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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."

 
How The White House's Working Group Can Help Us Achieve An AIDS-Free Generation

By Erica Rothschild
Many people think the HIV epidemic in the U.S. is under control, that there is no longer a sense of urgency. Yes, we have lifesaving medications, but only 25% of the 1.1 million Americans living with HIV are effectively controlling their HIV with medications. Thirty-three percent of those living with HIV are not even linked to any medical care. Nearly 20% of those who are HIV-positive do not even know they have HIV. Despite the fact that we have the tools to contain and even end this epidemic, many barriers stand in the way of reaching an AIDS free generation.

We need a plan that will break through those barriers, allowing people to know their status and to be linked to medical care. President Obama agrees.
 
On July 15, in honor of the three-year anniversary of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the President signed an Executive Order outlining his latest plan to help us reach an AIDS free generation. The National HIV/AIDS Strategy pledged to reduce new HIV infections and improve health outcomes for those living with HIV/AIDS. To help fulfill that pledge, the Executive Order establishes a new, interagency HIV Continuum of Care Working Group, which is charged with meeting three main goals: 1) increasing HIV testing (especially for people ages 15-65); 2) ensuring earlier treatment for HIV-positive people after their diagnosis; and 3) providing them with access to care.
 
President Obama recognizes that because of advancements in research and treatment, we are in the greatest position we have ever been to end the epidemic. Yet it will only happen if we take the necessary steps, and the President gave the Working Group 180 days to recommend evidence-based solutions that effectively address these goals.
 
The President’s plan instructs the Working Group to identify impediments to improving outcomes along the HIV care continuum, particularly for populations at greatest risk, and then identify opportunities to tackle those impediments.
 
As the Community Organizer at GMHC, I work with women and men affected by HIV and AIDS every day to help them identify and overcome impediments to living healthier lives. These include access to stable housing, obtaining medications while incarcerated, finding work after extended unemployment, and battling insurance companies. Each year we fight budget cuts at the city, state, and federal level that threaten our nutritional hot meals programs and reduce supportive housing options, among other critical services. GMHC’s clients will tell you that improving health outcomes is about a lot more than just having access to medication.
 
Recognizing this need to fight HIV on all fronts, The President’s new Working Group includes representatives from the Departments of Justice, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans Affairs.
 
You may ask what the Department of Justice (DOJ) has to do with the HIV epidemic. It’s simple – HIV is four times more prevalent in incarcerated populations than in the general public. Once released, previously incarcerated people suffer from a lack of resources and are less likely to have health care. Therefore, they are less able to effectively control their virus.
 
You may ask what the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has to do with the HIV epidemic. Well, due to the high cost of medications and higher rates of unemployment (because of discrimination or health-related absences), 50% of people living with HIV are at risk of becoming homeless and need access to financial support that helps keep a roof over their heads. Many people who come to GMHC are homeless or living in untenable situations. GMHC has to resolve their housing situations before they can be successfully connected to care, and begin to get their HIV under control.
 
The HIV epidemic has always been interconnected with issues beyond physical health. GMHC salutes the President for including the DOJ, HUD and many other federal agencies as a part of the Working Group – their participation is critical to achieving success. All agencies (from local to federal) must create policies, programs and services that positively affect the lives of not only people living with HIV/AIDS, but also those most at risk of infection.
 
Moving forward, this plan is not just an opportunity for bureaucrats to make recommendations. The White House is offering $30.7 million in grants to turn policy recommendations into practice. In an environment where funding for HIV services is being cut at all levels of government, this support is crucial to meeting the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
 
The President’s comprehensive solution to ending the epidemic is much-needed and long overdue. The structure of the cross-departmental Working Group, in combination with new funding, will help turn innovative ideas into action. This makes me optimistic that we will begin to see more traction in fighting HIV and AIDS on a domestic level. In this era of budget cuts, people living with HIV are struggling more than ever to find resources that enable them to stay healthy. This plan is an important next step to reaching an AIDS free generation.
 
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.
 
Click here to watch my video.
 
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.