AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein has been working on the front lines of the gay rights movement for decades, creating a Los Angeles-based organization that's become the largest community-based HIV/AIDS medical provider in the nation. He shares with us his story and his thoughts:
Growing up in the 1950s and '60s, I was barely aware of homosexuality — that is until I went to the High School of Art & Design in Manhattan in 1969. Art & Design was a public school like Performing Arts that drew students from all over the city. I went from my relatively cloistered Brooklyn existence into a rather flamboyant environment where a lot of the students were gay and lesbian…
Being in the middle of the sexual revolution in New York City, I was convinced that I was the only virgin around. I had not come to terms with being attracted to men. I had to be a 'successful' heterosexual first.
At eighteen, I moved in with a woman eight years my senior, which was pretty scandalous at the time. It was a big year for me. I lost my virginity to a man and a woman in the same year. I had a brief affair with the man in the loft who lived upstairs from us.
Being in the radical movements of the time, I worked alongside of gay activists. The left was extremely homophobic and regarded gays as 'social deviants,' or as having made a lifestyle choice that had nothing to do with the liberation movement.
I moved to Los Angeles in 1973 and I worked at the then Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center in two old Victorians on Wilshire and Union. It was a revelation. Being immersed in that environment was amazing. I came out to my family, friends and to the lefties I worked with. It was a painful process. I became alienated from my family for five years and replaced it with a chosen gay family.
Being gay is a major part of my identity. My physical attraction to men has been the basis of two love relationships that span thirty-six years of my life. My work in AIDS was originally a direct response to the people I know and love getting sick and dying of AIDS.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (then the AIDS Hospice Foundation) was originally founded in 1987 to provide a dignified death to mostly gay men who had no families to take care of them.
Currently, as the head of the largest AIDS organization in the world and something of an elder of the gay community, I reflect on all of the amazing opportunities that being gay has afforded me.
In the category of whatever doesn't kill you makes you strong, dealing with rejection, living through the worst of the AIDS crisis, having often been at odds with other lesbian and gay leaders, and dealing with the increasing invisibility that aging gay men face has been challenging.
But, in the end, I would conclude that being gay, more than anything else, has meant finding my own way in life and turning being an outcast into a benefit.
If you would like to share your thoughts about what it means to be gay, contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.