by GMHC co-founder Dr. Larry Mass

So, here we are again. Year 41. We’re still here. But unlike Steve Sondheim and Elaine Stritch, we’re still above ground. And yet again we have to face the music of what needs to be done — for ourselves and for each other.

When Krishna asked me to say something for this event, I thought to myself, There’s nothing more to say. We’re all exhausted. There’s nothing new in our tattered old bags of tricks. [Krishna Stone is longtime Community Relations Director for GMHC.]

But then something wonderful happened. I saw A Strange Loop, the Tony award-winning Michael R. Jackson musical about a black gay man who storms the stage and into our hearts with an outpouring of soul the likes of which you’ve never seen or heard. It’s heart and hope are blazing.

Yes, it’s hard to see our way through the current morass. In addition to the fascist takeover of the country and the world, there are new waves of disease — of COVID19 and now of MONKEYPOX! As never before, we seem to be veering like pinballs from one crisis to the next. What started out as our Gay Men’s Health Crisis is now our world of crisis.

But AIDS still looms large in ways we haven’t fully reckoned with. In A Strange Loop there’s a stunning, climactic sequence in which judgmental, sanctimonious, self-righteous religious homophobia — in this case, black Christian evangelical — blames AIDS on our wickedness. Here religious bigotry, that trash heap of ignorance, stupidity, mean-spiritedness and hysteria, gets outed full-tilt. It’s a grand, cascading sequence called “Precious Little Dream/AIDS is God’s Punishment.”

But what difference can such singular standing up for truth, and for ourselves, make against the tidal wave of odds we now face?

To judge from our own history, a lot. Believe it or not, world, and as we need to keep reminding ourselves, where we came from was actually a lot worse. We were smaller in number and the odds against us were a lot greater. We were dying in droves. We had no civil rights. We had no health care. But we rallied. Against all odds, we rallied and we redirected the history of AIDS, medicine, gay rights, gay health and gave unprecedented impetus to broad-based, grass-roots health care advocacy.

So what do we do now? Well, first, we go back into those tattered old bags of tricks to see what’s still there.

All kinds of things, it turns out. In my own case, there’s a lot of tools from my years of life and work in addiction and recovery.

First, we show up. It’s not enough to just fax ourselves in or leave a voice mail. But showing up needn’t mean some major heroic, decisive conquest. Just show up — to the gathering, the meeting, the event, the rally, the initiative; for the friend, for a loved one, for an unloved one. Just being one among many or even a few others, a person among persons in the crowd, can make such a difference. How often have we in the gay community been heartened and healed just being at a gathering of our own, no matter what it was? Go to the rally, gay or other, even if you don’t really feel like it. Just showing up can be healing and motivating beyond measure.

Share your feelings with others, even if you risk arguments, even if it threatens to draw you in more than you feel you want or can handle. Having made that effort, you can then back off as needed for self-care and self-protection.

Remember the movie Do The Right Thing? Well, another tool is to Do The Next Right Thing. Take some small opportunity to do service for others. Kindness will never be obsolete and can reap benefits beyond our wildest dreams. Call that friend with AIDS or monkeypox you let slip from your circles and concerns. See how you can help out, even if it’s just a gesture of concern; and even if it seems to mean levels of involvement or reinvolvement you figured you finally deserved a break from.

Acceptance: Nobody is going anywhere from a place of rejecting reality. We need to look at what’s going on out there squarely in the eye and accept not only that it’s happening but that it’s not going to go away without our involvement and resistance.

Detachment. This can also be an acronym. DETACH: Don’t Even Think About Changing Him or Her. The Donald Trumps and Marjorie Taylor Greenes will never change. Our sights and energies must be on ourselves, on each other and on potential allies, including those who are circumstantially allied with the opposition.

Bitterness, vehemence, vindictiveness and hatred is their game, not ours. We don’t have time for it. We’re much better off focusing on our love of one another than trying to exact revenge. Sure, we abhor these science-denying extremists, with their growing ranks of white supremacists, fascists and Nazis, who are once again taking over the world. And, yes, whether for genocidal neglect of AIDS or genocidal invasions of countries, for crimes against humanity, they should all be defendants in war crimes tribunals, as Larry Kramer proposes in the climax of his epic two-volume satirical historical novel, The American People. And yes, Larry Kramer and ACT UP in their heyday could be brilliant at shaming these arch-villains. But our mission right now is far more personal, down-to-scale and essential: As captured by Sarah Schulman in her history of ACT UP, Let The Record Show, we must keep the focus on doing what we can, with what we have, where we are.

So, where does that leave us? We don’t have to solve everything today. We can take it a day at a time, a situation at a time; in a process of facing reality, of doing the next right thing; of trusting in life and each other, in our process of gentleness and humility while harnessing our anger; of doing our best to maintain our integrity, our values, our willingness, our courage, our belief in ourselves and, yes, our hopes for the future.

So Let’s Glitter and Stay Gay. And SAY gay! Even in the face of Monkeypox and Ron DeSantis, and as Larry Kramer knew from the beginning, however tough and relentless he could be in steering us to do the right things, gay people are the strongest, toughest people. Once again, yes, we will prevail.

Finally, and from that old bag of tricks, and from the rooms: Keep Coming Back. No Matter What!

Mass will be speaking at GMHC’s forthcoming GALA 9/22/22. His topic will be: 4 Decades, 4 Epidemics: HIV/AIDS, Hep C, Covid19 and Monkeypox. Contact GMHC.org for information about this event.

address by Lawrence D. Mass, M.D.

for GMHC Founders Day 40th Anniversary, 8/11/22,

AIDS Memorial Park, New York City