In a Week of Song and Hope, Veteran Music Activist Larry Flick Recalls the Toll of AIDS on a Generation: Guest Essay

Maro Hagopian
Larry Flick

On March 7, the third annual Love Rocks NYC concert will take place in New York, a benefit for God’s Love We Deliver, the New York-based charity that brings meals and nutritional guidance to the homes of some 1.8 million chronically ill New Yorkers a year. A reunion of Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Robert Plant and Sheryl Crow will lead an all-star bill at the Beacon Theatre.

Although it now helps residents with more than 200 individual diagnoses, God’s Love We Deliver was founded in 1987 to minister to patients in the terrifying early days of the AIDS epidemic in New York. Before 1981, according to city health records, fewer than 60 New Yorkers had been diagnosed with AIDS, the final stage of the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV.  By 1985, the number of AIDS diagnoses had topped 6,000 -- then rose into the tens of thousands.

In the long fight against HIV, this week brought remarkable news. Researchers have reported that a patient in London appears to have been cured of an HIV infection -- scientists prefer to use phrase long-term remission -- for the second time in 12 years, following bone marrow transplants.

In the context of the HIV breakthrough, and recalling the AIDS ministry roots of God's Love We Deliver, Billboard asked Larry Flick, a self-described “proud member of the ACT-UP generation of activists,” to reprint the following comments he posted Tuesday morning (March 5) on Facebook. Flick has been a host at SiriusXM since 2003. He currently hosts In Depth With Larry Flick, available exclusively on the SiriusXM app as well as on demand, and also hosts weekday morning drive Studio 54 RadioPreviously, he was the dance music editor for Billboard and notes that he “created the 'AIDS beat' for the magazine back in the day, chronicling the impact of the disease on the [music] industry.”

A couple days ago, a young fella asked me what I thought defined me as a gay man. After taking a deep breath, I said the first thing that came to mind: Death. The poor kid was speechless, so I explained...

Before I really understood what AIDS was or meant, men were dying around me. They were young and beautiful, and they were deeply confused and enraged by a disease that stalked and killed them seemingly because they lived with joy and sexual confidence. As I matured into a proud member of the ACT-UP generation of activists, death had become both shattering and common. If someone fell off the social grid for longer than a few days, dread and fear would sink in as you searched to see if he was okay.

By the time that folks started to celebrate life-sustaining drugs and PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis], I had personally buried literally hundreds of my friends, ex-boyfriends, and colleagues. Lots of death. Lots.

Now at the age of 55, there's a new kind of death surrounding me. Heart disease. Diabetes. Cancer. Suicide. I've had my own brushes with death via bypass surgery, and it's become common for me to check my email or Facebook to discover another friend is gone. Yesterday, I marked the passing of an old pal from my Bear Pageant days. The diabetes he contracted as a side-effect to long-term use of an HIV drug broke his body down. There was no coming back. That's in addition to two friends with new cancer diagnoses, and another friend tending to his wife post-mastectomy.

For gay guys my age, there hasn't been a breather from death as a front-burner issue. It has been everywhere and frequent for as long as I can recall. I think about it constantly. Every ache in my body feels like the final blow to my body and life. It sucks.

And yet we keep pushing. That's one of the reasons why I spend so much time concentrating on work and the amazing people with whom I'm lucky enough to talk. It's positive, upbeat, and it keeps me from being "that guy"... the one we all avoid because he's a downer.

Why am I telling you all of this today? I dunno. Just needed to. Be kind and gentle to folks along your day. You have no idea of where he or she really is in their lives... or how a simple smile make a world of difference.

And to my lovely millennial gaylettes... spare a patient breath for us old queens who sometimes get cranky with you. We worked hard for all of us to have a good life, and we miss the comrades who died before they could enjoy any of it. In fact, sometimes, we see you and we literally ache for those whose lives ended right at the point where you are right now.