Dr. Marjorie Hill is a psychologist and the current CEO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), a non-profit AIDS service organization based in New York City. Inspired to work for GMHC after partaking in her first AIDS walk in 1990, Dr. Hill served as Assistant Commissioner for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s HIV/AIDS Bureau before joining the board of GMHC in 1994. A dedicated public policy advocate, Dr. Hill is also a member of Astraea, a lesbian foundation that supports LGBT progressive organizations. Dr. Hill sat down with dot429 to discuss her career, HIV advocacy, and stigma within the LGBT community.
In mid-December, German doctors made international headlines after reporting that they had cured an American man, Timothy Ray Brown, of HIV through a stem cell transplant to treat his leukemia. Dr. Hill fears that the idea of such a cure will lead to lax condom use among the gay male population by projecting a false sense of security. “We have to be careful about how messages are carried. You can’t go to Duane Reed or Walgreens and pick up some stem cells. We have to be clear in understanding that [Brown’s] is an experimental procedure, and we have no idea how this would replicate to a larger population. One person does not a study make.”
Instead of focusing on cures for HIV, Dr. Hill emphasizes prevention in HIV advocacy and believes that health care reforms enacted by the US government should reflect the notion that prevention is the best medication. She explains that “the US government has underfunded prevention since the beginning of the [AIDS] epidemic. We find, whether it’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, San Francisco, or Khayelitsha, South Africa, pockets of poverty have higher incidences of HIV, so looking at health and wellness in the context of community empowerment is really what the government should be doing. We want people without HIV to have good health coverage because that will help them stay negative.”
One challenge Dr. Hill attributes to both HIV and LGBT activism is prejudice in supposedly liberal locations. “We like to think that discrimination happens only in Iowa, South Dakota, or Texas,” she says, “but I have been called a dyke in a train station in New York City. So the reality of stigma as a part of the challenges that the LGBT community faces remain. It’s one of the reasons we are committed to anti-stigma campaigns and celebrating the richness and fullness of LGBT identities.”
Regarding discrimination within the LGBT community, Dr. Hill states that while most people “don’t necessarily pinpoint [separate LGBT]identities” within themselves, “having multiple identities around which there is stigma attached does make one’s plate a little full.” For this reason, Dr. Hill believes that the LGBT community should adopt an all-inclusive mentality. “I think we should expect and leave room for differences, but at the end of the day, there’s so much more that we have in common, and we should organize our similarities and unite around those things we agree on.”
To check out the GMHC website, click here.