Dean Speaking On:
I’d Like You to Know
Identity and Awareness
Mentoring and Support
Spirituality and Religion
Spokane in Perspective
EWACC did a housing study of the needs of persons with AIDS. What we found was that there was discrimination [against people who were HIV positive], people who had lost their housing. But the biggest need was for emergency financial resources when a crisis occurred. So, we created the AIDS Emergency Fund. It was real big at that time. It was Hospice of Spokane, AIDS Life Link, Spokane AIDS Network, and Spokane Regional Health District. They were the partners. I was the chair and I was a non-voting member of the organization. I represented “the community.”
It was really good that I could do that, because we got together two organizations that had originally been under of Spokane AIDS Network but who had separated and who were competing with each other. We brought them together under this project. We did fundraising. We developed a fundraising letter and each of the organizations sent it out under their own letterhead. It was a very good organization. Hospice became the fiscal agent and we worked with SNAP—Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs—because they have a voucher program. We talked about doing our own [vouchers], but that would identify our client and we had to maintain confidentiality. So, we partnered with SNAP, so much per voucher, and then the case manager could say that we developed the protocol. It was for an emergency. It was a last ditch effort. If you could find resources somewhere else, do that first then.[That program is] still in effect today. AIDS Life Link eventually closed, but they were absorbed by Spokane AIDS Network. Hospice is no longer the fiscal agent and no longer has a role in the organization. SAN is now the fiscal agent, because the Health District couldn’t be.
HIV is a factor that I believe also had to do with the group of men coming together [in the early 1990s], politically. You know, because we were all there. Some of those who were active had HIV, but most of the group were not HIV positive. “And there by the grace of God go I”—whatever that quote is. [We thought,] “Why didn’t it happen to me?” And “We don’t want it to happen to somebody else.” I think that was a very major piece of what was going on.
I know that there were issues of discrimination that occurred around HIV. I saw them in the workplace. I personally know of instances in which that had occurred, or knew of them at the time. I think part of what [HIV/AIDS] did, [is] it sort of made it okay to discriminate against gay people. I don’t know if there was more [discrimination against LGBT people] because of it, but it sort of made it a little easier. You know, that saying of “It’s God’s wrath bestowed upon the gay community.” Some believe in that point of view.
“The Philadelphia Story” touched a couple issues. Obviously, it touched the health issue [with its depiction of HIV], but it also very poignantly brought out the relationship issue. It brought out the stigmas and fears that people had. It provided an opportunity for us in the gay community to see our relationship valued. Very powerful. I think there were probably some [movies with sympathetic gay protagonists] before “Philadelphia Story.”
Lynn [Everson], who was with the [Spokane Regional] Health District, and I would go down to People’s Park. We had a booth there and we’d set up a table and pass out condoms. We weren’t separating them, but a lot of the work that Lynn did was with drug users. But the two populations were where HIV was being passed most readily. We worked together on doing that. Most of the time it was sitting at the entrance with a table giving [condoms and information] to people. Occasionally I walked around. Passed out condoms. We had a good response. We handed out a lot of condoms. [Laughs.] Our presence wasn’t going to stop the behavior, but if we could educate people . . .
We [also] had people who went in another entrance, or went out of their way to walk around us. I mean, there were those who absolutely did not want to confront it. But we also tried to use it as an educational opportunity and a nonjudgmental opportunity. We weren’t there to pass judgment. We were there to modify behavior.
Contracting HIV is really sad for the individual. If the individual goes back and passes it to somebody else, that doubles the travesty, if that’s the right word. If it’s a gay man who is living in a heterosexual marriage, [who] then goes back and gives it to his wife, before they realize that either one of them have it, they have a child and it’s passed to the child . . . Those are devastating. No one wanted that to happen. No one wants to have that happen, but it was a reality. There were a lot of prominent Spokane businessmen who occasionally frequented People’s Park. High Bridge Park.
Timing is everything. By the time I was coming out, people were dying [of AIDS]. There were a lot of people who were dying before I ever met them. Then, there were a lot of people who I met who died, but they weren’t “friends.” You meet them when they’re already ill. They’re not someone that you have maybe socialized with or have that kind of relationship with. But my friends Ted [Clark] and Gene [Otto]: they may be able to tell you [of] 100 people, friends, who died. They’re ten years ahead of me in terms of being out in the community, knowing people, and relating to people. They had a whole lot more [friends who died of AIDS].
Sources: Two interviews with Maureen Nickerson [c. 2007]; transcribed by K. M. and Laura S. Hodgman; edited by Maureen Nickerson and Laura S. Hodgman; held in the Northwest Museum for Arts and Culture. Interviews with Laura S. Hodgman on 25 July 2013 and 12 September 2013.
A 1993 movie starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington.