Thursday, March 7, 2013

Building a New Generation of Leadership in the Fight Against AIDS

by Josh Tjaden

I have never known a world without AIDS -- and I am certainly not alone.

My generation, and those to come, could live with the risk of HIV infection our entire lives. Many of us were just toddlers when, in 1981, GMHC was taking its own first steps. Others were not even born yet. Although we did not experience those early years of the epidemic firsthand, we can still make strides to become better informed and more empowered to join the fight against AIDS.

As a development officer at GMHC, I have the opportunity to spread the word about our advocacy efforts, fundraising events, direct care services, nutrition and wellness programs, and innovative prevention initiatives. Yet apathy remains and ignorance persists. This is why it is incumbent upon those of us already devoted to ending AIDS to recommit ourselves and embolden a new generation of AIDS advocates, leaders and philanthropists into action.

I have helped to form the Millennium Committee, a new initiative that seeks to build an active and diverse network of young New Yorkers committed to our agency and its mission. We are a group of GMHC Board and staff members, entrepreneurs, business professionals, and even the nephew of GMHC's first paid executive director. My dedication to this cause began not long after I moved to New York, at a time when I was beginning to feel much more comfortable with my sexuality. I navigated the world of sex and dating like it was a happy hunting ground full of sexual triumphs -- and yes, maybe a few disappointments too. The possibility of becoming infected was once so far removed from my consciousness, but was now a stark reality.

For the most part, safer sex practices were never a question. The condoms and lube came out as fast as the clothes came off. But I would be lying if I said that was the case 100 percent of the time. There are plenty of guys who are into unprotected sex and put the pressure on to let it slide "just this once" because, for them, it feels better or even allows for a deeper sense of intimacy. I know firsthand that convincing myself of this was tempting, especially when I was very attracted to someone.

Over the years, I came to know that a few of my close friends are HIV-positive and learning of their struggles has made me realize that disclosing one's HIV-positive status is like coming out all over again. Many of them experienced embarrassment, misunderstanding, stigma and cruelty, even from their closest friends and family members. These relationships brought me closer to the cause. I began participating in AIDS fundraising events and eventually joined the staff at GMHC.

Each day, I interact with people who have made a life-long commitment to battling AIDS. I developed strong bonds with a few individuals who, like GMHC, were literally first in the fight against AIDS. By opening up intergenerational dialogues we can better understand our shared history, harness the motivation we need to inspire young donors into action, and help achieve the goal of an AIDS-Free Generation.

I am in awe of the dedication and generosity of our supporters, and the resolve of those that we serve. Three years ago, when I was the event manager for AIDS Walk New York, I had just such an experience - one that changed my life.

As I stood at the end of the AIDS Walk's 6.2 mile route in Central Park, I noticed an older, slight woman amongst the thousands of people streaming across the finish line. All at once, she lifted her cane triumphantly over her head and began to dance, laugh and weep. She told me she had been HIV-positive for 20 years, was enjoying good health, and would support GMHC for the rest of her life. As we shared a heartfelt embrace I promised to commit myself to the work in her name. And now, as I reflect on eight years of fundraising, I know that my support has had a positive impact on her life and countless others.

I encourage everyone to get involved and help uplift the lives of thousands of our fellow New Yorkers living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.

Please join us at GMHC's spring gala, Savor, on March 21st in New York City.
Josh Tjaden's article was originally published in The Huffington Post on March 7, 2013.

Gay Men's Health Crisis to Partner with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to Offer Free Vaccines for Meningitis

Recent increase of cases among gay men underscores the need for more vaccines
and outreach
New York, NY--GMHC will partner with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) and the Men's Sexual Health Project to offer free vaccines for meningitis on Thursday, March 7, Friday, March 15 and Wednesday, March 20 at the GMHC Center for HIV Prevention, 224 West 29th Street in Chelsea.  In the past several months, there has been an increase in the cases of meningitis among gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM) in New York City.  The majority of cases reported are from men who had intimate contact with another man they met on a digital application or website. The recent increase of cases underscores the need for expanded access to vaccines and outreach for those most impacted.
"We are very concerned about the outbreak of meningitis among men who have sex with men in New York City," stated Jay Varma, MD, Deputy Commissioner for Disease Control, DOHMH.  "We have identified two groups that are at highest risk of contracting meningitis: HIV-infected men who have sex with men, and any men, regardless of HIV status, who regularly have intimate contact with other men met through a website, digital application (App), or at a bar or party. Vaccination is the best defense against this dangerous infection. We urge men who meet these criteria to get vaccinated now and protect themselves from this disease before it is too late."

Meningitis is a bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges).  Symptoms include:  fever and chills, mental status changes, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, severe headache, and stiff neck.  It is a serious disease that can result in permanent brain damage or death.

Regarding who should receive the vaccine during this outbreak, any gay man or MSM who is at least 18 years of age, regardless of HIV status, and has had intimate contact with a man they met through a website (Manhunt, Adam 4 Adam, etc.), digital application (GRINDR, SCRUFF, etc.), a bar, or a party since September 1, 2012 or plan on having such contact in the future.

"We are proud to partner with our esteemed colleagues at the DOHMH," said Marjorie J. Hill, PhD, Chief Executive Officer of GMHC. "When we were first notified of the meningitis outbreak among gay men, we immediately alerted our constituents through social media networks  and flyer distribution.  We also hosted a community forum last year with widely respected experts.  We are thankful for Demetre Daskalakis, MD, a member of GMHC's Board of Directors, for coordinating our vaccine efforts."

Demetre Daskalakis, MD MPH is the Infectious Disease Fellowship Program Director at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine, Assistant Attending at Bellevue Hospital and Founding Director of the Men's Sexual Health Project (M*SHP).  Dr. Daskalakis arranged for the doses of the vaccine for free from the DOHMH and will be administering the vaccinations.

Dr. Daskalakis commented: "Given the urgent need to address this potentially lethal infection impacting one of the communities so well served by GMHC, I am grateful for the support provided by both the DOHMH and GMHC to make this vaccine available to individuals at risk in a venue so comfortable and familiar to this community of MSM."


Thursday, March 7, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Friday, March 15, 10:00 am to 12:00 pm
Wednesday March 20, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Sign up in advance (required) at:
GMHC Main Office
446 West 33rd Street - 7th floor
(between 9th and 10th Avenues)
Or call (212) 367-1420
Or e-mail

Vaccinations will be given at:
GMHC Center for HIV Prevention
224 West 29th Street - Ground Floor
(between 7th and 8th Avenues)