“In no way do I want this to be an attack on gay men. I fully support them having safe spaces that are welcoming. I don’t want to go to outer space either, but if someone suddenly said no women were allowed in space, I’d be first to join the protest.”
So says Amina Chaudhry as she attacks a safe space gay men have created for themselves. Chaudhry “filed a complaint alleging she was discriminated against because she wasn’t allowed to stay at an all-male resort that was clothing-optional for gay and bisexual men.”(The Advocate)
The all-male resort in question: The Island House in Key West. According to the Keys Weekly, The Island House Key West resort’s owners and attorneys say that they have units for women, but that the specific woman wasn’t allowed to stay because of prior negative behavior. The layers of this story continue to deepen. Chaudhry was at the Pride kickoff parties at the Island House in both June 2021 and 2022. And get this…
In June 2022 Chaudhry distributed flyers trashing the Island House. Flyers attacked the Island House and claimed it’s policies were discrimination. Yes, the same Island House that invited her in as a guest. The same Island House where she had been to before and had a great time. Is this biatch for real? Literally coming into our safe space and then trashing it for being a safe space. (I mean this isn’t funny but could you imagine being at the Pride party at the Island House and having this woman pass out flyers. Everyone is dancing, drinking, singing, having fun in the pool…I know my friends and I would have laughed it off and then probably clapped with everyone else as she was escorted out.)
Yes, I am making light out of this and yes I am going to crack jokes throughout this column but this is still an attack on the queer community.
I was going to write a paragraph about this woman’s motives or reasons but guess what I don’t give an F about any of those. End result is still the same. Just because you are not welcome somewhere does not make it discrimination.
The world is different now than it was at the beginning of the Gay Rights movement. Some of my first mentors were reluctant to give up their queer bars to women explaining to the younger generations (me in the early 2000s) that they fought long and hard for these spaces. Today in 2023 where everyone knows someone who is L G B T Q the social scene is more mixed. Most queer bars welcome all ages, shapes, and identities. BUT…
There are and should be, men-only spaces. And by the same reason, there should be women-only nights at bars and clubs and transgender-only parties. Is it discrimination? What about black-only or Jewish-only fraternities?
There are many bars in queer NYC I would go with my female friends, but would I take them to The Eagle? No probably not. Would I take them to the Brut parties? No definitely not. And I know I can speak for them when I say they do not feel discriminated against. Just like if I had two or three weekends to choose from to go to in Provincetown, ‘women’s weekend’ would not make my list.
Owner Bob Lore said “I felt affronted by the fact that there was someone who was invited to the space and enjoying it, but while passing out literature to the detriment of our property and aggravating our guests. We eventually had the police escort her off the property.” Good, I am glad. Aggravating our guests he said it right there. Again, I make jokes but this was an attack on our community.
As a gay man in his late 40s, I have come to notice more and more the little (and not so little) signs that I’m aging, and they have all happened very recently. It’s like I have been young for decades and now suddenly every morning it’s something new. (I have been getting Botox once or twice a year now for a few years but I consider that just normal life maintenance lol.) (below photo, March 2023)
I am near-sighted and wear glasses. Sometime last year I was having trouble reading a book or looking at my phone while wearing my glasses. I was actually very confused for days, pondering—what’s going on? Why can’t I see my phone? I have been wearing glasses my whole life and had been able to read perfectly while wearing them—apparently not anymore! Now, it’s glasses on for distance and glasses off when I need to read or send a text. This makes texting during Rupaul’s Drag Race quite the challenge! Relaying the story to a friend, he politely replied, “Yeah, that’s a real thing. It happens in your 40s.”
Everything we have heard about getting older is true: the hangovers are rougher; it takes much, much longer to recover. The pounds pack on very easily and the new-found weight is significantly harder to get off.
A few years ago, I thought these were urban legends or that maybe I was lucky and would always be “young at heart.” Just like karma—who might be late but always shows up—Father Time also begins to show up with his scythe and ticking clock. Well, Father Time found me. It’s like the dam broke and once the first crack of aging appeared the flood waters started rushing in. (below photo – 2001)
Aging for me hasn’t felt gradual. It feels more like a before and after. One day I was young, carefree, hot, lean, muscular, and sexy. (Let me have this, please lol.). Then one morning I woke up and just felt “older.” If everyone in the world were broken up into two categories—young and old—I feel like now, today, I am part of the old group. I mean if I finally got on the reality show Survivor and they broke up the teams by age, I would definitely be in the “older” group. I’d be longingly looking at the 35-year-old on the other team and hoping a tribe swap or merge would come up soon.
As we age, we need to spend more time taking care of ourselves and looking after our mental and physical health. Every time I see a friend posting on FaceBook that they are preparing for a colonoscopy, I think to myself, “I need to schedule that.” Doctors, dentists, and trips to the dermatologist for a little touch-up of Botox (or “Bo” for us in the know) come more and more frequently. (below photo, December 2020)
But the absolute “kick-me-in-the-crotch, spit-on-my-neck fantastic” sign of my own aging is walking. I’m only too aware of it. Loud, chatty, animated, gregarious, energetic, hyper—I have heard them all. I am Italian; I gesture when I talk. And I talk a lot. And I’m a New Yorker. Born and raised. I walk fast. VERY FAST. Especially on NYC sidewalks. I take pride in it. Lately, I have come to notice that not only are people walking as fast as I am, but many are also walking even faster. Color me dumbfounded on 8th Avenue, walking to that quintessential Chelsea gay bar, Rebar, with people passing me left and right, leaving me to wonder, “when the f* did I lose my stride?!”
With all my whining about aging, I want to make something perfectly clear: getting older is a privilege. I am fully aware of how lucky I am to see 40, 45, and hopefully 50, 60, and beyond. Some of our friends and family did not get that privilege. (below photo January 2023)
I am not a huge birthday person. I go out, see my friends, but it’s not a huge fanfare-type of event. However, we do acknowledge the day, and celebrate. We celebrate for those who didn’t get the chance. I celebrate for my beloved cousin Dawnie, who died at 32 after battling lupus her entire life. I celebrate for my two friends from college, Carrie, and Deidre, both taken from us far too soon. I celebrate for an entire generation of gay men lost during the AIDS epidemic.
Speaking of the passage of time…it’s time for another touch-up of the Bo. I just hope everyone doesn’t stride past me as I walk to my dermatologist’s office! ▼ (below photos, November 2022 and December 2000)
Greetings Letter readers, Robby from Brooklyn here hoping all are well. In my last column, I had just returned from a press tour of Merida, Mexico, after same-sex marriage was legalized in the state of Yucatan. While not the marrying type, I did love touring the local Haciendas and luxury resorts eager to become a sought-after location for queer American couples looking to book a destination wedding. Even though I don’t envision marriage for myself, I picture my life as a romantic comedy film with a happy ending! (Not that kind of happy ending – this isn’t a Naked Sword rom-com…LOL).
I have always loved rom-coms. My entertainment viewing tends to be on the “light,” “cheerful,” and “funny” side as opposed to dark and deadly. No “Handmaid’s Tale,” “Walking Dead,” or “American Horror Story” for me. Give me an “Emily in Paris,” “Younger,” or “The Other Two,” over a “Dahmer” any day. HELL NO.
And rom-com movies! LOVE. I might have popped a little woody just now LOL. Today I am writing this hours before I am about to see “BROS,” the first gay-led rom-com from a major Hollywood studio. Every role in the film – even the straight ones – are played by queer actors. Thank you Billy Eichner for giving this gift to our community. It’s been a long time coming.
As rom-com obsessed as I am, having a film like this growing up would have been a life changer. I am beyond thrilled for queer kids today with the amount of LGBTQ representation in film, television, and books. It’s truly astounding. As a 40-something gay man, this representation when I was coming of age was almost non-existent and very hard to find.
We had Matt on “Melrose Place,” where we did not even get to see him kiss his boyfriend. Instead, the camera cut to Daphne Zuniga’s Jo watching it unfold. We had Jack McPhee on “Dawsons Creek,” who did get to kiss his boyfriend – making history as the first same-sex kiss on network television. These weren’t the first queer characters on network television, but they were the first for me. Older generations (this is not shade or ageist) got to watch Billy Crystal on “Soap,” and two men sitting in bed shirtless after sex on “Thirtysomething.” As time marched on we finally began to see ourselves on television screens as leading characters in “Queer as Folk” and “Will and Grace.”
Watching rom-com movies I was always looking for a gay man with a starring role finding his Prince Charming and happy ending. We saw ourselves on screen as the gay best friend like Rupert Everett in “My Best Friends Wedding.” Earlier films like “Longtime Companion,” “Love, Valour, Compassion,” and “An Early Frost” were devastating dramas where one or more queer characters died. “Brokeback Mountain” can be added to that list. And look what happened to Greg Kinnear’s character in “As Good As It Gets.” Don’t even get me started on “Cruising” with Al Pacino – that movie scarred me for years.
As a younger gay, I was lucky to have friends who taught and showed me gay history. We watched the groundbreaking PBS “Tales of the City.” Laura Linney will forever be MaryAnn to me. Then slowly but surely, every so often there would be a gay rom-com like “Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss” with Will Hayes. I fell in love with Paul Rudd in “The Object of My Affection” with Jennifer Aniston. Rudd was just like me, a teacher with friends, family, hopes, and dreams who just happened to be gay. Bonus points for having hunk Tim Daly as his douche-y ex. (Definitely had a massive crush on him after the movie.)
We claimed “Trick” as our own watching it over and over on rainy days in the Pines. Who could forget Tori Spelling singing “Enter You.” There had been rumors of a possible sequel, but no details so far as to where that stands. Eventually, we were getting multiple queer films and it felt ok to dislike some of them without feeling like we were betraying the community. “Weekend” was one of those for me. Everyone else was raving about it, but I think I fell asleep in the theater. The same goes for Showtime’s “Looking,” which many loved while I found it better than Ambien for putting me to sleep.
But my absolute favorite “gay” film was and still is, drumroll please…”The Broken Hearts Club.” Zach Braff, Timothy Olyphant, Dean Cain, and Billy Porter. Revolving around the lives of members of a gay softball team in West Hollywood, they were us. They were my friends and I. Their problems were our problems. The slutty one, the romantic one, the negative one, and the newbie. I even joined a gay softball league after seeing the film! It was super fun but we were not TBHC…LOL.
Change comes slowly, as I’m reminded by older gay friends. Each film, book, and movie with fully-realized queer characters take us one step closer to equality. So, get with your bros, see “Bros,” and celebrate how far our community has come. I would bet money there is a happy ending. Both kinds!
(**this column originally appeared in “Letters From Camp Rehoboth”)
Greetings from Merida! Ok, so yes I am back in NYC after my vacation touring the state of Yucatan but ‘Greetings from Merida’ is a better opening line. Quick refresher, last time I wrote about my first ever trip as a freelance writer. Same-sex marriage recently became the law of the land in Merida, Cancun, Valladolid, and the surrounding areas.
I was invited to the region on a destination wedding/honeymoon tour with eight other journalists, influencers, and editors. Sights were seen, food was eaten, drinks were drunk, and friendships were formed. It was a really nice five days south of the border, but sorry to disappoint…I did not come home with a husband. Nor do I come home with a nagging desire to get married.
Basically, Merida would love to be the “new” Puerto Vallarta and tap into that billion-dollar wedding market. And honestly, that newness is the biggest attraction the state of Yucatan has going for it at the moment. Gays LOVE discovering the “next best thing.”
Tel Aviv Pride. Iceland. The gays also seem to know what and where is about to blow up and become super popular. Like Samantha Jones said, “First come the gays, then the girls, then the industry.” Merida is hoping that rings true for their tourism and city.
A beautiful destination wedding in a stunning Mexican location, with a small group of friends, is CONSIDERABLY cheaper than a wedding at a venue here in the States. Taking 6, or 10 (depending on how well off my future imaginary fiancee is), friends to a gorgeous locale in Merida, and getting married in front of them does sound nice. Ten does seem like a lot of people. Don’t mention that to my cousin Jeannine who, lovingly, had all the cousins in her bridal party. Twelve. On each side. So yes there were 24 of us. The priest exclaimed after we all made it done the aisle, “Well now that the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games have ended, let’s get you two married!”
We did see quite a lot of venues, haciendas, and luxury resorts. My mind is a little foggy trying to remember everywhere we went. Good thing I still have the itinerary and the photos time stamped on my phone to refresh my memory. Easily, my favorite locale though was the last hacienda we visited, Hacienda Xcanatún by Angsana.
It’s hard to explain why Hacienda Xcanatún by Angsana was my favorite. We can’t help what or who we are attracted to. The staff was remarkably friendly and personable. The grounds were gorgeous without being pretentious. I even envisioned my future imaginary bachelor party at the fabulous, but not grotesquely huge, pool area. Unfortunately, when I inquired about the packages offered, I was told a groom does not come with the deal. Foiled again!
I think I am doing ok without a husband. Better than OK, in fact. As Carrie Bradshaw famously said in a “sex and the city” episode [ok I binged on some beloved classic shows that I have seen many times to get through the never-ending winter in NYC. Fuck you Omicron.] she is “SINGLE AND FABULOUS EXCLAMATION POINT”. Poor gurl ended up on a magazine cover not looking her best with the words “single and fabulous?” Notice the question mark. Not what she signed up for she mused. So like Ms. Bradshaw I too am single and fabulous exclamation point.
I always thought if the whole soulmate, wedding, two kids picket fence thing happened for me it would be amazing and wonderful. But if by some chance it doesn’t, my life will be just as happy and just as full. There are other kinds of love besides romantic love. Gen Y twentysomethings are buying homes with their friends. Whether that is due to astronomical real estate prices as of late or just the want and desire to own a home without having to wait for that future husband or wife is yet to be determined. We love those memes about normalizing “living with your 3 best friends in your 60s.”
I still love my rom-coms devouring them all – “never been kissed’ “notting hill” and “13 going on 30” prob top the list – [can’t wait to add ‘Bros’ to that list when it is released later this year] but I am smart enough to know that’s not how life works. We all deserve the happy ending. Just believing that you deserve a happy ending is a very powerful thing.
But remember happy endings all don’t look the same and my happy ending (come through Avril Lavigne!) might look different from yours. Whatever your happy ending is I hope it happens for you. Mine might include a husband, might include a wedding but it’s definitely going to include a flash mob proposal. OK so maybe life can be like a rom-com!
(this column originally appeared in “Letters From Camp Rehoboth”)
New York City real estate is some of the most valuable on the planet. Land is at a premium, and skyward is the only direction in which to construct. Developers desperately outbid themselves on erecting phallic monstrosities that will earn them ungodly amounts of money, slash their taxes, and render living in the Big Apple unjustifiably more expensive for everyone else.
Like individual New Yorkers, each residential building is unique in its own way no matter when it was built. They share certain features including means of egress and ingress, basements, common corridors, staircases, and sometimes elevators. And while all of them have roofs, only in some are residents allowed to enjoy that untapped, secure, open-air square footage.
Commercial venues are encouraged to acquire permission to utilize their building’s rooftops due to the extra revenue that they generate for the establishments’ owners. In fact, retail spaces are commonly unleaseable without their respective upper levels, despite the increased cost.
People, however, are seldom presented with that opportunity unless the rent-collecting gentry issues special approval or has already invested in significant modifications.
That must change.
This is not to say that landlords and property management firms need to adorn roofs with turf, furniture, or amenities that are unnecessary for tar beaches. Let those who pay to live there sort out the decorative details. The point is that providing an exclusive outdoor spot to lounge in the Sun, work out, or stargaze at night is a small request. And it would boost the morale of a city that has been through the fucking ringer and is doing its best to recover and evolve.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, the mercurial oasis atop my concrete and cinderblock prewar habitat became a refuge upon which to clear my head, burn some calories, and stare toward twinkling infinity.
Behind me, a sea of staggered ceilings fills the blocks between my dwelling and The George Washington Bridge, a permanently illuminated beacon blinking a couple of miles to my North.
On warm days, I would tan and exercise, and when I got lucky, watch a storm approaching from the West. At night, when I lay down on a blanket and remained still enough, I observed the Earth’s rotation as stars slowly drifted behind the taller structures in the neighborhood.
There were even instances wherein I fell asleep, bong in hand, under the heavens, never once feeling vulnerable, unsafe, or on someone else’s schedule.
Time, it seems, prefers the sanctum of the indoors.
Meanwhile, down in Hell’s Kitchen, three of my friends occupy a penthouse unit with a private terrace, where they graciously host periodic social gatherings of the finest trade in the land. Beats and boys thump and grind until our joints start screaming, but in this setting, who cares?
Their quaint party pulpit is nestled amongst countless skyscrapers, surrounded by life, beneath a canopy of endless, cloud-brushed azure. Planes crisscross the expanse as the Sun dips below the mirrored horizon. Bronze twilight morphs into a blackness decorated with pinpoints of cosmic fury which because of light pollution are visible only from distinct spots like this and mine.
Incidentally, you know those buzzing mini-moons that line the streets and burn your retinas?
Fuck those things. Let there be night.
Nevertheless, universal rooftop access certainly harbors potential liability concerns and legal ramifications, and although they are valid, they are not insurmountable. We can overcome.
Rooftops bring joy, strengthen the bonds of community, and enhance the urban experience.
Access should be a right.
Brandon Gage is a political columnist and editor who is sick of right-wing bullshit preventing us from having nice things.
America is on shaky ground these days. Ron DeSantis won’t let Floridians say gay. Congress is filled with corrupt, lying, cheating racist homophobes like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorne, and Matt Gaetz. And what’s worse is there are no repercussions for their actions. Tucker Carlson is the number one news show nightly.
Biden is doing a stand-up job, probably the best job of any President in recent memory, yet half of America refuses to acknowledge it. Last week a dozen people were shot by a madman in the Brooklyn subway. As of writing this, there have been 145 mass shootings in the USA – THIS YEAR. And it’s only April. Yes, things are pretty bad right now.
I will admit watching the news endlessly only depresses and stresses me out. I try to limit my news to Good Morning America and The View. Friends love to tell me those are “not news shows” lol. These are the same friends who watch CNN, and MSN on an endless loop. Every time I stop over at their apartment there is always news on. Hours and hours of pundits giving their opinions on whatever topic is being discussed. To each their own, but for me, my television viewing needs to be light and fun. Emily in Paris, Bridgerton, The Other Two, you get the gist. Throw in some reality tv, Survivor,Project Runway, Top Chef, and game shows.
Truth be told, I am very competitive. Love a good game night with friends. Cards Against Humanity. Taboo. Also love competing in 5k races, and Obstacle Course Races (OCR). Not to toot our own horns but my friend Noah and I placed 2nd in the Sundance Cornhole Tournament last August, and almost took the crown!
I have always loved game shows: Wheel of Fortune, and $100,000 Pyramid, but the one that constantly fills me with joy and makes me smile endlessly for an hour is The Price Is Right. For me, The Price is Right represents the America we strive to be!
First and foremost, anyone and everyone can participate. Older, younger, middle-aged, white, black, Latin, gay, straight, trans, Muslim, Jewish, overweight, skinny, blonde, brunette, smart, dumb. The audience looks like a melting pot of every type of American in our great country. The inclusivity of ‘TPIR’ is the goal America should be working towards.
Taking the inclusivity a step forward, no longer are the ‘models’ all female. ‘TPIR’ has vaulted in the 21st century and employs two GORGEOUS male models to show off the luxurious prizes. In total there is a rotating cast of six models, two male, and four female. Manuela was born in Colombia and she is stunning. James hails from Australia, and if he wasn’t straight and married, he would be the man of my dreams he is that hot. Devin, an African-American hunk, played college football and Amber was a former Miss Washington Teen USA. Each of them is likable, and personable, and interacts with host Drew Carey throughout the show. Again, the representation and inclusivity in this hour are hard to top.
Next, you would be hard-pressed to find a more joyful, exuberant, happy group of people. I mean why wouldn’t you be, you have the chance to win pretty amazing prizes: trips, cars, boats, cash. Even better – the entire audience cheers for everyone. High fives happen regularly, with strangers cheering on other strangers.
You get outbid in contestants row by a dollar? Yeah, that SUCKS, but it’s the name of the game.
Even the games themselves inspire raucous applause. Raising the curtain to see the beloved Plinko board? You would think Lady Gaga just walked out on the stage. The Mountain Climber is also a much-loved favorite. My favorite games are Ten Chances, the Clock Game, and the Race Game.
I love going on a cruise or group trip where we have matching shirts celebrating a birthday or a hometown. Last Atlantis Cruise for the white party 12 of us wore our homemade “I LOVE NY” shirts.
If you are looking for an hour of nonstop joy and happiness, give ‘The Price is Right’ a try. You won’t be disappointed. COME ON DOWN LETTERS FROM CAMP REHOBOTH!
That being said the group/matching t-shirts in the ‘TPIR’ audience give me life! Some homemade, some bought from the show store. [Drew is not a fan of the t-shirts with his face plastered all over them.] Popular ones include “I called in sick to work to come on TPIR,’ or ‘I am ready to COME ON DOWN.” Jack MacFarland in an episode of Will and Grace suggested a game show for the new all-gay network he started working at – The Price is Right AND GAY! Perfect for my t-shirt when I am called down to contestants row.
(this column was first published in the May issue of “Letters from Camp Rehoboth”)
How did I wind up here? On a flight bound for Cancun, all expenses paid! Something like this definitely does not happen to me. But today it is. As a writer, I can quite easily spin any FB post to make it seem like my life is all beaches and bars. Which it definitely is not. I don’t really know what people think when they hear I left teaching to become a freelance writer. You work odd hours as a freelancer: late nights, early mornings – a very flexible schedule. But you need to book the jobs to get paid and obviously the more you write, the more you get paid.
The pay isn’t the best. But you do it for the “work,” as cheesy as that sounds, it’s true. There are perks. Sometimes. But you have to know how to “work” them, how to ask for them. And I don’t think I have mastered that quite yet. Need to get on more PR lists, more screener lists, more “try this product and if you like it write a great review” lists, a Botox one of those would be AMAZEBALLS.
But back to the here and now. The here: 30,000 feet in the air. The now: En route to Mexico, on a group trip with 7 other journalists from the States, Canada, and Colombia. The reason: To tour the region. As of March 4th same-sex marriage is now legal in the Yucatan peninsula. Another win for gay marriage, or as we call it now, marriage.
Yes there is a select, very vocal, very powerful portion of the USA that doesn’t want to say gay, thinking that if you don’t say the word that somehow makes it so queer people don’t exist. (Republican scumbags I am pointing at you) Sorry not sorry, but it doesn’t work that way.
Gays have been around for centuries. If the studies are correct, one 1 out of every 10 people are gay, which equals there are 30 million gay Americans. (There are 330 million people in the USA. I hope my math is correct) The gay wedding industry is big bucks and the state of Yucatan would love to tap into that market. Destination weddings are tres’ gay and Merida wants to be part of the conversation. Groom and Groom has a nice ring to it. I think that’s the first time I ever said that.
The fact of the matter is, when I was envisioning my life and planning it out, I never saw myself as a husband. Marriage was never in the picture of the life I envisioned for myself. But I marched for it. I fought like hell for it. I celebrated when it became the law of the land. But even when marching I felt myself marching for the cause. For my queer brothers and sisters. For equality. But not really for myself.
I have had boyfriends before, relationships. Even been in love once or twice. And even throughout those relationships, the topic of marriage didn’t even come up. I did date a guy once who was obsessed with getting married. He dropped the ‘I love you’ within weeks of our first meeting. I definitely was not in the same space as he was and thought the best thing to do would be to break it off. Fast forward about a year later as I see his wedding photos (to the next guy he dated after me) all over social media. He wanted to get married. He got married. Better him than me!
I mean, this trip has all the makings of a rom-com! (I love me a rom-com!) Friends have specifically told me “do not fall in love!” Background history on that: in my younger days I would somehow “fall in love on vacation.” Atlantis Cruise, Puerto Vallarta, Provincetown. On each of those trips with friends, I met someone, usually on day one, and we hit it off. We quickly become VB’s – vacation boyfriends. My PV VB even joined our group for breakfast on the last day. But that was the younger, leaner, more carefree Robby. He did not get on the plane for this trip lol.
Speaking of rom-coms, I think I just realized I am Jane – Katherine Heigl’s character in “27 Dresses.” She winds up having to plan her sister’s wedding – to the guy she thinks she is in love with, Edward Burns. Spoiler Alert: Jane is really in love with James Marsden, the reporter who covers the wedding section for a newspaper. Yes, it’s a stretch, but I will be tasting wedding meals, and touring catering halls. Scouting the perfect locations for a gay wedding. But not my gay wedding. (love “27 dresses’ and James Marsden, and yes I know my analogy to me being Jane is quite the reach. Who cares, let me have it. I told you I want my life to be like a rom-com!)
The pilot just announced we are making our way into Cancun and should be landing in 30 minutes or so. My first international assignment! Here we go.
I wonder if I am going to get the honeymoon suite in any of the places we are staying!
(this article was originally published in WestView News)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR A GLOBAL CURE?
Within the research community, the Holy Grail to cure AIDS had been to find new drugs to “Shock and Kill” the festering virus from its hiding places (“latent infections” and “viral reservoirs”). No such drugs have been developed, yet three persons have been cured using highly imaginative stem cell strategies. The most recent stem cell cure reported in February 2022 is beginning to cause the field to re-think and expand strategies to develop a global cure, including new initiatives by NIH.
Many readers of this newspaper [WestView News] will remember the height of the AIDS epidemic. New York City’s West Village, where this newspaper is based, has always been one of the epicenters of the AIDS epidemic in the United States. The neighborhood’s St. Vincent’s Hospital, now closed, once served as the center for the compassionate care of dying patients. Today, an AIDS Memorial sits adjacent to where St. Vincent’s once stood, as though AIDS is history. In fact, the best way we can memorialize those lost to AIDS and impact the lives and health of future generations to come all around the world is to build a research incubator and hub to accelerate a global cure, right here in New York City.
A brief timeline of 40 years of AIDS: the modern HIV epidemic started in the early 1980s. The first life-saving AIDS drug cocktail was introduced by Dr. David Ho in 1995. Global access to the drugs was initiated by President George W. Bush in 2003 via PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). In 2012, the FDA approved the use of existing AIDS medications to prevent HIV infection. AIDS may have been tamed, but it did not go away; it has been smoldering ever since.
HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) occur in some 50% of people living with HIV. HAND is not in the least bit addressable by any of the many existing AIDS medications available today, not even in people who may achieve undetectable viral levels using existing AIDS medications. The disease continues to ravish the poorest and most disenfranchised communities. In the U.S. this started with the gays and now includes black women, our prison populations, trans individuals, and our inner cities.
40 million people around the world are living with HIV, making Planet Earth a massive petri dish for the emergence of new strains. COVID’s Delta, Omicron, and Deltacron variants illustrate how infectious agents can change and evade existing defenses. So far, drug makers have been able to develop stronger and newer drugs for new strains of HIV, but this is getting more challenging all the time. Moreover, young gay men in the U.S. have largely stopped using condoms, creating ideal conditions for the spread of any drug-resistant HIV.
With treatment and prevention drugs alone, we can maintain a smoldering HIV/AIDS epidemic, but we cannot end it. With a cure, a vaccine, or both, we can end AIDS for good and wipe HIV off the face of the planet.
ENTER CURE: Timothy Ray Brown is the first person cured of AIDS. Mr. Brown recounted how he was cured at a symposium at Columbia University organized by Research Foundation to Cure AIDS. He said that he suffered from both leukemia and AIDS. His physician, Dr. Gero Hutter, had an idea. Dr. Hutter was not an HIV or AIDS specialist, but he recalled from his days in medical school how certain rare individuals are naturally resistant to HIV/AIDS. Mr. Brown needed a bone marrow stem cell transplant to cure his leukemia. What if, Dr. Hutter reasoned, the stem cell transplant was sourced from a donor who is selected from the group of individuals who is naturally resistant to HIV. Could the transplanted stem cells give rise to a new HIV-resistant immune system that would cure Mr. Brown of both AIDS and leukemia? Mr. Brown was a willing guinea pig. The answer to this pair’s experiment was a resounding “YES!”
Who was this leukemia doctor with claims of using stem cells to cure AIDS in 2007, when stem cell science was new and when almost all the experts in the field believed new drugs, not stem cells, were required to achieve a cure? Not even long-time AIDS activists popped any champagne bottles. Was this yet another case of drinking goats’ milk to cure AIDS? It took years for news of the innovative cure to catch.
DRIP BY MONUMENTAL DRIP, the three cures to date and the new knowledge gleaned from each success have chipped away at the calcified and crusty assumptions with the real-world data and results of what works to cure AIDS. Each of the cures and their contribution to the field of curing AIDS using innovative stem cell strategies is summarized below.
STEM CELL CURE #1, reported in 2007, used HIV-resistant stem cells to cure AIDS. But because only one person was cured, it was formally possible that something else or extra about the biology or genetics of either the donor or the patient, or both, was at play. In addition, because the patient suffered from leukemia as well as AIDS, he underwent radiation to eliminate his cancerous immune system first. Also, the donor-derived stem cells that were transplanted into the patient caused a phenomenon known as GVHD (graft versus host disease) where the implanted cells attacked the recipient’s own cells. Any of these factors could have contributed to the cure of the patient in addition to the curative role of the HIV-resistant stem cell transplant.
STEM CELL CURE #2, reported in 2019, was achieved in much the same way as the first. Now two people were cured, not just one, providing clinical proof that the cure could be repeated and that the first case was not a fluke. Also, by this time, similar cures were attempted in additional patients who suffered from both leukemia and AIDS but using regular stem cell transplants and not HIV-resistant stem cells. All these attempted cures failed, suggesting that radiation to kill off a patient’s cancerous immune system without adding back HIV-resistant stem cells is not sufficient to cure AIDS.
STEM CELL CURE #3, reported in 2022, makes a compelling trifecta. This third was achieved in a multiracial woman. With the first cure being that of a White man, the second that of a Latino male, and the third a multiracial woman, together, the diverse backgrounds of the three individuals cured to date dispels the possibility that any particular biology or genetics of the individuals involved was likely a key factor in achieving any of these cures. Moreover, GVHD did not take hold in patient #3, increasingly pointing to a central curative role being played by the naturally HIV-resistant stem cells that were in common across all three cures to date.
Any time when the first patients are cured of a disease that has been lingering for decades, the primary goal of the research community must be to investigate all possible factors, especially all of the factors that were involved in the index cases, that could have contributed to the outcome. 15 years ago, Dr. Hutter showed us all a cure is possible. It took the NIH until the end of 2019 to make its first major announcement prioritizing the development of a global cure for AIDS. Regrettably, the COVID pandemic hit just six weeks later. Since then, I have seen one narrowly-defined call from the NIH for research proposals expressly focused on curing AIDS.
Much more can and must be done to make up for lost time and mobilize a cure. During the last 40 years of living with AIDS, the focus has been on drugs to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS. Now, the cure of three patients using stem cells points to the need to invigorate and add to the field. Room must be made to add new teams that bring novel and differentiated cellular biotechnologies needed to harness natural and curative biological resistance to HIV to develop a global cure.
For full disclosure, I am the President and Founder of the Research Foundation to Cure AIDS (RFTCA). RFTCA is not about treatment or prevention; we’re about the cure. Together with our collaboration partners at Columbia University Medical Center, New York Stem Cell Foundation, New York Blood Center, and others, RFTCA has applied for NIH grant funding to advance innovative stem cell science originating from The Rockefeller University.
The imaginative and breathtaking results that Dr. Hutter demonstrated when he combined pieces of knowledge known to all—but synthesized by none before him—into a coherent sequence of events that cured AIDS for the first time ever, inspired me ever since I heard about his work. The recent news of the third patient cured of AIDS and how this cure specifically informs the field makes me more hopeful than ever about the prospects of developing a global cure.
Rockefeller University alumnus and biotech inventor Kambiz Shekdar, Ph.D., is the President of Research Foundation to Cure AIDS and Science & LGBTQ editor at WestView News. To support RFTCA, go to https://rftca.org/.This article originally appeared in the WestView News.
In 1976, at twenty years old, my boyfriend Michael and I left The 1270 Gay Bar in Boston at 2:00 AM full of piss-n-vinegar. Well, more beer I’m sure, but I was certainly interested in continuing the energized night when Michael asked, “You wanna take a ride to P-town?”
“What the fuck is P-town?”
He couldn’t believe I didn’t know about Provincetown, Massachusetts so, with great enthusiasm, he explained in detail how gay friendly it was with bars, restaurants, nightclubs, a gay beach, and guys holding hands in the streets.
“Sure, what the hell, let’s go!”
We jumped in my car for the two-hour ride from Boston to the tip of Cape Cod and parked at Herring Cove Beach. With the beat of my heart in his ear, we fell asleep and woke to a glorious sunrise and the sounds of waves gently washing ashore. After hanging out at the beach a while, we cruised downtown. What a blast—we turned the corner onto Commercial Street and he slid over, nearly sitting in my lap. Rolling along at a parade pace, we kept up with couples pushing strollers and took in all the fabulous sights.
It was a wonderful little historical fishing and whaling village, with roads so small that only one car could pass at a time. Quaint shops and restaurants lined the streets with galleries, artists, and entertainers. Beautiful old buildings were converted into hotels, and hundreds of bed-and-breakfasts were immaculately preserved and decorated with flowers and rainbows. Today, P-town has hardly changed.
After my first time in Provincetown, I knew without a doubt I’d return.
When my now-husband Paul and I met four years later, we vacationed there—tanning at the beach, strolling in shops, eating out, and experiencing the gay life.
One evening in 1981, we did our usual and went out for a romantic dinner. The restaurant was quiet and elegant with white linen, crystal, and silver. We enjoyed a bottle of wine at dinner and polished another off before we left our room. What the hell, you don’t have to drive in P-town, you can walk everywhere.
We weren’t much for public displays of affection, except for the occasional photo-op after surveying the scene to ensure it was safe. We never held hands in public, but on this night, on our way back to our room, we thought, what the hell, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. I threw my arm over his shoulder, and he wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me tight. It was awkward with a hefty buzz, and walking required some coordination to not trip over each other. Giddy, maneuvering through the crowded streets and sidewalks, we got the hang of it just as we entered a darkened area of Commercial Street.
Out of the shadows stepped a kid in his mid-teens, who approached us like he was about to split us apart. We held tight, anticipating his advance, but instead, he stopped just in front of us. The little bastard stared us down and with a degrading tone asked, “Are you gay?”
I sized him up and thought, this little prick has no friggin’ idea who he’s fuckin’ with. While holding onto Paul, I leaned into the kid’s face and growled, “Yeah I’m gay, what the fuck are you gonna do about it?”
His open mouth and raised brow indicated he knew he’d picked on the wrong fag that night and backed away. I released Paul and stepped toward him. He moved to his right and headed up the street where we came from. I followed and called out, “Come here you little prick.”
He ran and I chased in a full sprint yelling, “That’s right little straight boy, I’m gay. Come back here and I’ll kick your ass.” I stopped and screamed, “You little pussy.”
As I turned back to Paul, I realized a cop watched the whole thing unfold and he turned a blind eye.
I slipped my arm over Paul’s shoulder to continue our walk. Suddenly a much bigger kid stepped out from the shadows and rumbled, “That’s my friend you’re talking about.”
Enraged, I released Paul once more and yelled, “Fuck him and fuck you.”
Again, I sized this one up. He reminded me of guys I worked out with at the gym, lifting weights in my younger days—his body language threatened. I knew what was coming and concluded, that I better take the first shot. At that moment, I realized three more waited off to the side.
Like a baseball pitcher throwing a fastball, I took a large step toward him with my left foot. Leading with my left shoulder, I threw my right fist and smashed him square in the mouth. Smack, he went flat on his ass, propped on his elbows.
We were both stunned. He wasn’t expecting it, and I couldn’t believe I actually connected.
I took a defensive stance with my arms up and fists clenched while he shook it off. My mind raced. Do I hit him while he’s down, run away, or be a gentleman and let him up?
Then his buddies cheered him on. Scared to death, I thought, what a fuckin’ idiot. I’m way too kind to be a streetfighter. Even if I win this fight, another will step up to put me down. Am I some kinda fool? Who the hell do I think I am?
Adrenaline coursing through my system overwhelmed the liquid courage that brought me to this point. I shook all over, scared shit these guys could sense my fear.
Like a fool, I let him up. He mirrored my stance and we squared off for a bare-knuckle boxing match. We swapped punches to the face for the first couple of blows. Things got foggy and I believe he connected more than I did. Through the fog, I heard Paul cheering me on. Staggering from the punishment, I spun from his fist crunching my temple, and saw my opponent’s cronies blocking Paul from coming to my aid.
A minute or two into the beat-down, I barely had enough strength to stand. My arms were heavy. My wrists and knuckles felt like I’d been hitting a brick wall. I ran my tongue over my teeth to check if they were still there. Each time I’d taste the blood and saliva stung the cuts inside my lips. I wasn’t sure if the burning in my eyes was perspiration or blood. My jaw and nose felt like they’d been knocked out of place. My ears were on fire from being smashed against my skull.
With the final blow, I faltered and bent over, supporting my upper body with my hands on my knees—but I never went down. With no fight left, anticipating him beating me to the pavement, I waited to be finished off. As Paul shouted in the background, my opponent pleaded under his breath, “Please stop.”
Am I hearing right? Is this thug begging me to stop? Is he afraid he’ll kill me? Does he fear I may have enough fight left to walk away the victor?
Before I could react, again he whispered, “Please stop.”
Without acknowledging him, I staggered toward Paul and the goons separated. Now in need of support to keep from collapsing instead of affection, I placed my arm over his shoulder. With my head low and defeated, we continued on our way.
I stopped, straightened up, lifted my head, raised my fist to the sky, and yelled, “I’m gay and proud of it.”
Over the decades I’ve shared this story with friends, but not with such detail. I told it with pride about how we stood up to the bullies. How it was a fair fight and he got the best of me.
While writing this story, I intended to do the same.
As I analyzed the details of that evening, I wondered what stories each of the people involved told. Or, did it remain their dirty little secret?
I believe the first kid that approached us was scared. He probably only did it because he was encouraged by the others. I believe he was the youngest of the group and after failing to scare us, couldn’t face his peers and ran. I also believe he never intended to physically harm us under the circumstances—with people on the street and a police officer a short distance away. The guy I hit most likely reacted out of embarrassment because a gay guy called his bluff. Because I threw the first punch, I’ll never know if he intended to assault me.
Even though these guys were obviously there with bad intentions, the fight occurred because I reacted in fear. I was angry and drunk and my anger turned to rage. While we fought, the guys keeping Paul from joining in had every opportunity to hurt him but never laid a hand on him.
My actions risked both our safety.
The thing that sticks out in my mind the most? How afraid I was after knocking the guy to the ground. My fear wasn’t of being injured, but of how I appeared to these people. I was afraid of appearing cowardly, so I acted like a bully.
It’s obvious they were there to intimidate people and because one ran away from a gay guy and the other got knocked on his ass by one, I’m confident their stories remained a secret.
What I didn’t realize when I began writing this story was, that P-town’s dirty little secret was mine.
Dennis Hobart Giles is the author of the just-released novel, “To Know Him Is,” available on Amazon. He and his husband, both lifelong Massachusetts residents, have been together for 42 years and live in the suburbs of Boston.
On Sunday, January 16, Gays Against Guns (GAG) was joined by US Rep. Carolyn Maloney to demand that the United States Supreme Court let our state’s strict gun laws stand. The court will rule this year on New York State Rifle Association v. Bruen, the case in which the NRA-affiliated NYSRA seeks to overturn 108 years of New York State law. New York’s strict gun laws are a likely reason the city has not had a public mass shooting like the June 12, 2016 massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL that inspired GAG’s formation.
Recently I joined GAG on a day trip to Fairfax, VA to protest outside NRA headquarters. The bus was filled with about 40 activists ranging in age from 16 to 70. People from all different backgrounds, young, old, male, female, gay, straight, married, single; all share the same goal. Some have been personally affected by gun violence. Many have been politically active for decades. I was honored to hear stories from ACT UP members, stories from the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
During the round trip bus ride, many of us shared our reason for joining GAG. I myself spoke about reasons for joining GAG. I spoke about my years as a classroom teacher. The monthly lockdown drills. The threats to the school via social media. An actual lockdown lasted until 9 pm that evening, due to a bank robbery a few blocks away. The feelings of complete heartbreak, anger, and fear I felt after Columbine. After Virginia Tech. After Sandy Hook. After Parkland. I could not imagine losing any of my students. The monthly lockdown drills.
GAG NY is an inclusive direct action group of LGBTQ+ people and their allies committed to nonviolently breaking the gun industry’s chain of death – investors, manufacturers, the NRA, and politicians who block safer gun laws. GAG is NY-based but works with GAG chapters in other cities to ensure safety for all individuals, particularly vulnerable communities such as people of color, women and those who struggle with mental health issues, LGBTQ+ people, and religious minorities.
The first GAG meeting was on June 17th, 2016, five days after the Pulse massacre. Attendees united in realizing that this was no longer acceptable and something had to be done. They turned their anger and outrage into action. Many victims were young adults in their 20s and zzz TV30s, out for a night of dancing and celebrating with friends. Bodies of multiple victims were riddled with bullets. A dozen or so were found in bathroom stalls, where they tried to hide, begging the shooter for their lives.
GAG members participate in a variety of protests and demonstrations. Their largest action: marching in the NYC Gay Pride parade numbers over 200 attendees. Every 15 blocks GAG members lie down on the street. The “die-in” provides a searing visual of what dozens of people murdered in a mass shooting actually look like.
GAG also demonstrated on the 26th of each month outside the FedEx at Penn Station. The 26th to represent the 26% discount NRA members were given for shipping a gun. The NRA’s influence and power are waning, slowly but surely… NRA puppets are being voted out of office one by one. In 2019 FedEx finally severed its relationship with the NRA. #GAGforthewin
Unfortunately, the gun violence epidemic in this country is only getting worse. The unfettered access to guns has led to increased gun violence in almost every major city. There are now 400 million guns in the United States. The population of the country: 330 million people. We have more guns than people. 70 million more guns. I can’t even wrap my head around a number like 400 million. Guns. 400 million guns. Gun stores were deemed essential during the Pandemic. Couldn’t go to a movie or a bar, but I could buy a gun. GO USA!
I will march on Washington however long it takes for the ban on assault weapons of war to become law. I will use my voice as often, as loudly as I can to draw attention to the epidemic of mass shootings in this country. I am tired of running memorial 5ks in honor of teachers shot in school. The solution is clear as day. As the headline of an article in “The Onion” stated – “No way to stop mass shootings says ONLY country in the world where they regularly happen.”
HEY NRA – GAG IS COMING FOR YOU, YOUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED! Gay, straight, queer, all are welcome… join us on Zoom every other Thursday from 7-8:30p! We need everyone! Go to www.gaysagainstguns.net for more information.
(this column originally appeared in the March issue of ‘Letters from Camp Rehoboth)