NY State Senator Tom Duane Gives Gripping, Angry Speech on AIDS


At around 3 am last night, New York State Senator Tom Duane, who is gay and HIV-positive, delivered a mesmerizing, emotional 21-minute speech on the Senate floor at the end of a marathon session in favor of a bill preventing people living with HIV or AIDS and receiving public assistance from having to pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent.

The bill passed by a vote of 52 to 1. But not after Duane reminded people of the horrors of the early 80's:

"Visiting friends in hospitals. We'd go in. We'd go in one night, in the morning they'd be dead. I'd bring them food. My family, bring them food. My friends bring someone food. But whoever was in bed would be dead before they could eat it. We'd leave it - maybe the nurses would take it home. No! They wouldn't eat it! 'Cause it's contaminated. Contaminated! Wouldn't touch it. Wouldn't go into the room. Wearing masks. Gloves! Gowns! Someone gets sick in the afternoon. They'd be dead the next day. Dead! And that went on for months, and then years. Dead! Dead! You think if you got sick and your friends were dying that I would sit there and do nothing? No. But that's what happened. That's what happened. Every cold. Every virus. Every temperature. I thought I'd be dead, and so did so many people that I knew. Dead! You think you scare me? You think you can make be back off? Nothing scares me."

Peter Staley writes of those living with HIV and AIDS: "There's a Tom Duane lurking deep down in all of us, waiting to be heard.

Watch Duane's speech, AFTER THE JUMP...


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  1. Lest anyone be confused, he's a New York senator, not a U.S. senator. (Andy, you might want to clarify, though it should be clear from the vote that it's a state senate.)

    Posted by: Paul R | Jul 17, 2009 6:55:59 PM

  2. Man's gonna give him self an aneurysm but props, props, props to him for making himself heard even at 3 AM!

    Thanks Tom.

    Posted by: The Phoenix | Jul 17, 2009 7:15:58 PM

  3. Let's be PERFECTLY CLEAR ON THIS: ANYONE living with HIV/AIDS whether it be now or in the 1980s is someone who faces a life with immense burdens. Don't be lulled into thinking our lives are 'easy' because of combination therapy. Living with a fatal illness (and, yes, it is STILL a fatal illness) exacts a horrible emotional and physical toll.

    Posted by: Parker in LA | Jul 17, 2009 7:28:28 PM

  4. Frightfully, I remember those days...and it lasted for years and years without much hope.

    Now the younger generation seems to think it's JUST a chronic illness like diabetes where you take your meds and everything's OK.

    Posted by: Ted B. | Jul 17, 2009 7:38:11 PM

  5. the bill is a nice idea, but it strikes me as unfair. why should HIV patients on public assistance be the only ones subject to these income/rent laws? Shouldn't cancer, heart disease, and other chronic illness sufferers get a break too? i'm all for compassion, but as a gay man it bothers me that gays with HIV are treated as if they are somehow more special than people with just as debilitating diseases.

    Posted by: jon | Jul 17, 2009 8:02:46 PM

  6. My favorite part and I say this often myself
    "I thought I'd be dead, and so did so many people that I knew. Dead! You think you scare me? You think you can make be back off? Nothing scares me."

    Posted by: johnny | Jul 17, 2009 8:06:00 PM

  7. Wow, indeed. It must be something in the air, our voice is coming back. After being lulled into complacency by the successes of the drug therapies, the cultural voice has dimmed to a whisper. Where is the outrage over the lack of education, the diminished awareness and the lack of personal responsibility? To Senator Duane, the leaders of IML, to the bloggers like Andy and Will and all the others who publish this information for us, I say THANK YOU for the reminder that SILENCE = DEATH even now.

    Posted by: dbaudit | Jul 17, 2009 8:23:35 PM

  8. This is the sort of thing that Granderson creeep would call "a petulant child throwing a tantrum because he wants to eat his dessert before dinner."

    BRAVO TOM!!!!!

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jul 17, 2009 8:35:16 PM

  9. Note to Jon: Straight people also get HIV. :/

    Posted by: Cody | Jul 17, 2009 8:35:29 PM

  10. Yes, Jon, we gays get so much special treatment...

    Posted by: mcquaidLA | Jul 17, 2009 9:11:28 PM

  11. >>Where is the outrage over the lack of education, the diminished awareness and the lack of personal responsibility?<<

    Talk to the CDC. I tried to get a job with them here in Atlanta when they were working on a new AIDS campaign. I have a strong background in marketing, have done extensive outreach in S. Texas, my brother and countless friends died from the disease. For whatever reason I was not chosen and the campaign they came out with was not only forgettable but made absolutely zero impact. It's a shame they don't have the balls to really conceptualize an effective campaign targeting minorities and the gay community by adding some shock value in their message. Instead, we get this watered down bullshit that appeases conservatives. Yes indeed, where is the outrage? Where is the education? Where is the message? They were infused with millions of dollars for this campaign and have little to show for it. What fucking shame.

    Posted by: Keith | Jul 17, 2009 9:25:56 PM

  12. "From Trading Places to this...I wonder if all the lefties will be as savagely critical of this comedian as they were of actor Ronald Reagan?"

    POSTED BY: FREDDY | JUL 6, 2009 4:46:57 PM (on Al Franken being declared the winner of the MN senate race)

    Freddy, please read/watch the above, for thhat is what it was like when Reagan was president. And after you've done so, then come back here and make your case that people were savagely critical of Reagan.

    Posted by: Tim | Jul 17, 2009 9:30:32 PM

  13. It's a great speech, but I have to agree that it really does seem unfair for society overall. HIV is not just a gay disease anymore, it affects everyone. Why should it, alone, be covered? Why aren't elderly with diabetes covered? Or stroke victims? Or cancer patients?

    Now - his point on the fact that we mourn a child that chokes on a hot dog but let thousands of kids die because we're too puritanical to teach them about HIV transmission - if he wanted to put a bill in motion to spend funds on that, it can be argued that's good for everyone. It saves lives. It keeps families from experiencing that tragedy. It lowers overall health care costs (lower infection, lower drugs needed, less money going to medical services, etc.)

    I hate that everyone thinks of the gay community as one big, homogeneous group of people who share the same experiences, socio-economic status, and political views. Even wtihin the community, it's just taken for granted that we should support, or reject, proposed legislation for no reason other than the fact that we're gay. It's just another form or marginalization so society sees us as nothing more than who we have sex with rather than as complete human beings (with all the glory and baggage that entails).

    Posted by: Derick | Jul 17, 2009 9:43:37 PM

  14. Proof that so many of the commenters here at Towleroad are full of it. They cry and whine and scream about "Bruno" and then something like this comes along and they're quiet as a mouse. They demand "important" stuff from Andy and then they vanish.

    Posted by: Glenn | Jul 17, 2009 11:07:55 PM

  15. Great speech, although Jon and Derick have a point.

    There are realy only two illnesses that guarantee you special treatment. 1) Nationally. chronic renal failure requiring dialysis will automatically get Medicare. 2) In New York State, AIDS (not HIV; you have to have an AIDS-defining illness) - those patients are guaranteed housing (although it is often crap housing), Medicaid (if they are not undocumented), and SSI/food stamps. (Benefits are through HASA, the HIV/AIDS Services Administration).

    There is a third category of patients in New York City who may qualify for housing: homeless mentally ill patients may qualify under a New York/New York program, but the wait list to be accepted can take forever.

    Why the special treatment with HIV? Years ago, it was thought that patients on complicated regimens could not manage their regimens if they had no home. Ritonavir, lopinivir, and a few other medications had to be refrigerated, and you pretty much need a home for that. While some AIDS patients still have very complicated regimens (e.g. taking medications more than 4 times a day), the acute need for housing that made AIDS special from other diseases is not as evident.

    I don't want to sound like I am hating on AIDS patients; I am thrilled they have this benefit. But others with very severe and debilitating illnesses deserve benefits too.

    Posted by: huh? | Jul 17, 2009 11:21:11 PM

  16. Paul R: And why aren't any US SENATORS or other politicians willing to support the people of the United States. AIDS victims. ANY ONE.
    Bravo Tom. Too bad he had to scream but he was screaming for every person ever.
    Every fucking Senator, state or US, every member of Congress, every Governor, and the President could learn something from this speech.

    Posted by: JimmyD | Jul 17, 2009 11:38:21 PM

  17. Just a note on why AIDS is different - nobody really blames cancer patients, stroke victims, folks with renal failure, for their illness - they are usually recipients of only compassion, not bias, discrimination and hatred. That still happens today with folks living with HIV/AIDS, and is a very good reason to have the kinds of measures in place Senator Duane so bravely and passionately advocates.

    Posted by: Patrick | Jul 17, 2009 11:55:06 PM

  18. I know what he's talking about.I have NO friends.ALL are dead of AIDS.I have a mutation that makes me part of the 2% of the population of the world immune to HIV,no CCR5 neuroreceptors in my T6 cells.I buried Mike,Antonio,George,Alberto and Rudy.When I say I buried them I mean I buried them after taken care of them. All the others died at Jackson Memorial Hospital or others in the area from 1985 to 1994.Over 100 of them and close to 25 close friends.I had lung cancer 6 years ago.To big to operate but chemo and radiation seems to have cured it.I wanted to die but I didn't.So now I live alone in a city made for young people while I get older and older and do not know how long will it go.Now I'm 71 and alone but surprisingly not lonely.Maybe because I feel so good for what I did for them that it fulfills me with pride.I know they are waiting for me someplace and I miss them.Their fun,their laughter and their stupid antics.Great guys,great memories.I know what he's talking about.

    Posted by: Oscar in Miami Beach | Jul 18, 2009 1:24:17 AM

  19. Who makes up the difference in rent to the property owner?

    Posted by: Rik | Jul 18, 2009 2:06:02 AM

  20. Oscar in Miami Beach -

    I understand your pain to losing friends to AIDS as I am sure do many others. While I am younger than you (46) I lost two (though there were others) of the most important people in my life (my very first love, my only best friend) to AIDS more than 15 years ago. I am not sure I have ever fully recovered. When they were gone something of myself went with them.

    And you were stronger than I was by taking care of all your friends through their illnesses. I only ended up being there towards the end of their lives as I was so afraid of death (just in general actually) that I stayed away (with phone calls being my mode of communication) until the end when I finally told myself I had to be there in person.

    So be proud of yourself for being able to handle the emotions of caring for your countless friends ... and keep it going as it sounds like you have many great memories to live for today.

    - robertmalcolm

    Posted by: robertmalcolm | Jul 18, 2009 2:30:42 AM

  21. The reason so many more died years ago is likely from the high dosage of drugs aka: AZT. Even today, it has been documented that more people die from the drugs than a virus. Sex doesn't kill, toxic chemicals do.

    Posted by: Otter | Jul 18, 2009 2:55:36 AM

  22. So what was killing people before AZT came along, you brilliant denialist, Otter? Maybe you should go visit the niche at the SF Columbarium of your fellow denialist David Pasquerelli.

    Posted by: Larry-bob | Jul 18, 2009 3:37:04 AM

  23. Paul R. Whats your problem get over it. You could have given the man a thumbs up. I guess a state senator from anywhere speaking up for us is not good enough?

    Posted by: pikemp | Jul 18, 2009 5:52:22 AM

  24. I don't care if you have the most indisputably righteous cause in the world at your back. If you can't advocate for it without SCREEEEAMING INCESSAAAAANLY for a fucking half hour, you're probably going to be dismissed as a raving loon by most people. There are plenty of other people suffering equally tragically with other diseases who have just as huge problems with paying their bills too. Stop throwing a petulant tantrum, calm the fuck down, and act like a rational human being.

    Posted by: Blake | Jul 18, 2009 6:37:39 AM

  25. Duane tells an accurate, real and very human story of AIDS in the 80's. However the "social welfare-ization" of AIDS has become a financial burden. Why should people with AIDS get anything other than benefits directly related to medical care? If you are low income there are programs to help you. I know far too many people with HIV, no longer AIDS (which is a one way diagnoses, once you have it, you have it, even if you have returned to health), who choose not to work and work the benefits system instead. People with HIV should simply qualify for Medicaid/Medicare. Dismantling existing HIV programs will save money. And on a final note. ANY case manager in any big city can tell you stories of people who were ambivalent about getting infected or actually sought out infection because of the benefits (housing, food, etc) they would receive as a result. AIDS isn't a scary thing for the poor if you quality of life actually improves (due to benefits programs) because you became infected.

    Posted by: Qjersey | Jul 18, 2009 7:17:21 AM

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