Gordon Fleming – Mentoring and Support

“It’s not getting through to the kids.”

Before I started doing the front office [at] work, I actually worked in the [machine] shop. So I was around sharp stuff. I would end up getting cut, usually bad enough to go to the E. R. about once a year. I was always doing education with the E. R. doctors about HIV: what drugs I was on, what my cell counts were, and what any of the dangers were. They had no idea [about HIV]. That was before Koop got on the bandwagon and did his little newsletter to America.[1]  They were supposedly going through a forced training here in Washington State, but considering the questions I still get from the medical field . . .

I’m going through physical therapy right now [2012]. One of the helpers was asking me about retirement and stuff. I said, “Well, I’ve got like $400,000 saved from my 401k, but I have to have a lot of money, because I’m HIV positive. I have to buy drugs. I also have a pacemaker now that I’m going to have to get redone on a regular basis too. I’ve got to have some cash to start with, for just dealing with the drugs.” And she looks at me and she goes, “Well, so what do you have to do now to protect other people from the HIV?” [Laughs.] It’s like, “Well, first of all . . .” I was thrown by her perspective on it. Even the nurse’s aides have to go through the six- or eight-hour class. You know, the Washington State AIDS 101 class? I did one with the [Regional HIV/AIDS] Speaker’s Bureau. I did a lot of those classes at county health over the years. I was like, “I know what’s taught.” Obviously it isn’t getting through. It’s not getting through to the kids. We’ve had forced education in Washington State for 20-some-odd years. The message is getting out there, but they aren’t hearing it in whatever the format is.


[After testing positive for HIV in] September ’87, I got involved with PFLAG. Spokane AIDS Network didn’t have an office at that point. I drug mom, we went to PFLAG, sat in a circle, and I told my scary story at the end. I hadn’t even seen [Dr. Dan Coulston], I don’t think, before I went to PFLAG. I didn’t really know how I was at that point. PFLAG became our support group. I was sporadic as far as the meetings go, since they were in the middle of the week at night. In the summertime, they used to meet at a park and have lunch once a month—just as an informal. That was pretty much my support group until the Spokane AIDS Network got an office up on Broadway. PFLAG was a wonderful process, especially for mom.

People who’d met mom through PFLAG just loved mom. When they met her, she was this extremely wonderful supportive little old lady. I was like, “Well, yes. That’s mom now, but you’ve got to remember this has been a journey for her as well. In ’87, no, she was not the little activist PFLAG mom that she is now. She was the quiet little introvert who didn’t talk to anybody. She’s learned over the years.” PFLAG did one of the rest stop fundraisers, cookies and coffees, early on. That was a long time ago now. Mom and I did a shift out there. I think that was mom’s coming of age with PFLAG. She had been to a couple [PFLAG] conventions by then. She got brave enough at one of the conventions that she said that she loved her homosexual son. She made it all the way through the sentence without freaking out on the word “homosexual.” She made it all the way through. It was like, that was huge for mom! Huge!

The PFLAG tribe was my support group. I’ve known those people for a long time and they’ve known me for a long time. We’ve gone through the learning curve together . . .


[1]C. Everett Koop, Surgeon General of the United States, 1982-89. The newsletter “Understanding AIDS” was mailed to US households in May 1988.


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