by Marjorie Hill, PhD
|Larry Kramer's living room|
Growing up, my family seldom used our living room. Maybe it was the dreaded plastic slip covers or perhaps the perceived conventionalism. But it was essentially a shell that embodied hope -- mostly my Mom's -- of a life just beyond the realities of Bedford-Stuyvesant in the early '60s. As a teen, the living room became the place where your parents eyed your new friends and where you sat to mourn an aunt, grandparent or neighbor. It was the room that the teacher, social worker or cop sat in -- well, the cop stood in -- when someone was in big trouble. It was the room in which the live Christmas tree was placed.
There were many living rooms in my memory -- I Love Lucy's living room, Archie Bunker's, the Huxtable's, the Younger family in Raisin in the Sun -- each with a poignant message of truth and resiliency.
And then there was Larry Kramer's living room.
On Tuesday, August 11, 1981, Nathan Fain, Larry Kramer, Larry Mass, Paul Popham, Paul Rapoport and Edmund White (and their friends) gathered in Larry's living room. They passed around a hat and raised $7,000, seed money to build what would become the first AIDS service organization in the world, Gay Men's Health Crisis. The new family of men bravely struggled to piece together responses to this developing plague when very little response was coming from government officials and elsewhere. It was clear they needed each other and they needed to support each other as more and more gay men continued to senselessly die.
GMHC eventually grew out of that living room to office buildings which housed care services for people affected by HIV/AIDS, HIV prevention, testing and public policy programs. In each of the four times GMHC moved in the last 30 years, a living room was included in our plans. From World AIDS Day gatherings and meetings with international visitors, to quiet conversations as people with HIV/AIDS wait for daily meals to be served, the living room has become just that -- a room for the living. Yet it is still a room that we revisit to mourn those lost to AIDS, celebrate their lives and recommit to never forget.
On Saturday, August 11, 2012, we reflect on the first meeting of GMHC's six founders in a living room. We think of the horrors they experienced, the courage they summoned as new activists and the historic legacy that has fostered GMHC and other AIDS service organizations for 30 years. In GMHC's home at 446 West 33rd Street, we witnessed current activists who recently came together in our living room to share outcomes from the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. Working towards the goal of an "AIDS-free generation" requires us to be a family who needs each other and supports each other -- a family with a well-used living room.
Marjorie Hill, PhD is the CEO of GMHC. Her article was published in The Huffington Post on August 11, 2012.