As GMHC marked our 40th anniversary at our Fall Gala, our commemorative slogan has never been more timely: First in the Fight. 40 Years – Still Here! In this challenging era, we continue to serve people affected by HIV and AIDS, while we respond to new public health crises like COVID-19 and MPV (monkeypox).
This memorable evening on Sept. 22 at Cipriani 25 Broadway was a chance for our community to come together and reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going.
In a heartfelt coda, our elegant and eloquent Gala host, Dashaun Wesley, closed out the ceremonies with a few impromptu remarks that illustrate what GMHC is all about. “I would like to thank you, GMHC, for allowing a Black young man like myself grow to be a beautiful Black swan today,” said Wesley, resplendent in a shimmering, smoke-blue tuxedo.
Now the emcee for HBO Max’s “Legendary” and a Ballroom Icon, Wesley joined GMHC’s House of Latex as a teen and went on to emcee our annual Latex Ball, which is also a health fair with free HIV testing and educational materials.
When he was 16 and using GMHC’s practice space, he recalled, “Me and my friends ran into an office and were pumping some beats and voguing down—and security kicked us out, so I’m going to apologize—but thank you at the same time, because that allowed me to utilize that space to be the great dancer I am today.”
After his mother died from HIV and AIDS when he was young, Wesley added, GMHC “gave me the tools and the material,” that helped him to cope. “I want to thank GMHC for seeing a beautiful star, even when I was young and didn’t understand,” he said.
After a special performance by the Iconic House of Miyake Mugler, GMHC honored a stellar and diverse array of contributors to ending the HIV and AIDS epidemic: our former CEO Kelsey Louie, DJ and trans activist Honey Dijon, ViiV Healthcare—and our ever-inspiring co-founder, Dr. Lawrence Mass, who accepted the GMHC Founders Award for Activism.
When LGBTQ journalist and activist Andy Humm introduced his dear friend Mass, he recalled the seminal meeting the two attended with about 50 other gay men in Larry Kramer’s living room on Aug. 11, 1981. At that time, he said, there were just 40 cases in New York of what came to be called AIDS.
Kramer had summoned them to share information about the devastating new disease affecting gay men and to fundraise for medical treatment and research, in the absence of support from the government or anyone else.
Humm said Mass “was the indispensable man at that terrible moment in history.” Mass, a doctor and science writer, had already published the very first U.S. news story about the “mysterious ailment coursing through the gay male community” in May 1981 in the New York Native.
“Larry Kramer screamed at us, and Larry Mass kept giving us the facts and asking all the right questions,” Humm said. “The two Larrys went on with others to co-found the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, so that we could take care of each other and raise money for research.”
As GMHC continues to serve people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS, our work has broadened. In his Gala remarks, Mass laid out four “cascading epidemics” affecting the LGBTQ community—from HIV/AIDS to hepatitis C, COVID-19, and now MPV.
Like HIV, these debilitating epidemics, pandemics, and outbreaks have concentrated among lower income Black and Latinx communities lacking the health care they need. Facing inadequate health care and public health leadership in a time of “anti-science denialism and extremism,” Mass said, “Community leadership by community representatives will remain imperative.”
“Harm reduction must always be the priority model for working with people to reduce risk and harm, to reach people where they’re at, so as not to lose precious opportunities to bring them into assessment and treatment,” he advised, drawing on his over 40 years’ experience as an LGBTQ activist, health writer, and addiction medicine specialist.
We want to thank all the supporters and sponsors of our Fall Gala for continuing to make GMHC’s work possible. In the words of our illustrious host Wesley: “What a remarkable night, filled with such inspiring energies beyond anything else in this world.”