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Kelsey Louie Full remarks at GMHC Gala

3.23.2015

Thank you all for joining us tonight, as we establish the Larry Kramer Activism Award to recognize the legacy of a man who has never cowered in the long and hard fight against HIV and AIDS. It is my privilege to bring GMHC’s family together, for this historic reunion. We now enter a new chapter for this amazing organization started in his living room.

Without Larry Kramer, there would be no GMHC.

I don’t think the word “reserved” has EVER been used to describe Larry. It might sound funny to say that, but think about what it means historically for a second.

When GMHC was launched, the majority of queer people were still living, in one way or another, in the closet. Being reserved, or holding back who you really are, was the only reality that most gays and lesbians grew up with. In fact, it was the only reality many felt they would ever know.

Larry has never shied away from voicing his disagreement with ANYONE – and of course, it's no secret to anyone here tonight that Larry and GMHC have not always agreed about everything.

But, the fact that all of us are open and here together at THIS moment is because of Larry’s fearless attitude. Larry is a sharp reminder to us that if we are not actively questioning and scrutinizing our beliefs and actions, then we are not solving the problem, we are part of it.

One thing Larry taught us--is that we are stronger when we fight together. I want to take a moment to acknowledge another co-founder of GMHC, Dr. Larry Mass.  We all stand on the shoulders of these two great pioneers. It is both humbling and inspiring to stand here before them.

Needless to say, I would not be here tonight giving this speech if it were not for Mickey Rolfe. Mickey’s contributions as the Chair of GMHC’s Board of Directors allowed GMHC to live up to its critical mission.  If I do say so myself, his finest achievement was selecting me as CEO.

Currently, GMHC is in a period of transition. In a number of ways, we are following Larry’s example by honestly and rigorously examining how we can live up to our mission. Since becoming CEO last June, I asked myself, what makes GMHC stand out?  The answer is simple: Our comprehensive programs are driving groundbreaking results that save lives every single day.

Every year, we serve over 9,000 people impacted by HIV and AIDS, more people than ever in our history. At GMHC’s testing center, we test nearly 3,000 people for HIV.  90% of the people who test positive at our testing center become virally suppressed, more than double the citywide average. We serve 90,000 hot meals to those who are struggling to get by.  And we don’t just feed people—we teach them about nutrition and how to prepare healthy and affordable meals. We also put 300 people back to work through our workforce development program. In 2015, we will expand to provide mental health and substance use services. This will further empower our clients to get and stay healthy.

On my first day as CEO, I asked the senior management team to begin a comprehensive review to ensure that every dollar, every resource available to GMHC is used as efficiently as possible.  Part of that review has meant directly addressing challenges with our building, and I am proud to say that we will be combining two floors into ONE, without impacting a single program. In doing so, we will not only maximize our use of the building, but we will also save 25% in rent each year, freeing up even more resources to fight HIV and AIDS.

We continue our strong tradition of advocating at all levels of government, from joining Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Task Force to end the epidemic in our state by 2020, to engaging the White House on the need to continue our efforts to find a cure.

We are at a promising crossroads in the fight against HIV and AIDS. But as we embark on an ambitious, yet achievable plan to defeat this disease; one thing is becoming increasingly clear: it is not enough to talk about just lowering new HIV infection rates.

We must voice what we all know, but are often too afraid to say: We MUST FIND a CURE!!

I am troubled by how little activism there is challenging the systems to drive innovation rather than simply fund more programs. The systems in place are not incentivizing innovation, and we are not demanding better treatments. Today’s treatments are great advances. They are, however, yesterday’s advances. Will people with HIV always have to live with kidney and bone density monitoring?  Will people with HIV always live in fear of disfiguring fat deposits? Will people with HIV always have to fear premature aging and a neurological fog?

Complacency has set in.  “Advocates” have sided with insurers, policy makers and industry to agree that “this” is good enough.  When, for instance, did HIV organizations start agreeing that treatment decisions should be made by insurers and expert panels, not by patients and their doctors? When did preferred drug lists, high co-pays and specialty tiers become acceptable?  

Our aspirations must go well beyond a menu of expanded programs. The aspiration must go beyond mathematical models that calculate when we will “bend the curve” on new transmissions. Our COLLECTIVE ASPIRATION should be NOTHING SHORT of a CURE.

Science says it is increasingly within our reach. Let us follow Larry’s fearless example. Let’s not be caught tinkering with our models. Let’s demand a cure AND a society that values people with HIV and AIDS enough, to make a cure a reality.

With the arc of justice bending, let us not fall victim to our own reservations. Let us DEMAND ACTION!

Only if we aspire to more can we demand more. Only if we demand more will we get more. We MUST FIND A CURE!!

Thank you all.