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January 4: Gay Men’s Health Crisis

Lawrence Bush
January 4, 2017
Larry Kramer, Paul Rapoport, and Nathan Fain were among six gay activists who gathered eighty men in Kramer’s apartment and founded Gay Men’s Health Crisis on this date in 1982 -- in response to reports that a rare form of cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma was affecting young gay men in New York and San Francisco. GMHC at first operated out of a rooming house in Chelsea owned by the “godfather of disco,” Mel Cheren, co-founder of West End Records, and offered counseling and support to thousands of gay men facing the AIDS crisis. Its community soon expanded to include heterosexuals, intravenous drug users, hemophiliacs, and others, and by the 1990s the organization was housed in the Tisch Building with millions of dollars of support from Joan and Preston Robert Tisch, heirs to the Loews theater chain. Larry Kramer resigned from the organization only a year after its founding to start the more militant ACT UP. Today, GMHC provides services annually to more than 100,000 New Yorkers affected by HIV-AIDS.

“As the epidemic has endured and broadened, AIDS organizations have found themselves -- unexpectedly, even unwillingly -- in the business of developing real estate. They have built what amounts to a $300 million citywide AIDS infrastructure to house, serve and treat people with the disease. Decrepit structures have been infused with a new purpose, giving the epidemic a three-dimensional presence in the cityscape. There are apartment buildings and nursing homes for women and men with AIDS who are homeless or poor, treatment centers and clinics and heavy-duty kitchens with 80-gallon soup kettles.” --David Dunlap, New York Times, 1997

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.