GMHC's Failures on AIDS
By: ANDREW MILLER
Longtime AIDS activists Spencer Cox and Bruce Kellerhouse recently called out Gay Men's Health Crisis because its AIDS prevention work neglects gay men and is feckless, and GMHC's Sean Cahill responded by reciting a list of that AIDS prevention work.
Sam Orlando of the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center, whose HIV prevention tactics work, complained that his organization is underfunded, but GMHC has much more money; it certainly asks the gay community for dough often enough.
This dichotomy underscores the real problem - despite its budget, the HIV prevention work that GMHC does is lousy and has been for years.
Part of that problem is that the organization insists on hiring people who are both politically tone-deaf and underqualified.
People like Marjorie Hill, who despite her Ph.D. seems unable to respond to statistical trends. Her first major HIV prevention effort as interim executive director was aimed at women of color in Brooklyn. Yet men represent about 75 percent of the AIDS cases in this city, and the rate of new infections among women in general and women of color specifically in New York City has been decreasing for years, while the rates of new infections among gay men, and especially gay men of color, are the highest in the city and have been for years.
If Hill wanted to send a message to gay men, it was received loud and clear.
And people like new Managing Director for Public Policy, Research, and Community Health Sean Cahill, who is clinging to a politically correct belief that the rainbow agenda is somehow going to shape the destiny of this epidemic, despite clear epidemiological evidence to the contrary. It turns out that while we may "sleep with one another... across racial lines," those same statistical trends, available from the New York City Department of Health and Hygiene, suggest that men pass HIV to men of their own race and age group. Cahill's denial of this to serve some greater political ideal is typical of GMHC's HIV-fighting strategy.
The other part of the problem is that GMHC has never conducted any serious psychosocial research to find out how to design HIV prevention campaigns properly. Right now, no one - including the staff at GMHC - knows what an effective HIV prevention campaign for gay men looks like.
One of the reasons GMHC can't do such work is that the money it takes from the federal government comes with restrictions that make it impossible to use it effectively. So instead our tax money and our donations are spent on what is safe, visible, and likely to bring in more donations, rather than what is efficacious.
But there has been a real unwillingness to take the guesswork out of AIDS prevention at GMHC for years, no matter what the funding source. Why is Bill Stackhouse of GMHC's Gay Men's Health Institute bemoaning the ineffectiveness of federally-funded HIV prevention programs rather than trying to create effective ones at his own agency?
In the meantime, nearly 4,000 New Yorkers are newly diagnosed with HIV every year; the majority of them are gay men. The highest concentration of those men live in Chelsea. The next highest rates of new diagnoses come from Morningside Heights and Harlem; the next highest, in East Harlem.
GMHC was built by gay men like me, when working there was a reaction to a crisis, not a career option. (I volunteered there from 1985 to 1987.) If GMHC wants to continue to ask the gay community for our money, GMHC has to continue to listen to our criticism, however "divisive" Sean Cahill thinks it is.
I'm glad ex-ACT UPer Spencer Cox and the HIV Forum's Bruce Kellerhouse have spoken out. Frankly, it's high time GMHC was held accountable to the community it purports to serve.GMHC must tell us - just how is it planning to identify new HIV-prevention strategies to protect the highest risk gay men as identified by the New York City Department of Health, and how is it planning to implement them in the coming years?
Andrew Miller, was news editor at Outweek, New York's queer newsmagazine in the late '80s and early '90s. A teacher and editor, he lives in Manhattan.