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NYC City Council Candidate Corey Johnson Comes Out as HIV-Positive in the NYT

NYC City Council candidate Corey Johnson has come out as HIV-positive in a NYT article which casts Johnson's political pursuits in the footsteps of his predecessor Tom Duane, who was also out, gay, and HIV-positive:

JohnsonMr. 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?”

Times have changed since then, however, though not completely:

When Mr. Duane joined the Senate in the late ’90s, he said, there were people in Albany who would not shake his hand. He cries talking about a little boy upstate who was denied admission to his community pool because of his illness. “I’m the bearer of many people’s secrets about H.I.V.,” Mr. Duane said.

Mr. Johnson has many friends with H.I.V. who fear telling employers. “There’s still so much stigma and people don’t realize it,” he told me.

And there is still more to be done for those who do not share the advantages of white men living in Chelsea — budget increases for the city’s H.I.V./AIDS Services Administration, for example. Mr. Johnson is eager for a chance to have the fight.

More here...

Note: Johnson is Towleroad's former political director.

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Comments

  1. I knew Corey years ago in his days as an XY cover boy for being an out, gay high school football quarterback (it felt like having a minor celebrity around at the time!). He was a great guy then and seemingly is now; I'm sorry to hear of his diagnosis but also heartened that he's using it in a way to help other people by taking one step to remove stigma... that's precisely what I would expect he would do.

    Posted by: Jason | May 4, 2013 10:13:30 AM


  2. Brave man, all my respect to him. People not shaking hands with him, that's sad.

    Posted by: Matt26 | May 4, 2013 10:20:57 AM


  3. I'm only starting to learn about Corey thru a David Mixner 20/20 profile posting on facebook last week. Remarkable young man who continues to show just how remarkable a man can be. Brave, open and selfless.
    Look forward to watching his continued rise.

    Posted by: john | May 4, 2013 10:23:23 AM


  4. Instead of all this focus on "destigmatizing" HIV, how about trying harder to prevent more people from becoming infected? As the article itself says, HIV rates are rising in Chelsea, which already has the highest rates in the city. Destigmatizing HIV helps the people who already have it, not the people who don't -- and when you destigmatize something, you get more of it. Why are we supposed to see this goal as noble, when in reality it's selfish?

    Posted by: Matt | May 4, 2013 10:25:39 AM


  5. I'm sorry to hear of his diagnosis but also heartened that he's using it in a way to help other people by taking one step to remove stigma... that's precisely what I would expect he would do.

    Help other people? Since he's HIV positive, why not see it as helping *himself*? Ever hear of the phrase, "conflict of interest"?

    Posted by: Matt | May 4, 2013 10:27:18 AM


  6. This NYT piece is a total puff piece, meant to tug at the heartstrings (people wouldn't even shake that other guy's hand!)

    But how about some acknowledgement of the fact that apparently us gay men are making the same mistakes that we did a generation ago? How about some reflection on that? How did Corey Johnson become infected? Did he expose other people to the virus? I'm sick of the "magical seroconversion out of nowhere" theme.

    Posted by: Matt | May 4, 2013 10:31:07 AM


  7. @Matt - You gotta time machine? Many people have decades-old HIV infections. So you want to "grandfather" their stigma because it predates the current meme?

    How about we reduce/eliminate the infection rate *AND* destigmatize? Can you not do both the former and the latter, or can you only do the former if you reserve the right to hunt witches when it suits you?

    Posted by: Anastasia Beaverhausen | May 4, 2013 10:34:47 AM


  8. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Matt The Troll.

    Posted by: Anastasia Beaverhausen | May 4, 2013 10:36:14 AM


  9. Would seem that having sex has more downsides than upsides. Between all the STD's and potential risk of contracting HIV, it would seem that a solid catalog of gay porn websites is the best option.

    Posted by: Jimmy | May 4, 2013 10:37:04 AM


  10. So we have an HIV positive guy replacing an HIV positive guy. I can't imagine why people think gay=aids.

    Posted by: David Hearne | May 4, 2013 10:42:40 AM


  11. Oh, please, so are we supposed to applaud Corey for being HIV+. No siree - you won't get me applauding him.

    As far as I'm concerned, gay men who play identity politics with AIDS are simply helping the religious Right.

    Posted by: Adam | May 4, 2013 10:56:15 AM


  12. In the article it mentions that Johnson has seen HIV rates rise in his own district. But as far as the article indicates, his way of "taking that on" will be to fight the stigma of HIV. Which of course benefits him, as an HIV positive person. When you send a message of "HIV -- it's not so bad! And, you know, it just happens, magically! Nobody's ever, you know, responsible for it" then you shouldn't be surprised to see HIV rates rise.

    Now that HIV isn't an automatic death sentence (though poor people, unlike politically well-connected Corey Johnson, still do die from AIDS, even here in the US) we've decided to just accept the massively disproportionate infection rates among us. God forbid we actually think about why we have the infection rates we do. God forbid we take a look at the sexual choices we make.

    This kind of approach can't go on forever. All kinds of things are bubbling around the edges. Some STDs are becoming untreatable (so far only in other countries) and there's hepatitis and of course there were the deaths from meningitis recently. And back in the 1970s no one knew about HIV; there might be something else out there that we, today, don't know about.

    The hypocrisy and unseriousness of our approach to HIV and STDs ought to be subject of major reflection. Step 1: stop pretending that "destigmatization" is this incredibly noble goal and that the only problem with HIV worth mentioning is that people with it (in every case, having contracted it magically out of nowhere) are treated meanly.

    Posted by: Matt | May 4, 2013 10:56:58 AM


  13. A good start to addressing AIDS would be to shut down the bath-houses and to arrest men who engage in highly promiscuous sexual activity with total strangers.

    I'm honestly fed up with the victim card as played by gay men with AIDS.

    Posted by: Adam | May 4, 2013 11:07:30 AM


  14. Maybe this will really work out for Corey Johnson's political aspirations. After all, as the article itself notes, Chelsea has the highest HIV rates in New York, and rates are rising. Since HIV is thankfully no longer a death sentence but now, instead, a life sentence, and 20% of gay men nationwide are HIV positive, according to the CDC, he's got himself quite a large constituency for championing "destigmatization" (as opposed to, say, honest reflection about dangerous sex practices and serious proposals and messages for reducing new infections). When you destigmatize something, you get more of it, but hey -- Corey Johnson's already HIV positive, what does he care?

    This approach is, of course, the one being taken among HIV "prevention" and treatment organizations all over the country, which are chock-full of HIV positive people. One would think, looking at these "prevention" orgs that don't, apparently, prevent HIV (rates are rising among gay men once more, and they've *never* actually fallen, only stabilized, in the past) and which are devoting more and more of their resources to the goal of "destigmatization", which of course benefits people who already have HIV, and which are largely staffed by HIV-positive people (interesting, isn't it, how a major plus for a job that's supposedly about keeping people healthy and preventing a lifelong, incurable infection is to be infected yourself?) -- one would think that all these things might be seen as an outrageous conflict of interest and a huge problem. But you're not supposed to notice these things. Look over there -- Sarah Palin said something stupid again!

    Posted by: Matt | May 4, 2013 11:16:08 AM


  15. From the late 80s to 2000 that was a sharp decline in the incidence (new cases) of HIV. The rate of incidence has since picked up again and climbing. What changed?

    Posted by: John | May 4, 2013 11:19:15 AM


  16. AGree with others here. We are afraid to call out the unsafe pratices many in the LGBT community engage in for fear it will give fuel to the religious right.
    More to the point,we seem to have this idea that because you won't die from it as fast as you use to,AIDS is no big deal.
    It still IS a big deal and we need to start addressing it as such.

    Posted by: Kevin | May 4, 2013 11:23:08 AM


  17. John - What changed was the perception of AIDS as a terminal illness becoming AIDS as a chronic inconvenience. What changed was middle class white males with health insurance through major corporations going to the beach and looking healthy (as long as you don't look too closely) and appearing to be unimpeded by the disease.

    Hell, they even made a movie about how stupid it was to not have sex with a guy just because he's HIV positive.

    Posted by: David Hearne | May 4, 2013 11:23:40 AM


  18. I think we should destigmatize and educate about prevention. There's no point in making those already infected with the virus lepers. I think it's harder to come out as HIV+ than it is to come out as gay.

    That said, I live in Seattle, a city where 1 out of 7 gay men is positive, and the ones I have to thank for educating me about the virus are those who have the courage to come out as positive. These are the people now leading the way in terms of educating my generation about AIDS prevention. The ones trying to keep me safe.

    No, contracting HIV doesn't happen magically, but all it takes is one unlucky moment in time as a result of a wrong choice, and I think the majority of gay men have made at least one wrong choice in their life. Some are just luckier than others. I know men who have been infected because their long term boyfriends cheated on them and contracted the virus and passed it on unknowingly. Life happens. Coming out as HIV positive doesn't increase HIV rates among others. I'd argue the opposite. For me, once I saw how many men were positive I took double precautions not to contract the virus. Destigmatization and prevention education aren't mutually exclusive.

    Posted by: JT | May 4, 2013 11:25:03 AM


  19. That said, I live in Seattle, a city where 1 out of 7 gay men is positive, and the ones I have to thank for educating me about the virus are those who have the courage to come out as positive. These are the people now leading the way in terms of educating my generation about AIDS prevention. The ones trying to keep me safe.

    Are HIV rates falling in Seattle? I'm less concerned with what you think are the noble intentions of these people than with whether or not what they're doing actually works.

    As other people have noted, destigmatization often seems to take the form of "being HIV positive is no big deal, you can still look hot, and if anyone doesn't want to have sex with you, they're discriminating against you! Serosorting is bad! We deserve access to the largest possible pool of sexual partners!" So yeah, I would say, in theory destigmatization and prevention aren't mutually exclusive. But in practice, as we are actually seeing via our infection rates, they are. When you destigmatize something you get more of it.

    Posted by: Matt | May 4, 2013 11:40:46 AM


  20. Catching HIV isn't actually all that easy, and it's easy to know that you can't get it if you don't have unprotected sex with people if you don't know their status---and even then, there's a risk if they're quite active.

    Guys eager to have anal sex when you've known them half an hour (if that) are red flags. So is almost anything related to online or app activity. That said, people with HIV don't need to be condemned. I've made tons of terrible decisions in my life (but avoided HIV), and I know there's no benefit in being judged.

    Posted by: Paul R | May 4, 2013 11:45:15 AM


  21. JT

    Wow, someone with a brain who isn't shooting off his mouth!!!??

    Posted by: Rowan | May 4, 2013 11:49:25 AM


  22. "Catching HIV isn't actually all that easy, and it's easy to know that you can't get it if you don't have unprotected sex with people if you don't know their status---and even then, there's a risk if they're quite active.

    Guys eager to have anal sex when you've known them half an hour (if that) are red flags. So is almost anything related to online or app activity. That said, people with HIV don't need to be condemned. I've made tons of terrible decisions in my life (but avoided HIV), and I know there's no benefit in being judged."

    Since possibly 30%, and some even say as many as 50%, of new infections occur while one partner is in the acutely infectious seroconversion period -- before their body has produced sufficient antibodies to show up on an HIV test -- "knowing your partner's status" is not nearly enough. People who are seroconverting are too recently infected. The fact that this "know your status" message represents such a huge portion of "prevention efforts" these days is just example 1,385 of the uselessness of our approach to the disease. Getting people on the drugs does help, and it certainly lowers mortality rates and makes the deaths numbers look better, but it's not NEARLY enough.

    Kudos for noting that "anything related to online or app activity" is a danger sign. But can you imagine actually taking that message to gay men as a whole. The outrage! The fury! One in five gay men are HIV positive? Yawn. Online/app sex is risky and a problem? YOU'RE THREATENING OUR SEXUAL FREEDOM AND OUR RIGHTS! We can't even, 30 years after AIDS appeared, bring ourselves to close the remaining bathhouses!


    Posted by: Matt | May 4, 2013 11:57:17 AM


  23. "Catching HIV isn't actually all that easy, and it's easy to know that you can't get it if you don't have unprotected sex with people if you don't know their status---and even then, there's a risk if they're quite active."

    What if you ask a person, and he says he's negative, but he's actually seroconverting? This is the *acutely* infectious period right after infection occurs, when the body hasn't had a chance to make enough antibodies to the virus to show up on a test. I remember back as recently as the early 00s when the message was, assume *everybody* is positive. Because unless you're in a long-term monogamous relationship and you trust the guy, well, he might be! The seroconversion period is so infectious that some estimate that up to 30-50% of new infections occur during this time.

    Posted by: Matt | May 4, 2013 12:01:12 PM


  24. amazing and sad that someone gets hiv in this day and age -
    he became infected sometime between 2000 and 2004 - according to the article and the linked piece on him from 2000
    just unreal and so sad
    according to the article he was surprised when he found out
    since he was aware of his own sexual activity
    was he unaware of how hiv is transmitted?
    he hardly seems like a role model for gay youth -

    Posted by: jw | May 4, 2013 12:06:13 PM


  25. Question for Towleroad. why the choice of words of "comes out as HIV-Positive"? No one comes out as cancer-afflicted, or Herpes-positive ... if it is announced at all it is merely a disclosure. why the choice of words that relates so closely with the process only LGBTT go through of owning their identity?

    Posted by: Randy | May 4, 2013 12:06:33 PM


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