Larry: How’s the weather out there in West Hollywood, John?
John: Probably as sunny and warm as in Florida...
Larry: Great. So who should go first? Let’s see—who’s older?
John: A lady never talks about her age.
Larry: Well, age goes before beauty. I was born in the ’50s. I’m 51.
John: I was also born in the ’50s. But I’m 47.
Larry: I guess I have to go first.
John: Age before beauty. [Laughs] Why don’t you start by telling me about yourself?
Larry: I just became mayor in March! It’s funny—being a former actor and model, I never would have thought I’d end up in politics, especially after being diagnosed with HIV in 1992. When I got my results, I wanted to clear my mind, so I moved from Florida to the south of France. When Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1992, I flew home to be with my partner at the time. I got into activism surrounding environmental issues and land rights. A former mayor and people in town pushed me to start a neighborhood association, and that led me into the political arena.
John: I always dreamed of being in politics. In 1985, when I was in law school, a friend died of AIDS. I took on AIDS patient cases and helped start Life AIDS Lobby, which drafted state legislation. I ran for office a few times in the early ’90s and lost. In 1994, I was diagnosed with HIV. When my doctor said that I wouldn’t live to see 2000, politics was the last thing on my mind. But after protease inhibitors were discovered and I found the right regimen, I went back into it. Earlier this year, I became mayor. And hopefully, in six years, I will run for the California State Assembly.
Larry: Wow. Being an HIV-positive gay man in politics hasn’t always been easy, especially in the South. When I was running for city commissioner in 2001, another candidate not only outed my sexual orientation, but my HIV status too. I have been sent postcards with scriptures, and some people even held a prayer vigil outside my house. But Oakland Park has a diverse population of 42,000—there are both conservatives and liberals; many have supported me for who I am.
John: West Hollywood has about the same population--38,000— but it’s very liberal. More than 92 percent are Democrats and one third are gay and lesbian. Which is why I think my HIV status and sexual orientation weren’t so jarring. But people definitely questioned whether my health would stop me from serving, even though my T-cell count is high and I’m undetectable.
Larry: My health is always going to be an issue for the constituents—and also the people I work with. If a coworker is feeling ill, I notice they will change seats with someone else to make sure that they don’t get me sick.
John: My appearance is also a concern, especially in West Hollywood. I have silicon routinely put into my cheeks and temples to give me a more rounded look and mask wasting. Originally, I thought it was trivial, but it’s important not only to have my numbers look good, but also for me to look good [to show I’m healthy], especially when I’m doing public appearances.
Larry: I try to use my status and my position to educate people about the disease. But I also worry about issues like potholes and homelessness in my community. One of the best parts about local politics is that you see the changes you effect much sooner—it may take two or three years, but you can see them.
John: My advice for positive people interested in running for office is to be out about your HIV status from the beginning. In politics, secrets can be deadly. If you avoid the subject, others will define the issue for you.
Larry: I agree. Go for it, but be honest about your capabilities and your health. Most important, do not give everything to this job. Create boundaries around your personal life. A week before I was elected, my 14-year relationship ended because my partner was tired of competing with my mistress: politics.