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  WINDY CITY TIMES

AIDS: P.I.S.D., a look back
by JON-HENRI DAMSKI
2012-03-28

This article shared 3913 times since Wed Mar 28, 2012
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The following column ran in the April 9, 1992 Windy City Times. We are re-printing it now in tribute to longtime Chicago gay columnist Jon-Henri Damski, who was born March 31, 1937 and died Nov. 1, 1997. The column has been slightly edited.

The P.I.S.D. caucus, People with Immune System Disorders, is an affinity group inside ACT UP/Chicago, dedicated to fighting AIDS personally and publicly 24 hours a day. They are the core of the core. Usually, you see them in their oppositional mode, protesting in Daley Plaza against Mayor Richard M. Daley's sick response to the AIDS crisis.

Members of P.I.S.D. are not just generally angry, or sometimes active, they are always PISSED and always active. As member Bill McMillan keeps telling us in his speeches, "I will live with AIDS every moment of my life. When this gathering is over, I don't just go home and think about it. I live with it! I Fight AIDS with every breath I take." Billy, like many members of P.I.S.D. has full blown AIDS; he is not activism for the camera, it is his life.

On the two days of hearings before the the health committee of the City Council, several experts, health professionals and community leaders gave excellent testimony.

Dr. Robert Murphy, medical director of Northwestern Hospital's AIDS treatment unit, spoke not only as a physician, but as an observer who could verify that the city has not put more of its money into the fight against AIDS in the last three years, even through cases have dramatically increased.

Linda Benson, executive director of Kupona Network, pointed out how we have lagged way behind in primary care services for African-Americans. Mildred Williamson, administrator of the Women and Children HIV program at Cook County Hospital, testified that "women and children are [ the ] fastest growing group of people with AIDS," yet the least recognized and attended.

Robert Rybicki, director of Bonaventure House, said they can house 30 homeless people with AIDS, but have a waiting list for 40 more. Bill Verick, co-chair of the Illinois Gay And Lesbian Task Force, held up a bag of pennies worth 38 cents. "This is what the Chicago Health Department is spending per capita to fight AIDS." He held up another bag with 75 cents in it. "This is the increase we are asking." The alderman were so taken with Verick's visuals that they asked him to repeat his numbers.

But the star witness for the two days of hearings came from ACT UP/Chicago, and specifically the P.I.S.D. Caucus.

Dennis Lenk, former accountant and former Daley voter, one of the seven-years-plus survivors, came to the hearing directly from his hospital bed. He had to use his aerosol medication during his testimony, for he nearly passed out. But he made his points most effectively: "While we sit here and debate the issue of more money, three people will die of AIDS today, and four more will be diagnosed." Ald. Ed Smith ( 28th ) , chair of the committee, responded, "Be sure, I get your message. Soon it will be four dying and six getting diagnosed. Believe me, I'm on your side on this. I will do what I can to get this resolution passed, and further down the road an ordinance to get it into law that we increase what we are doing." As Dennis left the stand, he was comforted by his brothers in P.I.S.D., like a warrior in the lIliad nursed by his fellow combatants.

Tim Holland used to live right next door to the mayor in Bridgeport. When he would watch the mayor's car and guard come for him in the morning, he wanted to go out on his porch and yell, "I'm HIV Positive. I'm your neighbor, help me." But he didn't have the nerve to interrupt the mayor then. But in testimony, he said, "See Mister Mayor, I'm here. I'm here, I'm your neighbor, and I'm asking for your help.

Todd Sears, also a member of Men of All Colors Together ( MACT ) , had a sharp question for the committee: "I'm lucky. I'm white. Doctors have been good to me. I have had over a quarter of a million dollars worth of attention. I get to go to the fine clinics. But what about my black brothers? Why don't they get the same attention? Why are they told to get lost? Why do you think that is?"

Ida Greathouse spoke as a mother with AIDS. "There are many of us. My young son comes to demonstrations with me. What's going to happen to him when I am gone? Who will take care of him? Do you alderman have to wait until this plague hits your family, your children, before you respond?"

Sheryl Holtzman of ACT UP/Chicago gave an emotional and tearful account of all her young friends who have died of this pandemic plague. A long list of first names, ending with Danny Sotomayor's. "How many more, how much longer?" Later she told the media outside, "We're asking for crumbs and Daley gives us is a crummy health department. Shame. Shame. Shame!"

Tim Miller of ACT UP spoke like a wise insider, and argued on lines of "cost effectiveness." "Are you going to spend a little money now for prevention and education, or a lot of money later for hospital care that only ends in a funeral?" Tim didn't knock the aldermen for the recent pay increase, but said, "if you can find money for that kind of increase, I'm sure you can also find money for increased AIDS funding."

Greg Lindeman, a member of the board of Test Positive Aware Network, held up his grandfather's felt hat. "My grandfather was a precinct captain in the 9th and 10th wards. He used to get services for people, like new garbage cans. In the same tradition, we are here asking for services. Doesn't this city help its people?"

Glenn Krejci of P.I.S.D. had an eloquently written request on 3x5 cards. "Alderman Wojcik, I live in your ward. People say you are going to vote against this resolution. How can you?" Wojcik chose not to respond to Glenn. Some speculated that he was there as a Daley ally, to make a quorum call and delay the hearings. But when the vote came, he voted 'yes' with the other aldermen present. He could not look Glenn in the face and vote 'no'.

Billy McMillan told me he can't get primary care at a city clinic in his home neighborhood. Like many, he has to go to Cook County. Take three hours going back and forth on the bus. Wait three hours to see a doctor. And four more hours to get his prescription. On a routine visit, that could be done by a city clinic near his home in two hours, if they would offer primary care services as they promised to do in Daley's AIDS Strategic Plan.

Bruce Barnes, at the first day of the hearing, had the book, the City Budget, the size of two Chicago phonebooks, put it in his lap by Chairman Smith, "Now you find where we can get the money." Assisted by 14 others from P.I.S.D., Bruce came back with three possible answers, including an accurate reading of how the city is saving $5 million on a reduced interest on its bond rating. He had checked with the market analysts last Friday.

Our ACT UP-pers maybe pissed about AIDS, but they meet all challenges.

P.I.S.D. and ACT UP/Chicago proved the queer citizens are also good citizens. Not only can they surround city hall in angry demonstrations, but they can also provide testimony, that is direct and totally informational.

Damski was a columnist for GayLife, Gay Chicago Magazine, Windy City Times, and Nightlines/Outlines. He died of melanoma complications in 1997

This story is part of the Local Reporting Initiative, supported in part by The Chicago Community Trust.


This article shared 3913 times since Wed Mar 28, 2012
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