Now, six months after Cole stepped intoKrim’s well-worn chairman-of-the-board shoes, POZ asked contributingwriter Michael Musto to drop by Cole’s design firm for a chat. LaMusto, himself a veteran AIDS activist, toasted Krim and Cole’scontribution, swapped war stories—and then got down to business. Armedwith an informal POZ poll of fellow activists that gives the orgpoorreviews in recent years, he presented the activists’ own immodestproposal: By flexing its strongest muscles—advocacy with awesomeattitude—amfAR can reclaim its once-critical mission. But it must meetan urgent new need: funding research into condom-based prevention,decimated by a Bush administration assault. The new leader’s answer?
POZ: Dr. Krim, what’s going on with this change of personnel?
Krim:Passing the baton to somebody who’s young, energetic and compassionateis ideal for this position. I hope I will have a little more free time.
POZ: What do you miss doing the most?
Krim: I don’t even know what I miss because I’ve not done it for a number of years! [She laughs.]
Cole: I don’t believe she’ll be able to stray far. As often as she might try, I think she’ll find herself back by my side.
POZ: With a whip? Anyway, Kenneth, should amfAR be doing more advocacy in DC?
Cole:The advocacy is important, but we have to be realistic. At the end ofthe day, it’s going to be an encumbrance rather than a mechanism tomove forward. We’re a public-health organization, and we need to focuson our mission. My goal is to energize and invigorate a very ableorganization. It’s an opportunity to seek innovative approaches totraditional problems, which is what I do for a living.
POZ: Is that harder than ever in Bush’s second term, when the anti-sex, anti-condoms and anti-science agenda has set everything back?
Cole:I don’t want to be quoted saying that, because I believe that with theright intention, there are ways of working together. We have three anda half more years [of Bush] and we [must] move forward. Rather thandeal with why we’re not, I’d rather deal with how we’re going to. Youcan’t plant yourself on a pedestal and speak down. You have to speakeye to eye and be realistic.
POZ: Are Bush’s policies all bad?
Krim:The government supports faith-based organizations, and they can do alot of good. A gay friend of mine in Florida has an interest in AIDSand wanted to help his community, so he hooked up with the localreligious organization. They get money from the government; he gets part of it; and he uses it. There are ways around things sometimes!
POZ: I bet a lot of AIDS activists are suddenly going to pretend to be very religious.
POZ: Do you think the condom and clean-needle messages are getting through?
Krim: They should. Fortunately, people don’t listen too much yet to the anti-sex.
Cole: Thereis factual, documented evidence that clean needles work. Some peoplethink that promotes drug use, but it doesn’t. And condoms do curb thespread of HIV. They do not, in fact, promote intercourse.
POZ:Well, another reality is that POZ could find no one to say a bad wordabout either of you, unfortunately. [Both laugh.] But some AIDSactivists do say amfAR hasn’t funded enough experimental,out-of-the-box projects, just a lot of things the NIH also funded.
Krim: Wehave tried to avoid that. But it's not always possible. Sometimes toconfirm a result or deny what somebody else has said is useful, too. Alittle repetition is good.
POZ: What’s been amfAR’s biggest triumph?
Krim:A woman had an idea to try prevention of transmission from a pregnantanimal to the baby with AZT. Nobody wanted to fund her. She came to us,and we gave her $50,000. In ’96, it first became applicable to humans,and that saved the lives of thousands of kids.
Krim: Whenwe see something deserving and we don’t have the money, that breaks myheart. That’s one reason why the involvement of Kenneth is wonderful.He can communicate and knows the right people. He talks to his peerswhen he fundraises. I don’t. I talk like a nice little scientist.
Cole: Dr. Krim is colorful, unique. There’s nothing contrived, and she says what she feels.
POZ: And now she’s blushing!
Cole:She’s inspired me overup a fatigue. AIDS just goes on and on. You sayto yourself, “Why doesn’t this get better? Why can’t we communicatethis to our fellow human beings, who are supposedly a higher species?”
POZ: I’ve heard amfAR has had an easier time raising money from the European species.
Cole: No. The world of not-for-profit is not a functioning element in most European countries. The processes don’t encourage it. You don’t get the tax benefits.
POZ: To help you make more money, who will be the new face of amfAR? Beyoncé? Lindsay Lohan? Me?
Cole: We’ll find extraordinary messengers. I don’t know if it needs to be a specific individual.
Krim:Elizabeth Taylor was ideal in the early ’80s to speak to themiddle-class white community. Elizabeth spoke of compassion, and shedid it on a grand scale. Sharon Stone was the right person to talkabout youth. Sharon can be a clown sometimes. She’s terrific as anauctioneer and spokesperson. the years. But you build Krim: Wehave tried to avoid that, but it’s not always nd Harry Belafonte justjoined our board.
POZ:At the beginning, did amfAR exaggerate statistics andsay AIDS was moreof a heterosexual threat in order to get people to fork over money?
Krim:No! I was accused of that. But I said it was a heterosexual threatbecause viruses don’t choose their victims. It can be anybody. I evensaid it was going to become a female disease, which has happenedslowly.
POZ: What have you learned, Dr. Krim?
Krim:I knew nothing about the gay community in 1981. Dr. Joseph Sonnabendsent me his patients, including Michael Callen, who told me what gaylife was. That was quite an education! I was disgusted by the waysociety accused gay men of having created something terrible. When youthink of it, the promiscuous life was caused by society—it didn’t allowgay men to get married or to have honest relationships. They had tohide.
POZ: That’s too complex for most homophobes to grasp. What’s your main genius, Kenneth: designing, leading or advertising?
Cole:You’re leading the witness, your honor. I think I’m sometimes blindedby ambition. My goal is to cure AIDS. I’m focused on looking at thefinishing line and going in that direction.
The amfAR's new clothes
As Dr. Mathilde Krim "a.k.a. the Mother of AIDS advocacy" passes the amfAR torch to classy designer Kenneth Cole, her once-great institution may claim it's not losing a legend but gaining a brand name. But can its new leader see past the bottom line to make amfAR not only fashionable but relevant again?