Era of the Death Sentence: Our AIDS Legacy

Remembering Ryan White and the millions of gay men who died during the darkest days of our AIDS crisis

By C.L. Frederick
Contributing Columnist
SONY DSC

C.L. Frederick

It’s easy for the LGBTQ community to forget the past, since we are always looking forward and breaking down the societal barriers that have held us back for eons.  I for one have been guilty of forgetting our past struggles for the sake of moving our community forward socially and, in all honesty, because I never believed our history applied to my life.

Then I was diagnosed with HIV. That was certainly was expectedly a life changing experience, but it also changed the way I looked at the gay community.  Stories from our past became my saving grace.

I found myself being re-introduced to the era of the death sentence and I realized that I owed a debt of gratitude to those who came before me during the early days when medicine and treatments were not advanced enough to save lives, those who died during the time when HIV/AIDS was looked at as the “gay disease,” when hate and ignorance were mixed into one’s fight to live.

I was just a boy when AIDS began to enter the public consciousness, and I acutely remember hearing news reports and adults in my life discussing this “gay epidemic.” I just wanted to know why so many people were dying and why people on the news and the grown-ups I respected lacked sympathy for them.

I picked up on the vitriol being spewed at gay men with HIV/AIDS and it was jarring for me. News reports on TV seemed to shame these men and I was confused as to why that was. Then a few years later I heard about a boy named Ryan White who acquired HIV/AIDS through a blood transfusion.

He was a boy close to my age and I found myself paying attention to his story.  He seemed so strong and was so well spoken.  Here was a boy fighting for his life, growing gravely ill from his disease and treatments, a boy who encountered a great deal of hate and ostracism from all over the country because he wanted to simply go to school and be a part of his community.

Such hostility aimed a boy who did nothing to deserve the social prejudice added to his fight to live!

I could identify with Ryan and I continued to follow every bit of information concerning his journey as a youth with AIDS. This was not an interest that I could share with my family or friends, but my soul was rooting for him.

Ryan did not survive his fight against HIV/AIDS and when I learned of his death I was quietly heartbroken. Ryan’s life was quite possible the first human interest story to have an impact on my own humanity.

The years following Ryan White’s death saw HIV/AIDS treatments advance and prolong lives.  I began to come into my own as a gay man and started to forget about those who had died. People with HIV/AIDS were living longer and issues like LGBTQ equality and gay marriage were on the cusp of national and worldwide attention.

I would think of Ryan’s life from time to time, but I failed to realize how globally impactful his story was and should continue to be.

After learning I was HIV-positive, I found myself searching for stories to relate to, stories to comfort me in my time of need.

One night I watched the HBO movie The Normal Heart, and I was reminded of the struggles gay men with HIV/AIDS dealt with at the onset. I don’t cry much, but watching the movie was an emotional rollercoaster for me.  I have never been moved to that extent or cried so much because of a film.

To be reminded of those who came before me was a painful and humbling moment. The cards were stacked against them during that time: medications that would put a body through hell, men fighting to live only to be beaten down by society and ignorance in the process, and the fact that most knew they were dealing with a death sentence.

I am able to live a fairly normal life as a positive man today because of their voices, their fight and their bravery to live in the face of so many painful obstacles constantly working against them. Living with HIV/AIDS today still has its challenges. It is still a mountain of obstacles to overcome to remain healthy and get access to medications and treatment.

But the fact is that I only deal with a fraction of the challenges that those who came before me encountered. We have lost millions of voices that could have told us billions of stories. And I can’t help but think how different life would be today if we never had to lose any of those men.

What plays would have been written? What art created? Would one have become our first gay president? Was one my soul mate?

I get to live today, but I fully realize that all who have died of AIDS deserved to live just as much as I do.  I will never again forget the legacy of Ryan White and the men who came before me.

—  Tammye Nash

Elton John AIDS Foundation funds transgender HIV project

AIDS ribbonElton John AIDS Foundation and Transgender Law Center will partner for a one year pilot program to identify the structural inequities that drive high rates of HIV incidents in transgender communities.

The Transgender Law Center will use the funds to form a national advisory board of eight to ten trans people living with HIV, with a strong focus on trans women of color. The advisory board will assist in a systems gap assessment, identify best and promising practices in community response to HIV and issue recommendations.

“With the support of the advisory board, Transgender Law Center will engage the community meaningfully in the examination of how systemic barriers and social conditions  (such as discrimination, transphobia, criminalization and violence) drive the HIV epidemic and negatively impact health outcomes.” said Cecilia Chung, Senior Strategist of Transgender Law Center. “This will also give us an opportunity to support and strengthen the leadership of some of the most vulnerable members in the transgender community.”

—  James Russell

BearDance presents check to AIDS Arms

BearDance Pride check presentation 2014BearDance presented a check to AIDS Arms a check for $4,100 as proceeds from its Pretty in Pink Pride Parade watching party at TMC: The Mining Company in September.

BearDance presents Daddy’s Locker Room, a Halloween dance, on Friday, Oct. 31, at Dallas Eagle to benefit Resource Center.

 

—  David Taffet

DIFFA/Dallas awards funds to Resource Center nutrition programs

Resource Center officials announced Wednesday, Oct. 8, that their agency has received a $22,500 award from the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS/Dallas (DIFFA/Dallas) for the center’s nutrition programs. The money was awarded at an event held Sept. 12 at Roche Bobois.

Resource Center offers nutritional services through its food pantry as well through its hot lunch program.

The pantry, which began in 1985 out of a cardboard box at the intersection of Cedar Springs and Throckmorton, is presently located 5450 Denton Drive Cutoff and serves around 1900 clients every month.

The center began a hot lunch programs for its clients in the early 1990s. It is one of two agencies in Dallas County providing hot meals in a nonresidential setting to those living with HIV/AIDS, making the critical link between nutrition and treatment adherence. More than 100 clients a day eat lunch at the center Monday through Friday.

DIFFA is the oldest and one of the largest funders of HIV/AIDS service and education programs in the United States. Founded in 1984, DIFFA has mobilized the immense resources of the design communities to provide over $38 million to hundreds of AIDS organizations nationwide.

With events including the House of DIFFA each spring, DIFFA/Dallas has granted nearly $7 million to organizations across North Texas, including Resource Center. March 2015 will mark the 25th anniversary of the House of DIFFA.

—  Tammye Nash

Longtime Parkland CEO Ron Anderson dies of cancer

RJAnderson

Ron J. Anderson, M.D.

Ron J. Anderson, M.D., president and CEO of Parkland Health and Hospital System for 29 years, died Thursday, Sept. 11 of cancer. He was 68 years old. As of Friday morning, services were pending.

Anderson took over as head of Parkland in 1982, when he was 35 years old and when the AIDS epidemic was in its early days. Anderson was head of the county hospital when, in the late 80s, the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance  (then called Dallas Gay Alliance) and Ron Woodruff of Dallas Buyers Club fame, filed — and won — the lawsuit that forced Parkland to treat people with HIV.

Anderson was named president and CEO after serving two years as medical director of the hospital’s emergency room and outpatient clinic and head of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s Division of Internal Medicine. He retired from Parkland in 2011, after spending his last years with the hospital leading the bond campaign that brought in public financing for the new $1.3 billion facility due to open next year.

In the mid-1980s, Anderson grabbed national attention when he spoke out against the practice — called patient dumping — of transferring medically unstable patients from private hospitals to public hospitals based on the patient’s ability or inability to pay, leading to passage of state laws regarding indigent care in Texas and later federal legislation banning patient dumping.

According to a press release from Parkland announcing his death, Anderson was known as an advocate of universal health care and for leading development of Parkland’s Community Oriented Primary Care health centers. He came to national attention again in the mid-1990s as a spokesperson in the movement for better confidentiality regarding the patient/physician relationship.

Anderson once said, in a speech to a UT Southwestern graduating class, “It is not enough just to try ‘to do good’ and try ‘to avoid evil,’ although these are the ethical keystones of the physician/patient relationship. We cannot be paternalistic toward patients and must accept their cultural, religious, ethnic and social differences. We must respect our patients’ autonomy and desire for wholeness, which should stimulate us to address the social justice issues affecting our patients’ lives.”

—  Tammye Nash

Know Your Rights at Work

greg-nevins_392_0

Greg Nivens

As we get ready to celebrate the Labor Day weekend holiday, Lambda Legal is launching the newest section of its “Know Your Rights” information hub, this time focusing on workplace rights for LGBT and HIV-positive people.

Greg Nevins, a Lambda Legal counsel and Workplace Fairness Project strategist based in the agency’s Atlanta office. said that workplace issues continue to be a major concern among those who call Lambda Legal’s Legal Help Desk. The new Know Your Rights Workplace site “will help people advocate for themselves as well as assist them if issues arise,” Nivens said.

He said the hub will soon be mobile-friendly and translated into Spanish. It includes legal and advocacy guidance on a wide array of issues, including what to do if you experience discrimination, what laws protect you, HIV discrimination in the workplace, what to do if you are fired, gender identity discrimination. job searches, immigrant rights, good company policies, how unions can help and same-sex spousal and partner benefits.

This is Lambda Legal’s third Know Your Rights hub. The other two are Know Your Rights: Teens and Young Adults, and Know Your Rights: Transgender.

—  Tammye Nash

Kirven: Benny Longoria death certificate never signed

Benny Longoria

Benny Longoria

Dallas activist C.d. Kirven told Dallas Voice today, via email, that efforts to get Tulsa police to investigate the death of gay man Benny Longoria are moving forward.

A friend found Longoria, 40, dead in his apartment on June 20. But the man’s family said police did not contact them until a month later, that police had Longoria’s body cremated without notifying them and that police have refused to return his possessions, including his cell phone.

A representative of the company that manages the apartment complex where Longoria lived said that the apartment and most of his possessions were covered in blood when his naked body was found. Police have refused to investigate the case as a suspicious death.

Kirven learned of the situation earlier this week when Dallas City Councilman Adam Medrano contacted her and asked if she could help the Longorio family find answers.

Today, Kirven said the case is being investigated as possible HIV/AIDS-related discrimination, and that she has helped the Longoria family filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department alleging a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Kirven also said she is helping the family file a complaint with the Internal Affairs division of the Tulsa Police Department.

Tulsa Police Sgt. Dave Walker reportedly told the family that Benny Longoria’s doctor verified that he died of a combination of ethanol abuse and HIV/AIDS. But Kirven said that when she contacted the office of Longoria’s physician, Dr. Frances Haas, she was told that Dr. Haas had not confirmed any cause of death and had not signed a death certificate.

Kirvin said today that she has obtained a copy of Longoria’s death certificate, which has not been signed by any doctor. She said Dr. Haas is mailing Benny Longoria’s medical records to his family and “wants nothing to do with Benny’s death.”

She also said that Capt. Alexander has said that because the doctor has not signed the death certificate, by law Longoria’s death has to be investigated as a suspicious death.

A memorial in celebration of Benny Longoria will be held Saturday at 5 p.m. at Compadres Mexican Grill, 7104 S. Sheriden Rd., in Tulsa. For information contact C.d. Kirven at 972-533-1593.

Kirven said that several TV stations have said they will be covering the memorial service and vigil, and that she was faxing a copy of the death certificate to KRMG radio in Oklahoma City, which is planning coverage of the case. She has also talked to a reporter with Vice.com.

Tulsa-based reporter Richard Fricker called Dallas Voice today in an effort to contact Kirven, and said that he knows of similar cases that have happened in Tulsa.

Dallas Voice will, of course, continue to follow this story as it unfolds, and will have a representative at the memorial service in Tulsa on Saturday.

memorial-flyer-Benny_Longoria

—  Tammye Nash

Man sentenced for deadly sexual assault with HIV as the weapon

CrowleyMatthew Louis Reese, 31, was given 95 years in prison this week, in part because he gave HIV to a minor.

The Dallas man pleaded guilty to three charges — aggravated sexual assault of a child with a deadly weapon, aggravated sexual assault with serious bodily injury and sexual assault of a child. The deadly weapon is HIV.

The victim was a 15 year-old girl at the time. She is now 17.

The two met on a chat line and spoke for months before first having sex. Reese never told the girl he had HIV and did not use a condom.

Missing from any reports is why the girl’s parents bore no responsibility for monitoring who their 15-year-old daughter was dating.

Apparently Reese was not in treatment for his HIV and had a viral load count high enough to pass along the disease. He must serve half of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.

—  David Taffet

Report shows LGB people face additional health risks, transgender issues require another report

health-rainbow2_0A report released recently by the Boston-based Fenway Institute has found important health-related risks within the LGB community that are not well-documented or well-known and not addressed by prevention and treatment programs.

Many studies have shown that gay men have a higher risk of HIV infection and that LGBT youth are at higher risk of being bullied and considering suicide. But the new Fenway policy brief  shows that the LGB community has a higher rate of tobacco use than the general public, that lesbians have an increased risk of being overweight and that LGB elders have an increased risk of disability.

The Fenway report is based on data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through an annual Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Surveys (BRFSS) in all 50 states, reaching 506,000 people. CDC provides the core questionnaire for each state to administer, asking questions about such health-related matters as diet, physical activity, smoking, immunization and sleep.

CDC does not include a question about a survey participant’s sexual orientation on the core questionnaire or on a list of additional optional questions states can add. Only 27 states have, on their own initiative, begun asking questions about sexual orientation and/or same-sex sexual behavior, according to the Fenway report.

Because sexual orientation data is not collected in all 50 states, says the Fenway report, “it is impossible to compare their health behaviors to those of other groups.”

“Without this information, states may miss the opportunity to develop programs, policies and services to address local health disparities.”

The Fenway report urges all states “to include, at a minimum, a sexual identity measure, and, whenever possible, to also include a sexual behavior measure.” Due to the “nuances and complexity of measuring gender identity, and the unique and understudied health disparities transgender people face,” said the Fenway report, “a comprehensive assessment of these issues” requires another report.

Some of the specific findings of Fenway’s analysis of the data collected by the 27 states that do ask questions about sexual identity and/or same-sex sexual behavior include:

  • Lesbians and bisexual women are less likely than heterosexual women to obtain mammograms and Pap tests
  • Gay men have higher rates of alcohol and drug use
  • LGB people have higher rates of tobacco use and are more likely to lack health insurance
  • LGB older adults have increased risk of disability, excessive drinking and smoking
  • 18 percent of doctors in California are “sometimes” or “often” uncomfortable treating gay patients
  • 9.4 percent of men who identified themselves as “straight” in New York City had sex with another man during the past year.
  • 76 percent of self-identified lesbian sexually active adolescents reported having had sex with a male

Of the 27 states which have asked people about their sexual orientation, some have asked the question in only one year; some every year. The 27 states include: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The report urges all 50 states to begin asking about sexual orientation.

“Collecting sexual orientation data at the state level,” says the report, “can propel the federal initiative forward and enhance states’ ability to document and work toward eliminating health disparities experienced by their own populations.”

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

—  Steve Ramos

Legacy Counseling holds clothing drive

legacylogoLegacy Counseling needs clothing for its Grace Project Conference for women living with HIV. Women attending the May 2–4 conference will be given tickets they can trade for clothing items they can take home. Most of the women attending have family members also in need, so men’s and children’s clothing also is welcomed.

The clothing drop-off takes place in the Legacy Counseling parking lot, 4054 McKinney Ave. at Elizabeth Street on April 11 and 12 from 9 a.m.–noon.

Items needed include gently used or new women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, shoes, accessories (such as purses, scarves, gloves and hats), jewelry and bulk goody bag items for the women attending. Any undergarments donated must be new and still in packaging.

For more information, call 214-520-6308.

—  David Taffet