Former State Senator Thomas Duane and Candidate Corey Johnson
Ever have one of those days where unexpectedly a friend makes you extremely proud of them?
My dear friend Corey Johnson, who is running for New York City Council, gave me one of them this week. Corey has been an icon in the LGBT community since he came out to his high school football team in 2000.
Since then he has distinguished himself and those around him by his devoted work on behalf of full equality for LGBT Americans. He has been relentless in determination in this effort and pity the poor homophobic soul who met him in person. Corey does not tolerate fools easily.
When New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn decided to run for Mayor, Corey announced that he would seek her seat. Amazing political observers he raised all the money allowed for the race in record time! As a result of this achievement, his devoted allies and considerable political skills, Corey has been able to keep any serious competition out of the race.
Corey came out this week for the second time.
Known to most of his close friends was the fact that he was HIV positive. However this information has not been public knowledge. He tested positive nine years ago. In a New York Times article by Gina Bellafante:
I met Mr. Johnson one afternoon last week on the 12th anniversary of his move to New York, where he has pursued gay and community advocacy and made many friends, one of them former State Senator Thomas K. Duane, a particularly avuncular man who laughs robustly and cries easily. Under his tutelage, Mr. Johnson has learned a lot about politics and more about life, enough so that now, at 31, he is running for Mr. Duane’s former City Council seat.
Mr. Duane famously won the district that covers much of Manhattan’s West Side below 59th Street (currently represented by the mayoral candidate Christine C. Quinn) in 1991, during the height of the city’s AIDS panic, as one of the first openly H.I.V. positive political candidates in the country. Lending his friend his valuable endorsement, Mr. Duane told me he phoned Mr. Johnson not long ago to talk about the campaign, asking him first, “How are we going to handle your H.I.V. status? Have you told your mother?”
Mr. Johnson was diagnosed during a routine physical exam nine years ago, a revelation that shocked him, he said while seated across a desk from his mentor in Mr. Duane’s Midtown office.
In a sign of how much has changed over the past two decades, Mr. Johnson had not given much thought to his condition in the context of the Council race; in a sign of how little the emotional climate around the disease has altered, Mr. Johnson had not, as it happened, told his mother. “And I’m very, very, very close to my mother,” he said. (His father died of cancer last summer, a day before his paternal grandmother passed away.)
Similarly, Mr. Duane had forestalled telling his own family that he was H.I.V. positive until his nascent political career forced him to do it. “My mother said, ‘Don’t tell anybody,’ and I said, ‘I’m going to tell everybody,’ ” Mr. Duane recounted.
The conventional wisdom around H.I.V. and AIDS is that it is largely a disease of poverty, having migrated away from hubs of affluent gay life in New York to linger in places like central Brooklyn, the South Bronx and Harlem. This is both truth and obfuscation.
According to city statistics, the combined neighborhoods of Chelsea and Clinton have the highest per capita rate of new H.I.V. diagnoses in the city, and also the highest rate of people living with H.I.V. and AIDS. Mr. Johnson said that in his own Council district, which includes Chelsea, where he lives, he has watched the number of H.I.V. cases grow in recent years
When former Senator Tom Duane came out as a candidate who happened to be HIV positive in 1991 it was a major news story across the country. He broke down a barrier and gave HIV Americans new hope. Personally, I have had such awe and admiration for Senator Duane for his courage.
Corey's declaration of his HIV status will hopefully help end the closet that has developed around HIV. With new meds, it is possible to be HIV Positive and in the closet. If you think you don't know anyone with HIV/AIDS, then you are less likely to do battle against the disease. The more people that 'come out' with their status the better the odds of defeating this horrible epidemic.
Unlike Duane's announcement in 1991, Corey's will not send shockwave's across the country. What it will do is make it acceptable to come out of the closet with HIV/AIDS and help bring this ugly health crisis to a quicker end. Really very proud, Corey, to be your friend and thank you for sharing!