Gordon Fleming – Activism

“You could hear a pin drop.”

[After SAN set up an office,] I got trained early on as far as being a volunteer. I decided I wanted to get involved and be available in the community for other people who had seroconverted, so that they could talk to somebody. You’re bouncing off the walls [when you learn you are positive for HIV]. I mean, you [got] news of a terminal condition back then. You’re pretty scattered. So I wanted to be a resource for the community.

The late ‘80s, that was still when ACT UP was visible and in the news. I decided that I wanted to become a radical as far as dealing with HIV, but also, as a gay man, that I was going to be more in your face and start speaking out. I wasn’t actually out at work, either as a gay man or being HIV positive. I’d already been positive for seven years, eight years, before I went public. I mean, besides a few close friends, bosses, supervisors—anybody that was going to have to deal with me if I physically got hurt. Those people knew. When I decided to go public, got involved with the speaker’s bureau, and started doing speaking, [the] first thing I did was [a television] interview from [a] retreat. I came back to work. You could hear a pin drop when I walked through anywhere in my employer’s office. At that point, I was no longer working on the shop floor, I had moved up into the front office. When I walked through the halls, you could hear a pin drop, for about a month. Nobody . . . Well, there’s three people that asked me about my health. I don’t look sick, so it’s easy for them to—I don’t know—pretend, or not ask, or whatever. Like I said, it was really quiet for at least a month, and then it finally mellowed out.

I never did any public education as far as work. When I came out, though, they refreshed and went back through blood-borne pathogens training: within like three weeks everybody was retrained. Of course, they couldn’t say my name. Or anything else. “This training is not being done because of any particular reason.” It’s like, “Yeah! Right! Uh-huh!” [The place I work has] asked me not to say their name as far as when I do public speaking, [but] the company has treated me very well. They’ve never had any issues with me as far as doing the public speaking. It’s a family-owned company. I’ve been there—I was hired in ’84—so almost 30 years.


Source: Interview with Laura S. Hodgman, 16 March 2013.