Writer and Co-Founder of Gay Men’s Health Project
1972. We wanted change, a big one. The gay community was being destroyed from within by internalized homophobia, much of it stemming from taboos we experienced around our own bodies. Talking about sex was something we did in the dark, in secret. Tired of “business as usual,” three of us ─ Lenny Ebreo, Marc Rabinowitz, and myself ─ decided to have a public event on “Gay Health.” On a spring night, about 200 men showed up: asking health questions for the first time at a church near Washington Square.
“Now what?” I asked.
“We’ll open a clinic,” Lenny answered. “We’ll provide care for our own community—that’s the only way to do it.”
We moved into a raw basement on West 10th Street. None of us three had any background in public health or medicine. We were nervous, sure the bureaucrats of the NYC Department of Health would swoop down and lock us up. Luckily we found a gay brother at the Chelsea Clinic on 9th Avenue who agreed to help—mostly under the table—procuring medical supplies and a connection to a city lab to read the cultures and blood samples we would collect. With his help, we learned to collect oral and anal swabs for gonorrhea, as well as draw blood for syphilis.
First we thought we’d be open one night a week. Soon demand called for two, then three. Men gave us small donations—usually $5 to $10. That money paid the rent and bought better furniture. Volunteers came. One was a young doctor named Dan William, our first professional. He trained other volunteers in clinical techniques. Dan had only just come out himself. Being gay had always been a deeply held secret and problem to him, as it was for so many then.
“I learned,” he told me, “that when you have a problem, the best thing is to help other people. It’s an honor to do this, to help our community and ourselves.”
The Gay Men’s Health Project Clinic evolved into the Community Health Project, and then, through the AIDS epidemic, into Callen-Lorde. We had to stand up to history to do this—to shame, fear of disapproval, and so many other barricades that separate LGBTQ people from their own bodies and feelings. Of the three original founders, I am the only one left. I will never forget starting this clinic, and I am pleased, so honored, that Callen-Lorde has brought our work further into the light.