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AIDS: The Rev. Sid Mohn, Chicago's vanguard against AIDS
by Joe Franco

This article shared 7705 times since Wed Mar 7, 2012
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The Rev. Sid Mohn grew up on a rural Pennsylvania farm in roots deeply entrenched in both the conservative Dutch environment that he lived and in the Anabaptists that enveloped him. To Mohn, his entire childhood was spent connected to the church and he very early on felt a call to work within that establishment.

"It wasn't until much later," said Mohn, "that I came out and struggled deeply with the irrationality to continue to seek ordination in an organization that was predominantly exclusionary to gay men and lesbians."

Mohn's Anabaptist pedigree—their solemn critique of unfair or unjust social policy—took over.

"Just because society and the church oppose or condemn LGBTQ people is no reason to stay silent. I felt that I needed to complete my seminarian training," he said.

The Presbyterian church rejected Mohn but the United Church of Christ actually asked him to serve and he was ordained a minister in that congregation.

"Getting a job full time in the church was just not possible. I believe I became ordained to not only say 'there are gay men who are being ordained' and as a symbol that there were openly gay people in the clergy," said Mohn.

Mohn's training and upbringing made work with the Chicago-based Heartland Alliance immediately attractive to him.

"I saw the service of people who are marginalized and typically the most excluded as the best opportunity," he said. "I believed that I could translate my own person experiences with the social exclusion of so many."

Mohn became president of Heartland in 1980. In 1981, the disease we now know as AIDS began to take its very early and immediate toll on large numbers of gay men—and others.

"I instantly recognized that this new 'gay disease' as it was branded at the time, had both public health and social justice issues that had to be dealt with," said Mohn. "I wanted to insure that those living with AIDS and HIV had the respect they deserved as well as having all of their rights to treatment with dignity protected. I also recognized that at that time, there were no organized systems of care available to those living with AIDS and that only some hospitals had emergency care that could handle this new crisis. We at Heartland sought to define a continuum of care to respond to the multiple needs of those with HIV, such as basic healthcare, nutrition and housing,"

In those early years of AIDS, Mohn was instrumental in establishing one of the nation's first specialty clinics with Cook County Hospital for those with AIDS. Mohn also worked in partnership with others to develop one of the country's first integrated housing for those with AIDS and HIV.

"This was a systemic response," said Mohn. "We had to provide not only those basics but mental healthcare and become an advocate for those living with HIV and AIDS. We became fiscal agents seeking funds and grants to help with these projects. What we did then eventually laid the groundwork for the establishment of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago."

"It was the '80s. The idea of 'alternative healthcare' was quite radical but we were sure to help provide this early group of men and women with AIDS access to massage, acupuncture, diet and stress alleviation techniques. By the '90s, these same folks were now not only living with a medical condition but had to deal with the social diseases of homophobia and AIDS-phobia," said Mohn.

"We established the nation's second integrated permanent housing project for those with AIDS which was modeled after a similar project in New York City," he continued. "Up until that point in the early '90s, separate housing for those with HIV was the norm. I felt that these folks should be living with members of their community and not apart from them. The debate in the public arena was enormous. There were literally busloads of people brought in."

Mohn linked the mania surrounding the integration of housing with the hysteria surrounding the dental care of those with AIDS. " [ Large ] numbers of dentists refused to provide treatment to those living with HIV, so we had to develop a dental clinic too," he said.

Heartland Alliance continues to focus on the most vulnerable, not only in Chicago but across the globe. Mohn believes very strongly in "designing systems of care that ensure the dignity and just treatment for those who rarely experience in that in their lives." Mohn believes that Heartland should make certain that individualized care "extends to the totality of the individual and the advancement of human rights."

Heartland, unlike a number of other humanitarian and non-profit groups, re-establishes their own strategic plans on an annual basis. With such rapid changes in healthcare law in the coming years, this manner of doing business, more than other models, have Heartland poised for the new challenges 2012 brings.

"We're focused on accountable care for vulnerable populations," said Mohn. "We are determined to build models for integrated and supportive housing and finding reimbursement mechanisms for those reforms. Heartland is committed to community-based alternative care and community based re-integration strategies for folks in prison populations. We also are seeking integrated models of healthcare and legal protections for the LGBT populations for those living in the global South."

Currently in Central and West Africa, the Caribbean and Central America, the same medical problems and social issues that the U.S. has dealt with as a nation 30 years ago are now becoming problems and issues for the Global South. "We have to insure that these people have legal rights and protection, access to healthcare, equal treatment in employment and housing and access to social and recreational supports," said Mohn.

"It is our job," continued Mohn, "to make certain that the [ U.S. ] Affordable Healthcare Act and the laws that come with it becomes a tool of real healthcare reform. We must build a system that is fully inclusive. We must build a system that not only makes well those who are in the mainstream but also those who are the most vulnerable."

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

This article shared 7705 times since Wed Mar 7, 2012
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