan Schaefer, Director of Public Policy at GMHC. "As this research agenda is pursued, GMHC will continue educating the public about the negative consequences of current blood donation policies, and advocating for revised policies that would allow low-risk gay men to donate blood and maintain the highest standard of blood safety."

"The safety of the nation's blood supply is of paramount importance to all Americans," said Mark Skinner, President of the World Federation of Hemophilia.  "We are encouraged by the Secretary's proposed research agenda.  The knowledge gained will allow for a thoughtful scientific review of the suboptimal aspects of the donor deferral policy.  We look forward to the Secretary engaging both donors and patients in the research process."

In February 2010, GMHC released a comprehensive report titled "A Drive For Change: Reforming U.S. Blood Donation Policies," which details the FDA's current blood donation guidelines and provides recommendations for alternative guidelines that emphasize behavior-based deferrals. In June 2010, GMHC provided testimony at the ACBSA meeting held to review the MSM policy. GMHC has long advocated for consistently applied standards of rigorous, scientifically-based blood safety, contributing to an increased pool of blood donors. 

In June 2010, Mark Skinner spoke on behalf of the American Plasma Users Coalition (A-PLUS) at the ACBSA meeting held to review the MSM policy.  A-PLUS is a coalition of national patient organizations created to address the unique needs of over 125,000 patients with rare diseases that use life-saving plasma protein therapies and are dependent on blood plasma therapies to lead healthy.  A-PLUS has acknowledged that the scientific basis for the permanent deferral requires review, and previously indicated that there are a number of factors which should be fully evaluated before making a revision to the policy. Such evaluation and research could lead to a policy revision that maintains or enhances the safety of blood and blood products.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Art from Adversity" - short documentary by Robert Penn

One of the many New York City community organizations that formed in response to the AIDS epidemic is a writers group for Black Gay Men. In honor of James Baldwin's signature work, Another Country, the group selected the name Other Countries. It held its first writers workshop on June 14, 1986. Over the next year, it developed a three pronged program of peer critique, performance and publishing. In its 25 years, Other Countries has published three volumes of work by Black gay men and women. The most recent VOICES RISING came out in January 2007. The workshop continues each 2nd and 4th Saturday at NYC's LGBT Community Center from 6 to 9 p.m. Many past and current members have gone on to publish work that "went through" the workshop. Several who developed their craft in the workshop went on to work in publishing, television and academia. Though many of its founding members died twenty years ago, their affinity group continues to nurture and foster creativity and appreciation of the life we have, here and now.

To view the documentary, click here.

Positively Ambitious

by Dorothy Crouch

In 1981, on June 5, the first cases of AIDS were reported. Thirty years later, despite great strides and accomplishments in the fight against the disease, the United States federal government reports that there are approximately 33.4 million global HIV/AIDS cases. An estimated 1.2 million cases of HIV/AIDS exist in the United States—one quarter of these are women.

The stereotype of HIV/AIDS as a gay man’s problem faded as people from all socio-economic classes, sexual orientations and genders became infected. Many HIV/AIDS patients are now afforded longer, healthier lives as medications, including antiretroviral drugs, are prescribed to stop the reproduction of the virus or maintain health. Under proper supervision of their doctor, HIV positive women are now even able to carry and bear HIV negative children without infecting the father.

The Broken Road


Education, career, marriage and motherhood are all options that every woman should be able to choose. In a world that still searches for an HIV/AIDS cure, infected women struggle to find normalcy in their lifestyle choices–women like Denise from New York City.

Like many of us, Denise made a few destructive and dangerous choices when she was younger. Twenty years of her life were dedicated to a drug addiction that entirely consumed her; it was so powerful that she would not leave her bedroom. Denise gathered the strength to become sober, then in 1994 she received the news she was HIV positive—and lost all hope.

Mentally accepting the diagnosis was almost as debilitating as Denise’s former lifestyle. For a long time she isolated herself, having no desire to see anyone or do anything. Once she reached a turning point, Denise moved out of state… and discovered a new version of herself along the way.

New Beginning


Eventually Denise returned to New York. Many of the people from her old neighborhood in the Bronx were pleasantly surprised by the changes she’d made. She became a peer counselor and, after accepting her own diagnosis, never had a problem discussing her life with HIV. “I wanted to help people find out about themselves,” reveals Denise, “I would stand on the corner in Brooklyn handing out literature and condoms to people.”

After discovering Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) Denise became increasingly optimistic about her life and role in the community. GMHC provides support services to clients who are infected with HIV/AIDS, including a starting point toward higher education. Working with local colleges, GMHC is able to offer classes to certain clients who are chosen by lottery. Denise’s inspiration grew after she received high grades on her exams in accounting and public speaking. This success drove her to apply to Long Island University, where she will begin taking courses this fall. “The more I keep my mind going and occupied, I will do well,” believes Denise.

Upon completion of her coursework toward an elementary education degree with a music and art minor, Denise hopes to help younger generations remain on a healthy path. “Going through CASAC (Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counseling) training to visit schools and educate kids is what I would like to do,” she says.

Children are extremely important in her life. She has three children and five grandchildren, whom she spoils. The attention she provides to her grandchildren partially stems from her effort to compensate for the time she lost with her children during the many years that she lost to drugs. Denise is partcularly close to her 10-year-old granddaughter–“She does AIDS Walks and understands the virus, says Denise. “I help with homework and take her to the aquarium, zoo and Rye Playland.”

One Wish


Though HIV/AIDS receives a fair amount of attention, Denise believes there could be a greater effort to make it a “…controllable disease…” “I am going to be 59 next month and never felt better than today. I still see. I still hear. I always went to the doctor and took my meds,” says Denise. She has friends who were also diagnosed, but were not dedicated to maintaining their health. “Some of my friends refused treatment,” Denise recalls. “They are now dead. I am the last one from our group.”

Denise believes that through openness, greater campaigning and community events, HIV/AIDS awareness will increase. She does not believe she will see a cure in her lifetime. However, her one wish is “…to live long enough to see my grandchildren grow and have children. I want to see my great-grandchildren.” Oh yes—and also that diploma.

The article was originally published in Moxy Magazine on July 26, 2011. 

Friday, July 22, 2011


Welcome! I’ve always liked that word welcome…so much more personal and inviting than saying hello. So welcome to the Geffen Center’s blog, Perspectives. The goal of Perspectives is to give readers a view into the world around HIV prevention and testing through the eyes of those who work closely in the field. My name is Walter Vickerie and I am an author and HIV Test Counselor/Phlebotomist with GMHC’s Geffen Testing Center. I love to write and enjoy healthy discussions around provocative and topical issues. One of those issues being the importance around HIV testing and prevention. For the past two years I have been fortunate enough to be part of the Geffen Center and have tested hundreds of people from varied backgrounds. Through my work as a counselor I’ve heard thousands of stories and in those stories there are often provoking questions that bring about great topics for discussion amongst the testing team. It is my hope that Perspectives will do the same thing by simultaneously opening minds and encouraging dialogue on a larger platform. In addition, it’s my objective to get readers of this blog to truly see the importance around HIV testing and prevention. Let’s make this a space of bettering ourselves through knowledge because the more knowledge we all have the better. Lastly, your thoughts and experiences matter to me so please feel free to chime in on stories that provoke your minds and touch your hearts. Until next time, stay safe! 

What’s In a Question?
Whether we are testing in the office or out in the field people always want to know: Why do we ask so many personal questions? I will be the first to say yes… it’s a lot but it’s all for you. Why? It’s because our questions are excellent gateways to providing much needed information to clients. Case in point…, I recently had a client who was in a six-month relationship. He and his partner were considering having sex without condoms. I asked him did he know his partner’s status. He said, ‘Yes. He tested negative a year ago.’ I told him it was great that he knew the information but that was a year ago and his partner’s status might not be the same. In the world of prevention, there is a term known as the “window period,” and it was important with the client had a clear understanding of what it meant. [Window Period: the time from infection until a test can detect any change in HIV status. Three weeks after exposure the window opens and closes three months thereafter.] In short I let the client know his partner’s year- old results was just that… a year old! A week later the client came back with his partner to be tested! So you see our questions opened up a conversation that ultimately empowered the client to make a more informed decision. Remember we are here to service you…so help us to help you! Until next time, stay safe!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Two New HIV Prevention Video Shows!

Check out these new video shows created by our Community Health Department!

The Lunch Box Show

The Lunch Box Show speaks candidly to the realities faced by young Black and Latino men who have sex with men such as navigating through homophobic environments; dealing with community stigma; negotiating safer sex; nurturing loving, intimate relationships and friendships; and experiencing self-worth through educational and professional achievement. 


The Women with Voices Show covers topics, provides information, and offers stories for women and girls to be inspired. Women with Voices seeks to shift social norms and attitudes about HIV among women.

GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis): The first responder to HIV in the United States

by Janet Weinberg

Fourth of July weekend 1981 looked like it was going to be another beautiful long weekend on Fire Island Pines, much like the past two decades of weekends had looked like for some gay men. This weekend had a chilling change to it.  Lawrence Altman’s article in the New York Times had the following headline: "Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals."

With these words, the party stopped at least for a moment. As men were quietly enjoying their weekend, some of them knew that their lives were about to be greatly altered.

Six gay men got together on August 11, 1981 in the living room of Larry Kramer’s home and the rest is history. GMHC had its humble beginnings.  Three of the men in that living room are no longer alive.

As you can see, the HIV/AIDS movement was built out of fear and the need to be empowered. The early programs at GMHC were started out of necessity. The first HIV hotline began with a phone and answering machine in the closet of Rodger McFarlane’s living room.   The hotline rang off the hook with terrified men asking questions and wondering where to find the most reliable information about the “gay cancer.” Rodger became the first paid Executive Director of GMHC. To this day terrified people call and write to GMHC’s helpline looking for the most reliable information they can get. Inquiries come from all over the world.  

The next program to begin was called the Buddy Program. This program assigned a volunteer to a homebound person with what was then called Gay Related Immune Deficiency or GRID. Buddies would do everything from holding a dying person’s hand to washing their clothes, food shopping, and helping with phone calls. Why did we need buddies? The medical world was afraid of people with AIDS. They would gown up in outfits that were fit for space travel but not for dying people. There was no human element to the care. We were watching 20, 30, 40 and 50 year olds dying long before they reached the prime of their lives and their deaths were ignored.  As Rodger McFarlane said during a GMHC video about the 25th anniversary of HIV, “whole zip codes were redlined out of insurance and no one gave a shit.”  The buddies cared.  This program was so successful that it was replicated all over the country.

These early beginnings led to an agency that has changed as the disease has changed. Yes, breakthroughs allowed people to live much longer and regain their strength. But let us not forget that in the United States, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation as of June 2011, there are 8506 people on a wait list for access to drugs through the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).   So who will live and who will die? Those who have access to medical care and drugs live. Those who are poor, undocumented or do not have access to care will die. Yes, in 2011 we have people dying of AIDS due to lack of access to medicine and care.

Currently, those most affected by HIV are black, white, and Latino MSM (men who have sex with men) and African American women. The most common denominator for all of these groups of people is poverty.   Recently, GMHC needed to find a new home after being in its Chelsea location for 15 years. We looked at about 40 properties and made offers to close to half a dozen of these possible new homes. Dr. Marjorie Hill, CEO, was taken aback when several of the representatives for these properties asked to come see where GMHC was housed. At first, she was delighted to show off GMHC’s services. She then realized that when real estate shopping, people do not ask how you currently live in order to decide whether or not they should accept you as a tenant. From this hard lesson we know that stigma continues to be a driver of the epidemic.

Today, GMHC is newly housed at 446 West 33 Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues, in New York City. The most utilized programs include the hot meals program, mental health counseling, 12-step meetings, pharmacy services, legal services, benefits and entitlements assistance, housing assistance programs, workforce development, community outreach and prevention services.  Public Policy continues to fight bad legislation that passed in the 1980’s and early 1990’s and to fight for new legislation to protect people living with or affected by HIV 30 years after the start of this scourge. 

Outcomes for those with access to care have changed over the 30 years. Outcomes for others have not changed one bit. Disparity continues to play a big role in HIV. Gay men and men and women of color are disproportionately affected.

Thirty July 4th weekends have occurred and the sun still glistens over the beautiful Pines beaches. The houses are still filled with gay men. But their landscape will never be the same again.   We are forever grateful to those six men who had the foresight to create GMHC. It is their shoulders that we stand upon 30 years later.  

Janet Weinberg is the Chief Operating Officer of GMHC.  Her article was originally published in the AIDS United blog on July 14, 2011.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hate Violence Up for LGBT People, in New York Area and the Nation, Says Report

A flyer from a 2010 vigil for gay teens who committed suicide
Violence against gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people was up last year, both in New York City and the nation at large, according to the 2010 National Report on Hate Violence. The report was released today by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. While 2010 will be remembered as the year people like Tyler Clementi triggered a greater awareness of teen suicide, it will also go down as a record year of violence against LGBT people, particularly in "safe" neighborhoods in New York City.

Across a broad variety of factors, the incidents of violence were up. Some highlights from the report's executive summary:
  • Reports of anti-LGBTQH hate violence increased by 13% from 2009 to 2010
  • Anti-LGBTQH murders increased 23% from 2009 (22 murders) to 2010 (27 murders), the second highest amount in a decade
  • LGBTQH people of color were disproportionately impacted by murder. LGBTQH people of color comprised 70% of all LGBTQH murder victims in 2010 but only represented 55% of total reports
  • Transgender women were disproportionately impacted by murder. 44% of LGBTQH murder victims were transgender women, yet only 11% of total reports came from transgender women.
  • 50.1% of survivors did not report to the police.
  • 53% of hate violence occurs in a private residence or on the street.
  • White people were the highest proportion of hate violence offenders.
Especially noteworthy last year were a series of attacks that occurred in and around gay bars in the West Village and Chelsea, which have long been mistakenly thought to be safe neighborhoods.   To review the full report, click here.

Steven Thrasher's article was originally published in the Village Voice on July 12, 2011.

Global Survey of Men Who Have Sex with Men Shows Widespread Lack of Access to HIV Services, Little Knowledge of PrEP

Poor access linked to homophobia, youth particularly vulnerable

July 12, 2011 (Oakland, Calif.) - A new global survey of more than 5,000 men who have sex with men (MSM) has shown that less than half of MSM around the world have easy access to lifesaving HIV prevention and treatment services.  Released on the eve of the 6th HIV Pathogenesis Conference, the survey is the first of its kind to examine levels of access and knowledge regarding HIV services – including emerging prevention interventions like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – among MSM across all major world regions.

Conducted by the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF), the study shows that less than 50% of MSM surveyed worldwide could easily access HIV testing or free condoms.  Only 36% of respondents could easily access HIV treatment, and less than a third reported easy access to behavioral interventions and HIV education materials.  Levels of knowledge about emerging prevention technologies were also low.  Of all study participants, 39% of respondents had never heard of PrEP and 44% had never heard of topical microbicides for preventing HIV. 

The study also identified key variables that influenced access to HIV prevention services among MSM.  Greater access to HIV prevention services was positively correlated with receiving HIV prevention messages and having access to venues that distribute HIV prevention information.  Among all variables, the strongest predictor of compromised access to HIV prevention services was the level of homophobia experienced by participants. 

“The results of this study lay bare the enormous role that homophobia plays in undermining the global response to HIV,” said George Ayala, Executive Officer of the MSMGF.  “Even the most effective prevention, care and treatment tools are useless if discrimination prevents gay men from accessing healthcare services in the first place.  More than anything, this data is a call to action.”

Significant disparities in levels of access, knowledge and homophobia were observed between regions.  Levels of access to HIV prevention and knowledge of emerging technologies were lowest among participants in Asia and the Middle East, followed by participants in other low- and middle-income regions, while these measures were significantly greater among participants in higher-income areas like Europe and North America.  Meanwhile, participants from Africa reported the highest levels of homophobia, followed again by other low- and middle-income regions. 

Considerable differences also emerged between age groups.  Among all age groups, younger MSM reported the lowest access to HIV prevention services, the lowest knowledge of emerging technologies and the highest levels of homophobia.

“Across the board, the trend is alarming – men who have sex with men are not able to access the services they need,” said Pato Hebert, Senior Education Associate at the MSMGF.  “But just below the surface, we find that those barriers are enormously complex, varying according to age, region, and other factors.  We will need smart, locally-tailored responses to overcome these challenges.”

The full report - Access to HIV Prevention Services and Attitudes about Emerging Strategies: A Global Survey of Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) and their Health Care Providers – is available here

The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) is an expanding network of AIDS organizations, MSM networks, and advocates committed to ensuring robust coverage of and equitable access to effective HIV prevention, care, treatment, and support services tailored to the needs of gay men and other MSM. For more information, visit

Friday, July 8, 2011

To Be Seen and Celebrated

by Kylie

This Pride Month was epic. For lots of people, I’m guessing, but especially for New Yorkers. After over a week of biting our nails and calling and emailing our senators, there was finally a vote. And the vote was for marriage equality.

Click here to

This article was first published on on July 1, 2011.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What’s Love (and Marriage) Got To Do With It?!

by Janet Weinberg

Marriage equality finally passed in New York. It is hard for me to believe it.  The LGBT community of my generation experienced life events opposite to our heterosexual counter parts. In the early 1980s, I began attending a funeral every few months of someone who died of AIDS. By the early 1990s, there were days when funerals competed with each other. We were in our 20s and 30s and our parents had been to fewer funerals than us.

Now it is 2011 and here we are talking about marriage. Usual life cycles have people marrying first and then going through the horrific act of burying loved ones.  All of a sudden, the LGBT 20 and 30 somethings are now approaching or have reached their 50s and for the first time allowed to plan their weddings.  I truly never thought that I would be married and here I am engaged.  It was a right that I thought would not happen in my lifetime. As some of you know, I received my proposal via email letting me know that the marriage bill was about to pass and would I marry my life partner of 20 ½ years.   It sure does turn things upside down!

Suddenly people that I have never socialized with want to know if I am getting married and if I am, when they will receive their wedding invitations.  My normal, usually peaceful and calm household is now in a tizzy. My head is spinning from all this talk of marriage. And it is not just going on in my household. Friends who have been waiting for New York to legalize marriage seem to be facing the same conundrums that I am facing.

Here at GMHC we have been advocating for marriage in Albany for the past 3 years. Why do we care about marriage? We serve people affected by HIV, some of whom are in love. That love should be recognized by marriage if the couples desire to be married.   These couples would like to show their love just as many heterosexual couples have shown for literally thousands of years. According to the New York Bar Association, there some 1,300 laws covered under marriage. It also gives these couples the ability to be covered under their spouse’s health insurance.  Might this lift some burden off the state?  Perhaps fiscal conservatives should be jumping up and down about this law. 
Studies also show that marriage, particularly amongst LGBT people of color, is a health resiliency factor. Black gay men are the hardest hit with HIV.  So why shouldn’t we offer one more structural tool to reduce new infections?  We consistently talk about needing every tool in the HIV tool chest to decrease the number of new infections. Of course marriage should be in that tool chest.  The passing of the marriage act is just one more piece of legislation that proactively helps to reduce new cases of HIV. 
If marriage equality had been around in those dark days of the 1980s and ‘90s, the legal protections would have been so beneficial. Married people could have accessed the probate court which processes wills and estates.  It would have proven property intent when a loved one died in very short and unexpected circumstances—such as with AIDS.

No matter how you slice it, marriage equality is just a best practice.  Here’s to more successes and more marriages to toast! 

Janet Weinberg is the Chief Operating Officer of GMHC.