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Gay History – January 4, 1982: NYC’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis Founded in Response to AIDS Epidemic

Six months after the New York Times reported on a “gay cancer” that was showing up in gay men. The Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City was founded. GMHC was non-profit, volunteer-supported, and community-based AIDS service organization whose mission statement is to “end the AIDS epidemic and uplift the lives of all affected.”

The organization was founded in January 4, 1982 after reports began surfacing in San Francisco and New York City that a rare form of cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma was affecting young gay men. After the Centers for Disease Control declared the new disease an epidemic. The Gay Men’s Health Crisis was created when 80 men gathered in New York gy activist and writer Larry Kramer’s apartment to discuss the issue of “gay cancer” and to raise money for research. GMHC took its name from the fact that the majority of those who fell victim to AIDS were gay.

The founders were Nathan Fain, Larry KramerDr. Lawrence D. Mass, Paul Popham, Paul Rapoport and Edmund White. Through hard work and many obstacles they organized the formal, tax-exempt entity. At the time it was the few and largest volunteer AIDS organization in the world. Paul Popham was chosen as the president much to Larry Kramer’s chagrin.

Rodger McFarlane who began an AIDS crisis counseling hotline that originated on his own home telephone was named as the director of GMHC in 1982 He created a more formal structure for the nascent organization, which had no funding or offices. When Mcfarlane took on the role of GMHC it operated out of a rooming house in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.

McFarlane lamented the inequitable treatment of gays by society at large, noting how “We were forced to take care of ourselves because we learned that if you have certain diseases, certain lifestyles, you can’t expect the same services as other parts of society”

Larry Kramer resigned from GMHC in 1983 to form the more militant ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) as a more political alternative. From that time on his public comments and posture toward GMHC were negative, if not hostile. Kramer’s play The Normal Heart is a roman à clef of his involvement with the organization.

On April 30, 1983, the GMHC sponsored the first major fund-raising event for AIDS – a benefit performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

By 1984, the Centers for Disease Control had requested GMHC’s assistance in planning public conferences on AIDS. That same year, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus was discovered by the French Drs Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier. Within two years, GMHC was not only helping gay men who contracted the disease but were also assisting heterosexual men and women, intravenous drug users, and children.

GMHC still exists today and after almost 40 years fighting AIDS in New York City and across the nation, GMHC has gained clients who have been with the program as long as 25 years, many of whom are now 50 years of age or older. GMHC services have evolved as its clients have grown older to ensure programs meet the needs of the aging HIV-positive population.

To this date the GMHC has helped millions of Americans deal with AIDS and AIDS related issues.

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is one of America's best known LGBT historians, He is also a a accredited journalist and the owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced on such notable media venues as BBC News, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Daily Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story. Back2Stonewall has been recently added to the Library of Congress' LGBTQ+ Studies Web Archive. Mr. Kohler is available for comment, interviews and lectures on LGBT History. Contact: Will@Back2Stonewall.com

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