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Bailey House Marks 30 Years, Fêtes AIDS Pioneers

John Hatchett, Gina Quattrochi, Rona Affoumado, and Dean Labate at a 2012 gathering of leaders of LGBT and HIV/ AIDS leaders in New York City. | EDGROUP 2012

John Hatchett, Gina Quattrochi, Rona Affoumado, and Dean Labate at a 2012 gathering of leaders of LGBT and HIV/ AIDS leaders in New York City. | EDGROUP 2012

BY PAUL SCHINDLER | Bailey House, which during the mid-1980s established the nation’s first scatter-site housing and congregate care housing for people living with HIV/ AIDS, marks its 30th anniversary with an auction and gala at Chelsea Piers on March 28.

Today, the agency maintains its original facility, Bailey-Holt House at the west end of Christopher Street; runs a 91-unit supportive housing residence in East Harlem, Schafer Hall; and provides an array of other supportive services citywide to those living with HIV, including an East Harlem food pantry, intensive case management, support for positive ex-inmates recently released from incarceration, and supportive housing for chronically homeless people living with both HIV and mental illness or substance abuse problems.

“First responders” in epidemic’s first decade to be honored

The anniversary dinner comes after a challenging period for Bailey House. Bailey-Holt House is located just outside the city’s highest-risk flood area, and its 44 residents had to be evacuated after Superstorm Sandy sent Hudson River waters pouring into the basement, creating a flood that rose waist-high at one of its entrances.

Con Ed was unable to restore power until mid-January, and Gina Quattrochi, the agency’s CEO, estimated it is currently out-of-pocket about $1.9 million, for expenses including demolition, debris removal, mold remediation, and reconstruction and because the city’s HIV/ AIDS Services Administration denied it operational reimbursements for the time residents were out of the building. Residents were not able to return until late January, and to date Bailey House has not received funding from either the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the Small Business Administration.

The March 28 event should help bolster a fiscal picture that is currently “very tight,” according to Quattrochi, but Bailey House seems determined to focus the evening on the bigger picture, casting a look back at the long arc of AIDS activism in New York. An important mission of the gala is to recognize “first responders” who stepped forward during the epidemic’s first decade. Those being honored, Quattrochi wrote in an email, “paved the way for the survival of many New Yorkers and led to the creation of the continuum of AIDS care that we created here. Some of the organizations don’t even exist anymore and have been forgotten. We plan to remedy this!”

Thirty individuals and organizations in total will be recognized, and among that group, six will receive the group’s 2013 Rodger McFarlane AIDS Warrior Award, named for a co-founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis who died in 2009. The six are John Hatchett, a leader at the People With AIDS Coalition of New York (PWAC); Tom Viola, the longtime executive director of Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS; Ken Fornataro, who led the AIDS Treatment Data Network that is now part of Housing Works; and Rona Affoumado, Richard Haymes, and Dean LaBate, who worked with the Community Health Project that became the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center.

In an interview this week, Hatchett talked about what brought him to PWAC and what his experiences there meant in his life. Arriving in New York in 1981, just out of college and recently out as a gay man, he hoped to find work as an actor but more often paid his dues in survival jobs waiting tables. He was also an early volunteer on the AIDS hotline established in 1983 by Gay Men’s Health Crisis. By 1988, he knew he wouldn’t have an acting career and also found out he was HIV-positive. Within a couple of months, Hatchett learned that PWAC needed a new volunteer coordinator — which involved overseeing the speaker’s bureau, the group’s publications, and its hotline — and jumped at the chance.

Interviewing with the group, he emphasized that his theater training meant that he was “good with public speaking.” Another selling point was that “I was very willing to be public about my status,” he said. Telling his story was an important way for him to deal with his diagnosis.

Hatchett recalled how during that period, much was made about the distinction between those who were positive and people who had received an AIDS diagnosis. But that never meant much to him. “Early on, I said that was a distinction without a difference,” he said, “even though there probably wasn’t the evidence for that at the time. I would tell people I had AIDS long before I had a diagnosis.”

The effect of stepping forward into an AIDS leadership role “was transformative and formative” for Hatchett. “It changed my life,” he said. Working day in and day out with people fighting and living with AIDS showed him something he didn’t see in the media or even hear about from friends. “I saw people get very, very sick and go into the hospital with everyone else thinking they would die,” he recalled. “And they came back. They came back, and that really inspired me.”

“Self-empowerment,” Hatchett explained, is at the heart of what peer-support groups like PWAC provide to members and clients. A quarter-century later, he said, society and government have “a greater recognition that people with AIDS should be protagonists on questions of AIDS healthcare, policy, and funding.” Paraphrasing the words used by South African activists, he said. “Nothing about me without me.”

Between 1990 and 1995, Hatchett moved up in PWAC, first as deputy director and then executive director, even as he endured two major periods of illness — first with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and later with a recurrence of that accompanied by Hodgkin’s disease and meningitis. By the end of 1995, he recognized his work had become his life and gotten in the way of managing his own illness as well as the pressures of a close friend who was dying. He decided to no longer work delivering direct services.

Hatchett did not walk away from AIDS work, however, nor did his commitment to peer-support activism diminish. After a year on disability, he helped found the People Living with AIDS Leadership Training Institute (LTI), a statewide group that builds leadership capacity among those living with HIV. Working for the past two years at CAI, a non-profit that provides technical assistance and support to social service providers, he remains active with LTI on a day-to-day basis.

Peer support, in Hatchett’s view, has played an indispensible part in the response to AIDS in New York. “For all the doctors I had and the insurance that was available to me, that was not what taught me how to live with the disease,” he said. “Working at PWAC brought me to people who would not otherwise be in my life and that made all the difference.”

But Hatchett hastened to add that it was not only HIV-positive people who made important contributions to his life. “One of the reasons I’m excited about this event coming up is that Gina and Bailey House have been a part of my life the whole time,” he said. “And so have Dean LaBate and Tom Viola. In New York City, there has been a strong vibrant AIDS community with a lot of continuity. That kind of history is precious to me.”

Quattrochi echoed that sentiment, noting that it took “a larger community effort… to help so many New Yorkers survive to the next treatment breakthrough. We also know now that treatment alone would not have kept alive the thousands of low-income PWAs who were infected in the late ‘70s and throughout the ‘80s and are still alive.”

The March 28 Bailey House gala, hosted by Jane Pauley, also honors actor Alan Cumming, Harlan Bratcher, the CEO of A/X Armani Exchange, and the law firm of Bingham McCutchen LLP. Tickets, which begin at $250 or $400 per couple, can be purchased at baileyhouse.org.

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