Founders Day: ‘Doing What We Can, Where We Are’

To commemorate our historic Founders Day and our 40th anniversary, GMHC held a community gathering Aug. 11 at the New York City AIDS Memorial. Our inspiring co-founder, Dr. Larry Mass, offered hope as we grapple with the monkeypox outbreak and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—while continuing to fight HIV and AIDS.

Joining Mass to address these virus crises were GMHC’s stalwart board chair Jon Mallow and community health educator Lillibeth Gonzalez–along with two very dedicated NYC Council Members, Erik Bottcher and Lynn Schulman, who’ve been advocating to secure an equitable allotment of scarce monkeypox vaccines for New York City.

Mass shared powerful lessons and strength from the AIDS crisis for our community in his remarks, titled Glitter and Stay Gay. “As never before, we seem to be veering like pinballs from one crisis to the next,” he said. “What started out as our Gay Men’s Health Crisis is now our world of crisis.”

Dr. Larry Mass. Photo: Justin McCallum

“So, what do we do now?” he asked. “First, we show up. It’s not enough to just fax ourselves in or leave a voice mail. But showing up needn’t mean some major heroic, decisive conquest. Just show up—to the gathering, the meeting, the event, the rally, the initiative; for the friend, for a loved one, for an unloved one.”

“Just being one among many or even a few others, a person among persons in the crowd, can make such a difference,” he added.

Mass reflected on the emerging crisis that the LGBTQ community in NYC gathered to fight on Aug. 11, 1981, our Founders Day.

Playwright and activist Larry Kramer called together 80 men in his small Manhattan living room to raise money for medical research and mutual aid against the mysterious illness, then called a “gay cancer.” They faced indifference from the government and medical profession to the deadly new virus outbreak, soon known as AIDS.

From that first gathering, Kramer and Mass joined with Nathan Fain, Paul Popham, Paul Rapoport, and Edmund White to found the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in February 1982 as the world’s first HIV and AIDS service organization.

“How often have we in the gay community been heartened and healed just being at a gathering of our own, no matter what it was?” Mass asked the crowd of GMHC supporters at the AIDS Memorial on Aug. 11. “Go to the rally, gay or other, even if you don’t really feel like it. Just showing up can be healing and motivating beyond measure.”

“Call that friend with AIDS or monkeypox you let slip from your circles and concerns. See how you can help out, even if it’s just a gesture of concern; and even if it seems to mean levels of involvement or reinvolvement you figured you finally deserved a break from,” he said.

“As captured by Sarah Schulman in her history of ACT UP, Let the Record Show, we must keep the focus on doing what we can, with what we have, where we are,” Mass emphasized.

“So Let’s Glitter and Stay Gay. And SAY gay! Even in the face of monkeypox and Ron DeSantis, and as Larry Kramer knew from the beginning, however tough and relentless he could be in steering us to do the right things, gay people are the strongest, toughest people. Once again, yes, we will prevail.”

GMHC will be honoring Mass, our former CEO Kelsey Louie, Honey Dijon, and ViiV Healthcare at our Fall Gala on Sept. 22 to mark our 40th anniversary. Tickets may be purchased here.

Jon Mallow. Photo: Justin McCallum
Lillibeth Gonzalez. Photo: Justin McCallum
Lynn Schulman. Photo: Justin McCallum
Erik Bottcher. Photo: Justin McCallum

After 40 years, we’re still fighting for those living with HIV and AIDS. Honor those we’ve lost. Support those who are still here.