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I Give to GMHC to Honor My Past, Present, and Future

Seth RosenBy Seth Rosen

As the Managing Director of Development, Communications, and Marketing at GMHC, I supervise the team of amazing people that raise money to support GMHC’s programs, and work to get the word out about GMHC’s groundbreaking work.  As a fundraiser for social justice causes for well over a decade I spend most of my time asking people to contribute money, time, and other resources to help people in need.
 
I actually rarely talk about my own giving, but today GMHC is launching a video campaign titled, “Where Does Your Money Go?” asking people to give to support individuals living with and affected by HIV.  I feel like I owe it to our supporters to share my philanthropy story - to come out of the closet, so to speak, about why I give to GMHC.  Last year my husband and I donated $100,000 to GMHC, and we are committed to doing the same this year.  I give to GMHC to honor my past, present, and future.  Let me explain.
 
I am Jewish, and living in the United States I have always been able to openly practice my religion.  However, most of my grandparents were not so fortunate.  Three of my grandparents escaped Eastern Europe during World War II to flee persecution.  They fled in order to worship openly and be true to themselves.  They faced stigma and prejudice as a direct result of their religious beliefs.  My step-grandmother, who married my grandfather when I was a baby, had it much worse.  She was imprisoned at Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi concentration camp.  However, after being liberated, she not only survived, but prospered.  She dedicated herself to making sure people remembered the Holocaust, and not only recorded her story, but donated her Auschwitz uniform to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.  The strength of my grandparents inspires and sustains me every day.  I give in memory of them and their legacy. They were discriminated against who they were, just as so many people living with HIV and AIDS are discriminated against simply because they have a virus.
 
I also give to honor the present, because the epidemic is not over.  Last week I met with a family whose son died of AIDS just thirty days earlier.  He was a young man in his early twenties who knew he was positive, but did not take his anti-retroviral medication.  His friends also told him that he did not need to take his medications, that he could take vitamins and stay healthy.  His family came to GMHC to make sure his story was told. Their story was devastating to me, but it doubled my resolve to fight the epidemic.  Far too many people do not know their HIV status, or are not connected to healthcare, or on medication to control their HIV.  Some just have incorrect facts about HIV and continue to put themselves at risk, un-necessarily.  We can do better as a society, and GMHC is the leader in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
 
Finally, I give to honor my future.  My husband and I are in the early process of adopting a child, and I often think of the world that I want my son or daughter to grow up in.  There are many things I want for my child, but one of the big things is that they grow up in a world where people are all treated with dignity and respect regardless of their skin color, religion, beliefs, or HIV status I want my child to know that there are people and organizations that are here to help in times of crisis, and that no one need ever be alone because they are LGBT or HIV positive.
 
Please understand I do not give out my money blindly, and I certainly do not donate to GMHC just because I work here.  Every organization has challenges, and right now GMHC is going through a transition as all healthy organizations do from time to time.  I know every inch of GMHC, and I still give because this organization does incredible, life-saving, ground breaking work that no other organization does as well as we do.  I have complete faith in the future of GMHC, and I will be a contributor as long as I am able.  I can think of no better way to honor my past, present, and future.
 
I hope you will join me in supporting a 31-year-old organization that continues to help, serve and love life every day.
 
 
Where Do We Go From Here (Hate Crimes on the Pier)
AmorBy Amor Boykin
As I sit here today employed by GMHC as a counselor, HIV tester, and outreach worker for at-risk youth, I think back on how I got here and what empowered me to take this path. I remember it like it was yesterday, my first time in the neighborhood of the West Village in Manhattan (also known as the Village).  It was the most heart-racing experience I could’ve ever imagined! I moved here to New York City, to find myself. I was at the basketball courts at the West 4th Street subway station trying to figure out where all the gay men hung out.  Standing there for a whole hour, I wanted to ask passing pedestrians where the “gay area” was but I was just too scared. Nervous and flustered, I saw a group of, let’s just say “very colorful” young men walk past me. I carefully followed the group, hoping they were going to this gay sanctuary I’d been told about. After several nerve-racking and curious blocks, I could see for certain that I finally arrived home. The Village including the Piers by the Hudson River where many young men hang out became my safe haven. I had never felt so alive, comfortable, and protected all at the same time--not only because the people there were just like me but because I was treated like family.  I knew then that I needed to help do my part in making this place safe and welcoming for others after me.  
 
Years have passed since my first day in the Village and since then I have become a fixture there, doing outreach to young men who have sex with men, recruiting them to be tested for HIV and to receive sexual health education, as well as counseling services through the Outstanding Beautiful Brothers (OBB) program.  I have come to know the Piers and the people who frequent them. Yet I was not prepared for the horrific incident I witnessed a few weeks ago on the Christopher Street Pier.  As a friend and I were sitting having a conversation on the wooden benches at what is known as the “2nd Pier” when we saw a group of young black men who I had never seen before.  It was obvious to me that the men wearing red were not regulars on the 2nd Pier.  The group approached and asked us if we knew anyone who selling bud (marijuana) or nutcrackers (mixed alcohol sold on the street) and we replied no.  They then approached a young gay man who I had seen before, sitting alone on the pier eating Chinese food from a local eatery.  The group of young men exchanged words with him and in less than a minute the guy who was eating his food leaped up and ran to the end of the pier yelling “they got a gun!” As he ran, the group chased after him and the man leaped over the railing and off the pier into the river. The group chased him to the end and then looked over the railing to see where he disappeared to. 
 
All the people on the pier started running for their lives away from the wooden tables where the situation took place. A few minutes after someone yelled out, “I’m calling the police,” the group of young men fled towards the West Side Highway. My friend and I stayed to see if the man who jumped would resurface.  The guy eventually leaped back on to the pier dripping wet.  Trying to maintain some level of pride he yelled, “Where they at?” indicating he was ready to fight and walked off towards the highway.  I was beyond shocked and scared out of my mind at what I had just witnessed.  I felt it was a scene out of a rap music video.  The park police arrived about 15 minutes later. They approached people on the pier and questioned us about what we witnessed.  I was later informed by a few of the locals in the area that all the young men involved were frisked and placed under arrest.  
 
The hate crimes, violence, and stigma against LGBTQ people must stop! That is why the OBB program was created, to help young men of color who have sex with men stay healthy, and receive support.  Through access to HIV testing, mental health services, workshops on building healthy relationships and reducing bullying and domestic violence, OBB offers an opportunity for our young men to develop trusting bonds through brotherhood.   While more and more young men come through doors for the OBB program, sadly our funding has been reduced, which is another blow to the very limited spaces where young men of color can feel safe and at home to be themselves without judgment and harassment.  We as a community must continue to find ways to end hate crimes and increase funding for programs that work with LGBTQ youth.  Young gay men should not have to jump off a pier into a river to avoid homophobic attacks.
 
Amor Boykin is an HIV Test Counselor/Phlebotomist/Care Coordination Specialist at GMHC. 
 
 
Brave Testimony by David Martin at the Opening Ceremony of the 27th Annual AIDS Walk New York
dAVIDMy name is David and I am HIV-positive.  When I first learned of my diagnosis in 1987, I felt terribly ashamed.
 
I thought I had disappointed all the people who had ever invested time in me—my teachers, mentors and friends.  I thought my life was over.  I was told I had a year and a half to live.  Most of my peers died of AIDS, many of whom were African American.  So many died, I lost count and I wondered why I was still living. 
 
I had thoughts of suicide and was fighting depression, staying at home with the covers pulled over my head. I was ashamed to admit that I needed help to survive. 
 
But I finally got enough courage to face the world and say “I am still alive and I plan to stay that way.” GMHC was essential in helping me.   I went to GMHC for legal help and the meals program when I wasn’t eating enough. I also started volunteering.  I trained to be a mentor, working with people who are newly diagnosed with HIV.
 
Volunteering as a mentor has been empowering because, as I lead, I am reminded about the things I need to do for myself.  
 
I have gained so much strength from being at GMHC.  I also receive a lot of support from my mother and friends.   If I didn’t have supportive people around me, I would not be here today.  To know someone is in your corner is essential to living.  I am now able to be fearless when I talk about my diagnosis and my journey. I can see how my story affects others and I understand the power of sharing the truth.  
 
So, when you walk the six and a half miles, tell your story.  Talk about your challenges and successes--especially with the issues connected to HIV and AIDS. The best way to fight stigma is to stay vocal and visible, every day. 
 
Your voice is needed.  Your walking is needed.  Your support is needed—especially for those who may be suffering in silence.  
 
I have been living with HIV for 25 years, and I have no shame about that. I stand here today, so pleased and proud to be able to share my story and celebrate my life with you. 
 
As Albert Einstein said, “Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.” Together we can act to end AIDS.
 
Thank you!
 

 

 
 
 
 
How I Revolutionized My Understanding Of Life With HIV

Shannon

By Shannon Finucane
It’s not all popping mollies and slurping sizzurp for the post-antiretroviral-cocktail generation. HIV remains a significant threat to public health. Yet it no longer occupies the same place in our culture when it did 20 years ago. I am a member of the generation born at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that is now reaching adulthood. Most of us are aware of the virus, but it was something we had to arbitrarily learn about in school, the same as having to memorize the four bases of DNA. It was never something we truly got to understand from a human perspective.
 
I remember vividly the annual high school assemblies with World War II vets recounting the scene as they freed concentration camps. I was never able to personally experience other significant parts of 20th century history. By failing to create a personal dialogue about HIV/AIDS and the people who are still living with it, my early schooling aided the stereotypical perceptions of the virus and made me feel immune.
 
That changed for me this summer during my fellowship at GMHC, the world’s oldest HIV/AIDS prevention and service organization. Until the first day on the job, I had never met someone who was HIV-positive. Some may conceptualize HIV as just another chronic illness, but I quickly learned that it is much more complex. This disease has taken the lives of millions and continues to do so today. However, the faces of those infected are no longer iconic images of emaciated white gay men. HIV knows no boundaries. It affects all racial and age groups—from grandmothers to the young adults I met at GMHC who are my peers in the same age range.
 
During my fellowship, I participated in the Action Center and Outstanding Beautiful Brothers (OBB) programs. Both revolutionized my understanding of HIV. These programs provide group meetings, which are critical resources for people at elevated risk of infection or who are already HIV-positive. At the meetings participants discuss the challenges they encounter on a daily basis and create life-saving social support networks. The honesty and openness of the participants allowed me to learn about the true challenges they face staying alive.
 
I also attended weekly Action Center meetings just for women, which turned a small conference room into a hotbed of conversation and structured discussion about current public policy issues. These meetings are also a critical resource where GMHC clients shared employment opportunities and how to navigate the often cumbersome network of social services for people living with HIV/AIDS. Long-term survivors who have participated for years are the matriarchs of the group and there are also newly-infected woman attending for the first time.
 
My first women’s Action Center meeting was intimidating because I had no idea what to expect. Yet the women were welcoming and enthusiastic to share their lives with each other—and me. I will never forget their stories. One participant discussed how she mistook early signs of HIV for hot flashes, only to learn her unexpected diagnosis from her doctor. Another vented her frustration about how hard it is to find affordable housing. Most talked proudly about their families, their grandchildren’s birthdays, and their children’s college graduations, just like women in my own life.
 
These women revolutionized my understanding of what living with HIV is actually like for far too many who are also forced to deal with significant life challenges, such as living at or below poverty level, fear of disclosing HIV status to family members, healing from domestic abuse—and more.
 
Another key experience was my afternoon attending a meeting of participants in OBB. I sat down in a room full of young men my own age. Many reminded me of my friends and college classmates. The only difference was that they sought out support services at GMHC.
 
I attended the meeting so I could document the role OBB played in their lives. Unexpectedly, I left reflecting on the significant challenges some of my peers face every day. Many were excited to have their voices heard and they all reinforced the vital importance of the program.
 
One young man shared that OBB became his family when his own wouldn’t support him. Another broke down as he shared his attempt to get infected intentionally as a solution to the difficulties in his own life. He believed that becoming positive would help him secure stable housing after he had to move away from his unsupportive family. His situation is just one example of the epidemic of homelessness and hopelessness among LGBT youth, contributing factors to increased HIV infection rates among young people of color. However, it was not until he participated in OBB that he heard the down side of being positive. His OBB brothers became his support network and helped him through his difficulties. Other members in the group shared how inspirational his story was and that it motivated them to join OBB.
 
Hearing their stories made me reevaluate everything I thought I knew about HIV. If people like them had talked to me in high school, my perception of the virus would have been totally different.
 
Thousands of my peers under the age of 30, particularly young gay and bisexual men of color, are becoming infected at alarming rates. In fact, young adults in my generation are now among those most vulnerable to new HIV infection. The reasons are complicated.
 
However, based on my recent experiences I realized we are not being adequately educated about HIV, and in the age of the sequester our access to critical services like HIV testing and effective prevention programming continues to decrease.
 
To help fight the epidemic, individuals who are HIV positive should be embraced as vital agents of change. By sharing their journeys they can facilitate therapeutic outlets for everyone with HIV. They could also be powerful tools in prevention education that demystify HIV and shed light on the many faces of today’s epidemic.
 
The most important lesson I learned from my time at GMHC is summed up by one client’s sincere statement, “our illness is not all we are.” This reality was missing from my school health textbooks. It is of vital importance for everyone to remember.
 
Shannon Finucane is a Jeannette K. Watson Fellow who interned at GMHC during the summer of 2013. She is a student at The City College of New York. Her article was originally posted on The New Civil Rights Movement on August 17.
 
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