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An Interview with Sean Strub

Sean Strub























In the fall of 1985 Strub gets a call from Vito Russo asking him to come to
In the fall of 1985 Strub got a call from Vito Russo asking him to come to a meeting protesting the New York Post’s sensationalist AIDS coverage.

More than seven hundred people jammed into the Methodist Church at Seventh Avenue and Thirteenth Street to hear Vito’s passionate speech. Feeling inspired and supported, I looked around the church at the huge showing and began to feel a part of a community working together. I also saw an African American man who clearly had AIDS; even though my infection wasn’t visible to others, I felt the stirring of a kinship with him that was new to me. Sharing the stigma of AIDS struck me as more relevant than the racial divide between us.

It’s one of the few appearances of African Americans in the book, and though Strub may have discovered some kinship with an African American at that moment, for many other White gays in the AIDS movement, the racial divide remained.

Indeed, in the coming years it would become even more pronounced.

Though the epidemic was on a tear across 110th Street, the face of AIDS, its activism and media coverage was White.

Even now when the story of the AIDS epidemic is recounted, the more socially conscious White documentarians, and writers, will add a couple of Blacks, but it still ends up a re-telling the same White history.

“So many people name Michael Callen, Richard Berkowitz and Bobby Campbell, all very courageous guys who went public, which was not an easy thing to do,” Strub said.

“They have a community that honored them and carried that history but the first African American AIDS activist, the first woman with AIDS, has largely been lost to history.

"This came home to me several years ago when I got an email from a lawyer in Kentucky who had read something about me. He was 30-years-old and wrote, ‘I’m wondering if you might have known my mother, Amy Stone, who was involved with the People with AIDS Coalition in New York?’

"I got goose bumps! Yes, I did now her. We did a fundraising letter with her and she was the first woman I know of that went public with AIDS in 1985. I sent an email to a group of women with HIV who were the leading activists and asked, ‘Who was the first woman with HIV who went public?

"Some of them mentioned Iris De La Cruz from the late ’80s in New York. Some mentioned Mary Lucey in Los Angeles, but Amy was at least four or five years before any of them and that history is totally gone."

•••

Now that the book is finished I asked, what’s next?

His face immediately lit up. “Listen, listen,” he says with some excitement as he leans closer. “This empowerment thing, The Denver Principles..."

Strub has long been critical of some of the country's largest AIDS organizations, the way they deliver services, the way they deal with their clients, believing they have strayed from the mandate from which they were created.

"San Francisco AIDS Foundation, AIDS Los Angeles, GMHC, all came out of an activist culture, a peer-to-peer culture," he says. "As they got big these agencies moved away from that model and back towards the more traditional benefactor-victim model.

"Housing Works in New York, which is the old ACT UP housing committee, is the one exception," he says. "They believe you cannot be empowered around your healthcare in America today unless you’re also empowered within the political system to access that healthcare. Those things are indistinguishable."

Strub delivers something sounding close to a sales pitch as he launches into a minutes long talk extolling the virtues of Housing Works, its "charismatic leadership," and motivated client base.

“Within the AIDS movement they have a profile. They are much more political, much more strident, and from their client list they can produce a thousand people like that (he snaps his fingers) for a demo."

In Body Counts Strub acknowledges he has no desire to maintain a "long term relationship" with any project he’s involved with. He repeated that sentiment to me.

For Strub, POZ is history. And the Sero project, the HIV criminalization effort that's consumed much of his time in recent years, will soon be history, if not there already.

Continuing with a relationship analogy, he has a new “main squeeze” and its name is "Housing Works."

Sean Strub has once again moved on.

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Sean and Sid




























For Strub, POZ is history. And the Sero project, the HIV criminalization effort Sean and Sidney Selfie