AIDS/HIV | Corey Johnson | New York | News | Thomas Duane

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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  1. ADAM said that bathhouses should be shut down as ADAM thinks they alone spread AIDS and maybe other STDs. Oh ADAM honey you need to get out a lot more. AIDS is being spread faster right in the privacy of your home via all the online hook up sites. And there are plenty. Gay men are spreading STDs at home these days. NYC is a big "house party" city.

    Posted by: Sargon Bighorn | May 4, 2013 12:26:21 PM

  2. @Matt: I wasn't suggesting that you can know someone's status just because they tested negative last month. I realize that you need to wait probably six months if you really want unprotected sex and know the guy isn't having sex with other people. Having unprotected sex with almost any gay guy you're not in a monogamous LTR with is a risk, because sadly, many gay guys lie. Just like straight guys.

    Posted by: Paul R | May 4, 2013 12:35:39 PM

  3. Agree with JW above. This is really a disaster and at this point it is one that is entirely avoidable. This guy was out as a teen in the year 2000. He became sort of famous when he came out to his HS football team and they were surprisingly accepting. He quickly became involved in gay politics. He knew early on how HIV was transmitted, and he knew all about the resources available to help him stay safe, but he ended up HIV+ anyway.

    This is not anything to applaud or respect. This is a failing. What that failing is, I don't know. Maybe it was a momentary act of negligence, or maybe it was a long-term pattern of disregarding his own health and the health of others. Whatever happened, it was unnecessary.

    As he has now come out as HIV+, his focus should be on helping young people avoid making the same mistakes that he made, not on glorifying his status.

    Posted by: Seth | May 4, 2013 12:42:54 PM

  4. I think a big part of the problem is that for many gay males, it is perfectly normal to expect to have sex with a large number of strangers each year, and to have that be a lifetime pattern. That really isn't normal for any other social or sexual group.

    A straight man might hope to bed a few women a year and during a limited period in which he "sows his oats." Then the vast majority of men settle down with one woman. At that point, even the minority (about 20%) who cheat may only have sex with a few women post-marriage. But for gay men, especially urban gay men, it is perfectly normal to use bars, backrooms, or a computer app to find strangers to have sex with on a weekly or daily basis. And it is perfectly normal for this to continue for years, if not decades. That is why we wind up with nearly 1 out of 5 gay men in big cities as HIV+. That statistic drops all the way down to 12% when you average all the regions of the US, urban and non-urban. Ironically and sadly, non-urban gays do much better even though they are stuck in more homophobic areas, with greater "stigma". The farther they live from the warped reality of the urban gay male community, the better their health. We should be less concerned about fighting "stigma" and more concerned about fighting a culture that tells us that Grindr is just a routine fixture in our lives.

    Posted by: Mike | May 4, 2013 1:01:37 PM

  5. I think a big part of the problem is that for many gay males, it is perfectly normal to expect to have sex with a large number of strangers each year, and to have that be a lifetime pattern. That really isn't normal for any other social or sexual group.

    It would be awesome for us to start reflecting on the really problematic business model of sites like Grindr, and the consequences for gay men's health. If a class-action lawsuit against cigarette companies can go forward, I don't see why one against these kinds of hookup sites couldn't. Especially considered Grindr's choice to promote a pre-exposure prophylactic for "when condoms get in the way"....

    That statistic drops all the way down to 12% when you average all the regions of the US, urban and non-urban.

    Hello Mike, (or anyone else), what's your source for this statistic? I've seen other people mention it as well. However, the CDC says 20%, and I'm afraid I don't see the 12% number anywhere. Can you (or, again, anyone else, give a source to the 12% number?)

    Ironically and sadly, non-urban gays do much better even though they are stuck in more homophobic areas, with greater "stigma".

    Exactly. While homophobia is a serious problem, HIV rates among gay men are also, I hope people would acknowledge, a serious one as well, and the lie that they are a result of homophobia is simply an excuse to justify our unwillingness to change our own sexual choices.

    Posted by: Matt | May 4, 2013 1:08:16 PM

  6. @Matt:

    Thanks for that. I would add that it isn't just HIV either. Living in big urban areas, closer to the well-developed "community" created by urban gay men, correlates with higher rates of STIs generally, drug and alcohol use, depression, anxiety and suicide.

    This has nothing to do with being gay. It has to do with living a life focused on sex acts with people who don't love you, or even know you. If we subjected a large cohort of straight people to the same conditions for a few decades, we'd see the same rates of disease and mood disorders.

    People need stable and meaningful social connection. They need a place in their community, a role that they understand. And they need love. A life revolving around hook-ups doesn't provide any of that. It is the equivalent of having 2000 Facebook friends but being utterly friendless in IRL. We can do better than what we have now. We shouldn't be afraid to think about better ways to live as gay people.

    There are going to be a lot of comments soon huffily protesting that any criticism of promiscuity and loveless sex is "internalized homophobia." But that can only be the case if promiscuity is an inherent feature of being gay. The people who think that attacking Grindr is the equivalent of gay bashing, implicitly believe that gay men are inherently drawn to loveless sex with multiple partners. In other words, they believe - to a T- the lies that the Christian Right has been telling about us for years. They are the true self-haters.

    Posted by: Seth | May 4, 2013 1:29:51 PM

  7. "This is not anything to applaud or respect. This is a failing. What that failing is, I don't know. Maybe it was a momentary act of negligence, or maybe it was a long-term pattern of disregarding his own health and the health of others. Whatever happened, it was unnecessary."

    I agree. Tell it like it is! The gay community needs its own version of "We Gotta Do Better".

    Posted by: EchtKultig | May 4, 2013 2:19:01 PM

  8. So many trolls on here today. Really disappointing.

    Posted by: MateoM | May 4, 2013 2:25:41 PM

  9. I agree with the level-headed sentiments expressed by Matt, Adam, Kevin, JW, Seth and EchtKultig. And for what it's worth, I'm poz myself.

    Maybe it's time to start a "Keep the Stigma Alive" project.

    Posted by: KTSA | May 4, 2013 2:54:10 PM

  10. Just another gay guy who was either promiscuous in his early years or was irresponsible and had unprotected sex. It brings his judgement into question. He is young and had TONS of information about the risks.

    Posted by: paul | May 4, 2013 3:57:31 PM

  11. It never fails to surprise me how easily gay men will attack and demonize other gay men for contracting HIV.

    Good for you, Corey Johnson, for being open about your status!!

    Posted by: peterparker | May 4, 2013 4:48:44 PM

  12. I'm going through a bit of a promiscuous phase at the moment - however, I don't use drugs, drink, or EVER have unprotected sex. In fact, I was in a relationship for 3 years and we didn't have unsafe sex even once. I just feel like...if I'm sober and using having sex with guys form Grindr wrong? It certainly feels wrong sometimes but I've had some fun - with of course pangs of post-coital regret. I'd rather be in a relationship but I feel like I'm settling for hooking-up at the moment.

    Otherwise, I personally think it should be the law that gay bars & nightclubs have condom dispensers and even lube dispensers... I think it's irresponsible these bar owners are getting young gay people drunk (and profiting off it) while not providing any safeguards whatsoever for their clientele.

    Posted by: steve | May 4, 2013 4:54:39 PM

  13. Hi, I was careless even though I knew all the facts about HIV/AIDS and how it is spread. Basically, I just didn't give a damn, but now I want you to elect me so I can be responsible for your tax dollars.

    Posted by: Tyler | May 4, 2013 5:13:42 PM

  14. Anybody who would use a person's HIV status to attack them as an individual, and their fitness or lack thereof to hold political office, needs to be slapped upside the head repeatedly.

    Posted by: Craig S | May 4, 2013 5:16:07 PM

  15. I briefly dated a guy who was HIV+ and I think him being open about his status probably saved me from getting HIV in the future - just because I knew it was such a real thing - meeting him and watching him struggle with it made it so real for me. I credit him for why I've been so safe about sex in my life and why I'm negative almost a decade later.

    Posted by: steve | May 4, 2013 5:53:02 PM

  16. If someone in good health began to overeat, became obese, and developed health problems like diabetes, would we congratulate that person for talking about it openly?

    After all the work my generation did to raise awareness of the dangers of HIV and the ways to prevent its transmission, it's sad to see that message lost on a younger generation. It's not rocket science why younger people are seroconverting. It's because they're not taking the sensible precautions everyone knows about, i.e., condoms. HIV may now be more of a "chronic" problem than the death sentence it was two decades ago. But that also means a lifetime taking costly medications, many with unpleasant side effects.

    Posted by: soothsayer | May 4, 2013 6:12:50 PM

  17. they've literally never DONE...sorry for typo

    Posted by: Matthew Rettenmund | May 4, 2013 6:37:51 PM

  18. It's not "easy" contracting HIV...unless you are being unsafe. People make choices in life. I turned 18 in 1982 just as the epidemic was making news. I didn't need someone to drill into me how to be safe. 38 yrs later and I'm still Neg. BY CHOICE!

    Posted by: tagg | May 4, 2013 7:20:30 PM

  19. Today Chelsea is quickly becoming what the Castro in San Fran was years ago in the early days of the epidemic...ground zero

    Posted by: FakeOutrage | May 4, 2013 8:57:51 PM

  20. Well, though some of you have a very narrow idea of how dialogue and openness can help us ALL, I'm so glad Corey took this brave step. There are so many people in this city who are HIV-positive... and so few who are willing to talk about it in public. HIV has retreated into the shadows, and people living with it who are able to, are socially pressured to keep quiet about it.

    By not talking about it, by acting as though the only people who have it are the ones unable to conceal their symptoms (usually due to a lack of adequate care), we let the stigma against being positive persist and grow, and we continue to surrender another generation to HIV. Infection rates have been surging among teenagers and young adults, and it's in no small part due to the lack of honest discussion of sex, risks, HIV, and STD prevention.

    People who are up front and direct -- yes, "out" -- about their status set a positive example against all those guys out there who have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy with their partners. People who are out about their status are much more likely to be honest about the reality of living with HIV, which is NOT the cakewalk implied by all the big glossy ads in gay publications. People who are out about their status can tell people to get tested regularly because it's NOT the end of their lives.

    It's a tricky line to walk, between not scaring people away from getting tested and treated, and not lulling people into a false sense of no consequences. But it sounds like Corey is walking that line in exactly the right way!

    Posted by: Dave | May 4, 2013 10:33:19 PM

  21. Oy vey to all the people "tut-tutting" about how he should have known better, and had "poor judgment". I'm sure all of you showed nothing but excellent judgment in your sex lives in your early 20's. I'm sure you always used protection, even with your boyfriends you loved and were convinced you could totally trust (which, by the way, is how a LOT of these young guys are getting it). I'm sure you never had a condom break.

    I've had accidents, and I've even done some incredibly stupid things when I was in a spiral of self-destructive depression, and am still neg. I'm lucky.

    I was heartbroken when a kid I was mentoring found out he had HIV. He'd only ever had sex with one person -- his first boyfriend, whom he'd been with for four years.

    But no, let's all condemn his lousy judgment! Oh, we holy few who have never slipped up, had an accident, or trusted the wrong person! Such things could never happen to US! *eye roll*

    Posted by: Dave | May 4, 2013 10:41:10 PM

  22. Thank you Corey for being open and honest about your life. Only through open dialogue can we change views, behavior and lives. We ALL make mistakes. Just because you may have had a few fast food meals, does this mean you should get cancer and be ridiculed? Many make good arguments concerning hooking up but we, mostly, have all been there and mistakes were made in the heat of passion. Hell, some of us are here on Earth because our parents made mistakes. Enough with the finger pointing already.

    Posted by: Mike | May 5, 2013 12:10:39 AM

  23. Dave FTW!

    Posted by: Craig S | May 5, 2013 12:49:07 AM

  24. If you use a condom you're risks of contracting HIV and AIDS is VERY slim. If you're a hardcore 'bottom', well those are the risks you take.

    Most people contracting AIDS today are:

    Injecting drugs

    Engaging in very risky, unsafe sex. Some of those poor folks are desperate souls who must hustle for a living, usually due to drug addictions.

    And then there's dudes who 'bareback', engage in risky sexual practices, refuse to wear a condom. The very high prevalence of recreational drug use and substance abuse among gay males doesn't help the situation. I on no way look down on such people, I'm a flawed human being myself with vices, but of all the groups who contact HIV and AIDS, they are the most troublesome to me. You play with fire, you're gonna get burn if you keep it up long enough. Your odds will catch up with you. The other two groups I mentioned are just plain sad. Life is hard.

    Posted by: ratbastard | May 5, 2013 9:51:08 AM

  25. If I ever run for public office, I'm gonna come out as allergies positive. Dust, cats,ragweed, pollen, you name it, I'm allergic. Have to take antihistamines year round. Maybe it'll help garner the sympathy vote.

    Posted by: ratbastard | May 5, 2013 10:34:40 AM

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