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)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Is HIV Being Shortchanged?

photo by Adam Fredericks
Every 9.5 minutes another person contracts HIV in the United States. Approximately 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV, but almost one in five is unaware of his or her HIV status. In 2009, 17,000 people died from AIDS in the U.S., and the CDC calls this a "stable" trend. Of course, that's unless you are black (12 to 14 percent of the population but 44 percent of new infections), gay or bisexual (4 percent of the population but 63 percent of new infections) or under age 25 (where 26 percent of new HIV cases are found). Over 619,000 Americans have died from AIDS since the epidemic began.

Major philanthropists are ignoring the continuing AIDS crisis in the United States, and people are dying because of it. Sounds harsh? It is, but only because it's true. The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently released a list of the top 50 American donors in 2012, and only two donors, Jon Stryker and David Geffen, gave significant funds to combat HIV and AIDS in the United States. I do not mean to diminish the outstanding generosity of the other 48 people on the list, but why is HIV no longer a top priority among those with the means to do something about a still-spreading disease that can only be held at bay with costly medications and cannot be cured? And it certainly cannot be ignored that HIV hits gay and bisexual men and African Americans, two groups that already face pervasive stigma and discrimination, the hardest.

The fact that many of our country's most wealthy individuals are not funding HIV services is not a surprise to me. As the Managing Director of Development at Gay Men's Health Crisis (GHMHC), the nation's first organization dedicated to AIDS services, I know how difficult it is to raise money to help people living with or affected by HIV and AIDS, let alone find money to prevent future infections. When I first took this position, many of my colleagues in fundraising warned me that raising money for AIDS was becoming more difficult every year, and that I could find easier and less stressful jobs at other nonprofits with more embraced causes.

Of course I knew they were right. AIDS service organizations live at the nexus of what we as a society avert our eyes from: sex, drugs, poverty and race. Everyone needs a hand in life, and I have been lucky enough to receive one myself many times. I am proud to be part of a group that is tackling issues not because they are easy but because doing so is the right thing to do. We will never see progress if we gravitate toward the easy. Combatting HIV and AIDS is difficult work, but as a society we must commit to reaching an AIDS-free generation. We cannot abandon those most vulnerable to becoming infected and those living with HIV who need life-sustaining support to live long, healthy lives.

I have come to terms with the fact that fighting AIDS in the United States may not have many champions among the wealthiest Americans, although I have a lot of fundraising left in me, and I do intend to find them. Instead I seek inspiration from fighters like the people at the Keith Haring Foundation and Joy Tomchin, the producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague, who are being honored at our spring gala, Savor, on March 21 in New York City. I also look to fundraisers like Craig R. Miller, who founded AIDS Walk New York, which benefits GMHC and 40 other AIDS service organizations and will again bring 45,000 people to Central Park on May 19. Along with our clients, these are the people who inspire me to go to work every day with a hunger to fight.

Working at GMHC has made me and my husband dedicate our own philanthropy to fighting HIV and AIDS. We might not be in the Chronicle's top 50, but we will never turn away from this fight, no matter how hard it is, and no matter how long it takes to win. I hope you will join us and GMHC in the fight.
Seth Rosen is the Managing Director of Development at GMHC. His article originally appeared in the Huffington Post on February 20, 2013.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

What We Really Want on Valentine's Day: Sex Education in Schools


Today it seems that access to comprehensive sexual education in the United States is a privilege. According to a 2006-2008 National Survey on Family Growth, 46 percent of males and 33 percent of females do not receive formal education regarding contraception prior to losing their virginity. Only 21 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education in schools. Even where sex ed does occur, problems persist.

Adam: Take my sister, for example. She came out as a lesbian in the smallest public high school in rural New Jersey, where hunting, high school sports and maintaining a certain small-town way of life take priority. In my hometown, homosexuality seemed like a foreign concept. Being the first openly gay student in our community, she faced severe harassment, including schoolmates writing "dyke" on her locker and tearing down pictures of her and her girlfriend, and childhood friends abandoning her. While our high school did have a sexual education program that addressed safer sex, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV, the program failed to create a safe environment to discuss individual sexual identities and sexual health. Without an LGBT-inclusive curriculum, homosexuality was received with hostility and disapproval. As her little brother, watching her suffer and not being able to do anything to stop the homophobia infuriated me.

Eric: Growing up in Northern Westchester, I was privileged to attend one of the best public school systems in the country. We had access to everything: dozens of Advanced Placement classes, after-school activities and even basic health education starting in fifth grade. However, we did not have trained professionals to discuss sex and sexuality. Health classes were taught by gym instructors, leaving a void that other teachers felt the need to fill. My twelfth grade English teacher tried to open up a dialogue about LGBT identities by showing a video on transgender individuals and proposing that in a class of 20, two students were probably transgender or gay. Though the information was wrong, it did not stop the speculation as to which students in the class were actually transgender. Misinformation led to "gay-hunting," teasing and a misunderstanding about basic human sexuality.

As students in America, we have a right to unbiased and uncensored information. We have a right to be provided with accurate materials about health and sexuality from certified and trained professionals.

Growing up without a comprehensive sexual education system has left our generation with a myriad of problems. HIV rates are on the rise among young Americans for the first time since the epidemic broke out in the 1980s. Young people aged 13 to 29 account for over 30 percent of the 50,000 new HIV infections each year. Broken down, this means that every hour, two individuals in our generation are infected with the virus. Even more, a disproportionate number of young gay and bisexual men of color must face the brunt of the epidemic. Though antiretrovirals have greatly extended the life expectancy of those living with HIV, a mixture of physical, mental and financial stresses still makes living with the virus a daily challenge.

These concerns led us to conduct preliminary research as interns for the Public Policy Department at Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) about HIV-risk perception among men who have sex with men, knowledge about HIV and successful preventative measures. The answers we received from the participants in our study were far below acceptable standards. In terms of understanding how the virus could be transmitted, 24 percent of participants believed that HIV could be transmitted through mutual masturbation, and 7 percent were confident that HIV could not be transmitted through unprotected anal intercourse. When discussing how long after exposure to HIV most tests can detect the virus, only half (74) of the men correctly responded that the exposure window was three months. A quarter of the men felt surprisingly insecure about being able to voice a desire to use condoms, citing a fear of rejection from their partner as well as assuming that requesting condoms would make them appear to have HIV or other STIs.

At the same time, other young people are also at risk. In the United States, we have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world. Of the 750,000 pregnancies among women aged 15 to 19 each year, 80 percent of them are unintended. These pregnancies are so commonplace that they are even the focal point of television series, such as MTV's Teen Mom.

Our generation is facing the consequences of sexual liberation without sexual education. The results show why we need sex ed. Our parents and previous generations fought for the rights of individuals to express themselves in all ways possible, a noble and important cause, but what they missed was a critical moment in history to implement programs that provide young people the right to information in order to make healthy and responsible decisions about their sexual health.

In the current congressional session, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act. The bill includes guidelines as to what sexual education programs must (and must not) include to receive federal funding, ensures that students at all level of schooling have access to sexual education, trains instructors on how to best inform students of important yet possibly uncomfortable information and allows for sexual education that is inclusive of LGBT identities to be presented in the classroom. Importantly, the act would strike language from the Public Health Services Act that prevents schoolteachers from using any language that "promotes" homosexuality or discusses it in a positive light.

By passing the Real Education for Health Youth Act, we would ensure that Americans know their bodies, know their health and are empowered through comprehensive sexual education programs to make healthy and responsible decisions about sexual health. We must continue to spark dialogues and ensure that students have a forum in which to voice concerns and receive accurate answers to questions on sexuality and sexual health.

For more information on the current state of sex and HIV education in the United States, click here.
 Eric and Adam's article was originally published in the Huffington Post on February 14, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Continuing the Family Legacy in AIDS Activism

by Joseph Neese

photo by Adam Fredericks
When my late uncle, Rodger McFarlane, became the first paid Executive Director of Gay Men's Health Crisis in 1982, he was just 27-years-old. His generation was the last to be born into a world without HIV and AIDS.

For as long as I can remember, I heard stories of Rodger's friends, whose lives were claimed by AIDS on a daily basis in the early 1980s. I was just in the eighth grade when I first read Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, the Tony Award-winning play about Rodger and the other men who helped organize GMHC, the world's first HIV/AIDS service organization, in response to the tragic loss in their community, and was incredibly moved.

As is often the case in life, I don't think the full impact of the epidemic hit me until I encountered it head on. After I returned from a semester abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in late 2009, I received the devastating news that my boyfriend during that time, a handsome, young Peruvian man, had tested HIV-positive.

As fate would have it, I had just completed a routine HIV test earlier that day and received a negative result, which I attribute to what I learned from my uncle. I came out to Rodger one night in college, and he followed up with a comprehensive sex education discussion the very next morning.

When Rodger died four years ago, Mr. Kramer, with whom he had helped build GMHC, told The Advocate that my uncle had done more for the gay world than any other individual had ever done. "I don't think the gay world knew or knows how great he was, and how much he did for us, and how much we need him still and how much we will miss him," he said.

Although the great loss of my uncle is still felt in the world of HIV and AIDS activism, I have never once given up hope. The first thing I did when I moved to New York was do what my uncle did 30 years ago -- establish myself as a volunteer at GMHC. Their life-affirming programs, including safer-sex education, crisis counseling, hot meals, case management and legal counseling still save lives and extend GMHC's message of "Fight AIDS. Love life."

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is still very real, and its shift in demographics is alarming, with a disproportionate effect on the young, gay, poor and of communities of color. Yet I still hope for a world with zero new HIV infections and zero deaths from AIDS -- a message that was heralded at last year's International AIDS Conference.

A crucial part of achieving an AIDS free generation is recruiting a new contingent of HIV and AIDS activists to carry on the work that my uncle began. That is why I joined GMHC's Millennial Committee which is developing new, young donors.

I want the next generation -- including me -- to step up and be counted to give millions of people affected by HIV and AIDS hope for a better world.

Please join me at GMHC's annual gala, Savor on March 21. For more information, please visit
Joseph's article was originally published in the Huffington Post on February 13, 2013

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Impact of AIDS Activism: An Interview with David France

By Larkin Callaghan

The development of an award-winning film about AIDS activism and what we can learn from it

How to Survive a Plague, an Academy-Award nominated documentary released in the fall of 2012, chronicles the start of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power), an AIDS activist organization started by newly diagnosed HIV-positive individuals and their advocates in New York City in 1987. The film details how ACT UP grew from a small, local, grassroots initiative aimed at forcing the public to acknowledge the epidemic and its devastating impact, to an organization with thousands of members that transformed AIDS drug policy. Through political action like protests, public funeral ceremonies, and storming the buildings of the National Institutes of Health, ACT UP initiated ‘treatment activism,’ accelerating the development and distribution of AIDS treatment drugs and changing the pharmaceutical industry’s closed door research and development process to one that incorporated the insight and research of activists themselves. By including footage from ACT UP activists and interviewing organizers who became lifelong advocates in the fight against AIDS, writer and director David France crafts a compelling storyline underscoring how the movement opened the eyes of the public to the struggles of those with HIV/AIDS and how ACT UP’s unrelenting demands for government acknowledgement and action changed the landscape and future of those diagnosed with the virus from a death sentence to a manageable, chronic disease. Mr. France discusses the development and evolution of the film and helps articulate what viewers can take from it.

Editor’s Note: See if How to Survive a Plague wins an Oscar during the 85th Annual Academy Awards on February 24th, 2013.

You wrote extensively about HIV and AIDS for publications like New York magazine, and other writings of yours have inspired films. What was it that compelled you to take on the task of writing and then directing a film about the history of AIDS activism as opposed to staying in the writer’s chair?

I wanted to go back and look again at those years before 1996, and revisit them in order to try to make some sort of sense about what happened then. To mine those years for the lessons; the legacy; for a deeper understanding about what it meant that we’d all been through such a dark period of plague at a time when so few people were paying attention to it. That was my challenge.

The first thing I did was return to some of the videotape that I knew existed because as anybody who was doing reporting on the ground back then knew, cameras were everywhere—people with AIDS and their advocates, activists and artists, family members, and independent news gatherers were all shooting. That was all made possible with the arrival in 1982 with the revolution of the prosumer video cameras. They were suddenly available, and suddenly cheap, and they were taken up by this community in a remarkable way.

So I went to look at some of the tapes; there is a collection at the New York Library of some of the video work produced by ACT UP itself. And then I thought, you really can’t tell the story without the cameras, because the cameras played such an integral part. In fact, the camera itself was kind of a character in those years. And I thought, I’m actually looking at the project—the project is in trying to tell the story and make sense of it by going back and actually re-purposing those images for future generations.
To read more of David France's interview with Larkin Callaghan of the 2x2 Project, click here.

Friday, January 18, 2013

How GMHC's Savor Dinner Nourishes People Living With HIV and AIDS

by Wilson Rodriguez

wilson rodriguez
Chef Wilson Rodriguez with Lydell Williams & Crystal Taylor

The dining room on the seventh floor was full for the recent holiday dinner. The mood was upbeat as our clients -- men and women living with HIV and AIDS -- relished the beautifully-prepared meal. As the Chef of the GMHC's Meals Program, I enjoy walking throughout the room and talking to our clients, many of whom I see throughout the year. At one table, I noticed a man who, while seated with others, was alone. He was quietly eating and crying. I found an empty chair by the windows and pulled up next to him. I wanted to find out why he was in tears. He turned to me and shared how the food reminded him of his mother's cooking. She had died a few years ago. And what made his grief even worse, I learned, was his father refused to talk to him because he was HIV-positive.

Isolation. Stigma. Shame. Words I would have not connected to cooking until I came to work at GMHC 10 years ago. Over 90,000 hot and nutritious meals are served annually. The lunches and dinners are not only delicious and elegant, they create comfort and arrest people's fears about being hungry. Each day, our dining room becomes a community room, a family room, a place to connect to others. Because of the stigma attached to people living with HIV and AIDS, there are clients who continue to be made to feel like they don't deserve good things in their lives. It is very disheartening to hear about times when family members and neighbors have shamed our clients for living with HIV or AIDS. Our clients deserve the best and I purchase the best quality of food I can get. I know that the people we serve are so appreciative.

I also contribute my culinary skills by teaching the staff and high-school interns who are part of a vocational training program. I am always teaching. One staff person, in particular, came to me through GMHC's Workforce Development Department. He had experienced homelessness, substance use and other traumas. Over the years of working with him, he now has a stable home, he is healthy and sober, and is an enthusiastic cook. He actually helps me train the high-school students and is giving back to the community. My staff, volunteers and interns are a terrific team. We are a family. While we have our rough days, we also have so much fun. A happy kitchen cooks great food!
A lot of what I do is from the heart. I love cooking and have a passion for both it and feeding people. That's why I am excited about our fifth annual fundraiser, Savor, which will bring together some of the best chefs in the country to provide guests with a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience. It is an honor and a privilege to have Alex Guarnaschelli, executive chef of Butter and The Darby, who recently won, The Next Iron Chef on the Food Network, and Colleen Grapes, pastry chef of the Red Cat and the Harrison, as part of Savor's culinary dream team.

This year, GMHC will have two honorees at Savor -- the Keith Haring Foundation and Joy Tomchin. The Keith Haring Foundation has been tremendously supportive in funding our Keith Haring Food Pantry Program which distributes groceries and provides nutritional counseling to clients in need. I work closely with the program's nutritionists when preparing my menus each week so they are heart healthy (i.e., low in sodium and fat). Joy Tomchin is being saluted for her longstanding philanthropy to GMHC and for producing the powerful Oscar-nominated documentary, How to Survive a Plague. These chefs and honorees are all passionate in their work and support in the fight against AIDS. By joining us for Savor on March 21 at Cipriani 42nd Street, you can help us nourish people living with HIV and AIDS.

For more information, please visit

Wilson Rodriguez is the Chef and Meals Program Coordinator at GMHC. His article was originally published in The Huffington Post on January 18, 2013.