I am a very long-term survivor who is still going strong—well, at age 72, at least as strong as can be.
I hope that this missive will not be taken as just some feeble stab at self-promotion. I have read POZ intermittently in the past years, so I know that “inspirational pieces” are your stock-in-trade, and you must receive hundreds a week.
That said, I hope my story can serve to encourage both young and old to keep on surviving no matter what the odds. In my case, it’s age and a slight disability: I was born with double scoliosis, a congenital defect that wasn’t diagnosed until much later in my life due to the fact that it is visually not as detectable in me as in others.
I have lived in San Francisco for almost 46 years and have been HIV positive since 1984. Although I’m not aware of the actual statistics, I believe that I’m among the longest-term survivors in San Francisco, if not the country.
Living through the age of AIDS in San Francisco has given me a unique perspective on survival, to say the least. During those years, I wrote my autobiography, The Sunny Side of Castro Street. I volunteered for the AIDS Emergency Fund, both as client intake (1990–1993) and on the Board of Directors (1993–1996). In 1996, I developed an advertising campaign for the fund through a grant from the San Francisco Ad Club (valued at $300,000). I established An Evening of Holiday Magic for children with AIDS and their parents on the rooftop of San Francisco’s Emporium department store. For five Christmas seasons, it helped as many as 1,500 children and adults have a better Christmas.
I promoted books for local and national authors and celebrities, both in bookstores and on my syndicated radio show, Strictly Books, which ran from 1996 to 2000. I received the Jefferson Award for community service in 2005 for establishing a unique after-school program for children in San Francisco’s dangerous Bayview neighborhood. I’ve had articles and op-eds published online on the subjects of religion and politics under the pen name Reverend Dan.
I designed and currently maintain the 50 Chumasero Memorial Garden,
an award-winning community garden in San Francisco’s Parkmerced neighborhood.
Needless to say, it’s been quite a life so far, and all of these accomplishments come with a multitude of uplifting—sometimes sad, sometimes humorous—stories, all of which I am willing to share. These days, my scoliosis has caused numerous problems, but I’m supported by the most loving husband in the world, who also has some serious health issues.
What three adjectives best describe you?
Active, progressive, community-oriented.
What is your greatest achievement?
The Jefferson Award for community service.
What is your greatest regret?
Not being more community-oriented earlier in life.
What keeps you up at night?
Besides physical problems, the current political situation.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Take vitamin C. I’ve taken as much as 30 grams per day when my T-cell count was low.
What person in the HIV/AIDS community do you most admire?
Mr. Art Tomaszewski, founder of Leather Walk and past board president of the AIDS Emergency Fund.
What drives you to do what you do?
The appreciation of others. Although the 50 Chumasero Memorial Garden has received an award, the appreciation of neighbors is more fulfilling.
What is your motto?
“Survive as best you can and help others to survive.”
If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on the way out?
Our cats. They’re both especially comforting in our lives.
If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?
Definitely a cat. They are independent but loving.