My name is John Duran, and I’m the former mayor and council member of the City of West Hollywood for 20 years, former legal counsel for ACT UP chapters here in Southern California, Clean Needles Now the needle exchange, and Medicinal Marijuana. But prior to all that work, I was statewide co-chair for the Life AIDS Lobby.
The Life AIDS Lobby was created when we defeated Lyndon LaRouche’s Proposition 64 back in 1986. And we were quite happy to beat that back 2-to-1; it would have quarantined HIV-positive people in camps, had it passed.
And once we soundly defeated Lyndon LaRouche, we thought our work was done. But within six months, the California legislature had introduced almost 200 separate pieces of legislation on HIV and AIDS, from the most progressive ideas like AIDS education in the classrooms and needle exchange, to the most oppressive and extreme draconian measures like mandatory quarantine of HIV positive people in camps — again.
So we didn’t have, you know, the luxury of dissent at that point. We were under attack.
So we ended up organizing ourselves from San Diego all the way up to the north coast of California, and put 102 organizations together at a common table. Everybody was there. All the LGBT PACs, all the Democratic clubs, all the Stonewalls and Harvey Milks and Alice B. Toklas, all the Log Cabin Republican clubs, all the chapters of ACT UP, the sober recovery community organizations, all the Pride festivals, all the LGBT publications, the California nurses, teachers, health care officers — all at a common table.
And we would come together for quarterly meetings and debate policy, but we knew that with all the confusion and fear around HIV and AIDS, we really didn’t have the luxury of being able to disagree. We had to find a common table to hash out policy and stand united. And that’s what we ended up doing.
So we would meet with the California legislative leadership, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown from San Francisco and Senate Pro Tem David Roberti from West Hollywood, and we’d say the following 102 organizations all agree on these policies.
We would adjourn these meetings in memory of those that we had lost since the last time we met. And sometimes the adjournments would go for 30 minutes or more, as people openly wept about comrades who had fallen and people that had shared that common table with us.
And it was such a somber and sullen moment at the end of every quarterly board meeting, because we all realized, no matter what our political differences or our great diversity or gender or race or anything else — it didn’t really matter, we were all in the fight for our lives, and we were there to do what was best for the common good.
I always wondered why I was, you know, such a young man, living in Laguna Beach at the time and no more than 27-28 years old, and I’m the statewide co-chair. At the time, I was HIV-negative, and it was confided in me that they selected me, because a lot of the men who were positive or had AIDS who were elder statesmen and known and tested leadership, were sick and dying.
So it really became the story of lesbian women and our straight women allies taking the reins, along with some of the younger gay men who were recently infected or still HIV-negative, that would end up coming into leadership, because those that came before us were very, very sick.
It was quite an extraordinary period. Our first executive director was Rand Martin, who’s still up in Sacramento, and our second was the late Laurie McBride, who was just an angel on earth. Both such incredibly dynamic leaders that really made all the difference in crafting California’s compassionate response to HIV and AIDS — which, by the way, became a model for all the other states around the nation.
I think what gives me such a warm feeling about the Life AIDS Lobby, is remembering that there was no time for differences, no time to see something different about the person sitting next to me. We had to link arms and hands and work together no matter what, because our lives were on the line.