At first glance, Tom Duane is the boy next door -- someone you’d feel good about taking home to meet your parents. He has a natural ease. But when he talks about issues near and dear to him, his anger rises to the surface. One by one, he counts off New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s cuts in public health funding, AIDS services and education, punctuating each one by slapping his ballpoint pen into his hand. His features lose their boyish softness and his voice sharpens. Indeed, he wears his gray hair like a badge of service from two tumultuous terms on the New York City Council.
"Testing positive didn’t make me an activist. I’ve always looked at the world in political terms,“ he says. ”It just made it more of a personal struggle for me."
The hardest part of his 1991 bid for City Council was disclosing his status to voters. At that time, only the people closest to him knew. “My parents didn’t want me to come out during the campaign. They wanted me to win. But I wanted other people with HIV to know that we can do anything.” He became the first openly HIV positive candidate in the country to win public office.
Since then, Duane, whose T-cell count is normal and who hasn’t been on medication, has earned a reputation as one of City Hall’s most tenacious fighters. He’s fought cuts in education, the arts, housing and public hospitals. It’s been a long road from ACT UP sit-ins to sitting in the City Council. Still, Duane is quick to credit the movement for keeping him honest. “Sometimes you just have to cut the best deal you can and move on,” he concedes. “But the most important thing for me is to be able to sleep at night. There’s only so much I can compromise before my conscience keeps me awake.”