Marjorie Hill & The Gay Men’s Health Crisis

Marjorie Hill And The Gay Men’s Health Crisis Help People Rise Above HIV/AIDS

Marjorie Hill

First Posted: 8/26/11 06:24 PM ET Updated: 8/26/11 06:24 PM ET

When addressing the challenge of changing behavior, Marjorie Hill says it’s easy to blame the victim.

“There’s always a tendency to look at the person and say, ‘why don’t you just stop smoking or eating red meat or start exercising?'” The Gay Men’s Health Crisis CEO and HuffPost blogger says.

But when it comes to dealing with HIV and AIDS, Hill says, it’s more complicated.

“We think that personal responsibility is important and we certainly encourage it,” she said. “But when you look at the numbers and understand the epidemiology, the most common factor that those 33 million people who have the disease share is poverty. Poverty doesn’t transmit HIV, but certainly being in a situation where someone has less access to information, resources, education and power — those are factors that influence HIV.”

That’s what GMHC, the world’s first provider of HIV and AIDS prevention, care and advocacy, works to change, Hill said.

Hill previously worked as the assistant commissioner for HIV in New York City’s Health Department, where she oversaw contracts for HIV and AIDS patients worth around $400 million. GMHC has a comparatively small $32 million budget, but Hill says she feels more connected with people at her current job.

She’s regularly in contact with people who have just found out they’re HIV positive, received a hot meal from GMHC’s pantry, won a court battle with help from the organization’s legal team or gone to their first job interview in 10 years and gotten positive feedback.

“We really do believe in an individual’s innate capacity to rise above difficult situations with support,” Hill says. “We build self-esteem, and help build resiliency.

Hill’s days are filled with meetings designed to further her organization’s reach and expand the number of people it can help.

The first half of Hill’s most recent Friday was spent discussing an initiative designed to reduce hospital visits, talking to an intern about careers in psychology, meeting with a board member about funding opportunities and planning a retreat for the board of directors to help them become better GMHC ambassadors.

Hill notes the undeniable progress that has been made since GMHC was founded in 1981. The organization went from providing people a way to die with dignity to getting them the first retroviral medications and now to helping them thrive.

“Over the last ten years that possibility of hope has transformed into giving individuals living with HIV and AIDS a chance to live productive lives,” Hill says. “It’s not a picnic. But it’s a very different disease than it was even 15 years ago.”

But progress is a double edged sword.

“In some ways, success is the biggest challenge,” Hill says. “Ten years ago, 20 years ago, you could almost not turn on a television or read a newspaper when there wasn’t something about AIDS. Now most Americans live their lives thinking that it’s no longer an issue. That’s a problem when there’s 1.2 million Americans living with HIV today.”

Hill takes heart in the efforts of roughly 1,000 GMHC volunteers who prepare meals, conduct mock interviews for job seekers and provide free legal services.

“They make this job great,” she said. “These are people who want to change the tide of the epidemic. We still have a lot of work to do.”

To find out more about GMHC visit the organization’s website.


Homosexual Blood Not ‘Pristine’

Gay Blood Ban Finds Support: Naperville Anti-Gay Group Pushes To Uphold Policy

First Posted: 8/11/11 09:11 AM ET Updated: 8/11/11 09:11 AM ET, The Huffington Post

Though the Naperville, Ill.-based anti-gay group Americans For Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH) recently lost their 501(c)3, tax-exempt organizational status, the group, officially designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center last year, is keeping busy with a new campaign to uphold the federal ban against gay blood donors.

AFTAH’s campaign, called “Keep the Gay Blood Ban” or “KGB²,” was announced last Friday. The campaign urges individuals to contact their senators and congressmen “to put the safety of Americans — and a pristine blood supply — ahead of the demands of the selfish Homosexuality Lobby.” The group urges, further, for Congress to embark on an “investigation into the health hazards of homosexual behaviors (just as the government studied the dangers of smoking).”

As AFTAH president Peter LaBarbera hints at, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has taken steps in the last year toward dismantling the gay blood ban, which has been on the books since 1983, according to the Washington Independent. In 2010, some 40 members of U.S. Congress, led by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), called for the department to lift the ban. Just last month, the department announced that they had begun a comprehensive evaluation of doing just that.

LaBarbera lashes out against Kerry and Quigley for ignoring “the politically incorrect reality is that male-on-male sex and the ‘gay’ sexual culture are extremely high-risk due directly to the dangerously perverse and unsanitary acts – and unprecedented promiscuity — practiced by ‘men who have sex with men.'” With its new campaign, LaBarbera vows to present the “harsh, shocking realities of homosexual sexual behavior,” and is getting started with a number of “graphic and vulgar descriptions of homosexual acts” excerpted throughout his post.

The existing ban prohibits any man who has sex with another man even once since 1977 from donating blood and has sometimes resulted in donors who are “effeminate” being turned away from donation centers — as 22-year-old Aaron Pace experienced in Gary, Ind., last month.

In a statement released in late July, Quigley said that he, alongside Kerry would “continue to push for a behavior-based screening process both in the name of fairness and a safer blood supply.”

Current law requires that all donated blood be tested for HIV and other infectious diseases as it is. A 2010 study by the Williams Institute estimated that, if the gay blood donor ban would be lifted, the nation’s blood supply would be increased by more than 200,000 pints per year.