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Joy Tomchin's Courageous Remarks at Savor

Joy TomchinOn March 21, 2013, GMHC hosted its fifth annual culinary gala, SAVOR, at Cipriani 42nd St. Joy Tomchin received the Judith Peabody Humanitarian Award. Her remarks continue to ring true today.

"Well, I guess I can finally take my tuxedo off! There's a few people here that I want to recognize:

First, an amazing AIDS activist and one of the founders of GMHC, Larry Kramer. I can only describe Larry as our Catalyst-in-Chief. I am astonished at his historical power every time I watch the heart-stopping scene in our film, How to Survive a Plague, where despair turns to infighting and he explodes: "Plague--we are in the middle of a fucking plague, and you behave like this! Plague--forty million people is a fucking plague." Larry, you changed the world with your words and your foresight, with your anger and love, and we have all followed in your footsteps. 

My older brother, Stan, who is one of my closest friends. Stan, you were the first person in my life to let me know that it's okay for me to be gay, to be who I am. But it wasn't just the words, you have always supported me and the LGBT community in everything you have done.

My incredible son, Evan. Evan, I'm so proud of the man you are becoming. I'm proud that you graduated Bronx Science, I'm proud that you worked on How to Survive a Plague, I'm proud that you're now at Oberlin, and really proud that you've taught me incredible patience over the last 18 years. I love you.

Susan Thames, my closest friend, advisor, and family for the past 35 years. What an amazing friendship and love we've had. Our families merged. Thank you for sharing those years with me.

Alan Getz, cousin, business partner for thirty years, and close friend. Alan, you should really share this award with me. When I was nominated to the GMHC Board, Alan pushed me to say yes, even though I would be out of the office so much of the time. But maybe you wanted me out of the office all that time! You are an honorary GMHC volunteer. 

And last, but not least, we have some other heroes and stars from How to Survive a Plague, who, alongside Larry, and the tireless people at GMHC all these years, are responsible for saving untold millions of lives. Would you please stand up: Peter Staley, Mark Harrington, David Barr, and remember that little six year-old girl in the film, Bob Rafsky's daughter, Sara Rafsky.

I would like to tell a quick story about the amazing Judy Peabody. When I first became president of the Board, I decided that I would take each board member out to dinner once a year. So my evening came with Judy--I made a reservation at a quiet place in the Village and got there really early. I was a little nervous and I wanted to be on time. So I entered the restaurant and the maitre d' asked me to wait at the bar. I said I preferred to wait at the table, and he refused, saying strongly that I could not sit at a table unless my entire party was there. So I quietly waited at the bar until Judy arrived. Then they seated us at probably the best table in the house; they brought over drinks and appetizers, and then dessert later--all on the house! The owner then came over to introduce himself. On the way out, Judy put her hand on my arm and said, "you must get this everywhere you go!"

In 1984, a real estate broker came to see me and Alan about a building we owned on West 20th Street. He said he had a client who was very interested in buying or net leasing our property, but he wouldn't tell us who it was unless we signed a one-day exclusive with him to protect the pricacy of the tenant. We signed it, he flipped the page over and wrote Gay Men's Health Crisis. "Why the secrecy?" we asked, and he told us it was because no landlord would deal with them. We were horrified, and we dealt with them.

So began the almost 30-year relationship I've had with GMHC. I already had friends that were sick and dying, but then the numbers started to skyrocket and I found myself so sad, and so angry, but not sure what I could do.

I worked on the building committee for two years to help with the renovation of the new building. Then, Ira Berger, the second president of the Board, ill already, asked me to join the board. In 1986, Nathan Kolodner, third president of the Board, asked me from his hospital bed, if I would take over as president. I was so nervous, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Soon after, I was elected unanimously by a Board that was almost exclusively gay men. The organization was growing at an ungodly speed, as was the disease, but we were so sure we would put an end to AIDS that we actually discussed what we would do with GMHC when the epidemic ended! One of our goals was to see GMHC go out of business.

32 years, folks. 32 years, and no end in sight! I still revere GMHC and am so proud of the work I did here. I'm proud that GMHC now serves all communities affected by HIV/AIDS.

But, as always, we must still stand up for the gay community.

An estimated 30,000 gay men in this country became infected with HIV in 2010 alone. They are the single, largest risk group, and they are the fastest growing cohort of new infections. These are mostly young gay men, over half of those are young, black gay men. Over 7,000 gay men in this country die from HIV/AIDS every year. 

Where is the government?

Where is the activism?

Where is the LGBT community?

Busy--changing the laws on marriage, on the military, on adoption, on insurance. I believe AIDS was largerly responsible for coalescing the LGBT community, and certainly for teaching the community that we need to raise money and write checks--and now we know we can raise a lot of money! Have we, as a community, forgotten about AIDS?

We should be demanding more prevention breakthroughs, especially in our community. And we should be fighting the ban on needle exchange; fighting criminalization of HIV; and, especially, fighting for money for research for a cure, because those incredible little pills that are the hero of How to Survive a Plague, no matter how miraculous they have been, are still far from the AIDS cure we need. The world is still at risk. And more than ever, gay men are still at risk. Let's make sure we keep the "gay" in GMHC."

 

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