Monday, June 05, 2006


Twenty-five years ago today I remember very clearly sitting at the ratty, broken down front desk of the Westport Free Health Clinic where I was working reading the pages of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Review (MMWR). The MMWR held a strange fascination for me, for some reason. Anyway, on that day there was this article on a few cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in five previously healthy young men in Los Angeles. The young men were all gay. Soon there were similar reports in New York and San Francisco.

No one knew what was happening at the time, what was causing this deadly and spreading outbreak.

In time we would find out.

The Free Clinic, housed in a dilapidated three story house (see picture), was one of the first places in the Midwest to respond. In those days, for whatever reason, no one seemed to monitor what the clinic was doing all that closely, maybe because we received no federal or state money and operated with an all volunteer staff (augmented by four of us who were paid a pretty nominal salary to keep the place going).

In those early days, in Kansas City like so many other places it was the gay community which jumped first into the fight. It was volunteers from Kansas City's gay community which pretty much self organized the clinic's response to AIDS and they did it without any money to speak of. There were a few of us who were straight but we were the odd minority, that's for sure. It was amazing really. No red tape, no big federal grants,just people trying to help others.

Eventually, money came.

The old hippie like free clinic transformed itself into the Kansas City Free Health Clinic which today boasts of a multi million dollar budget(a bit more than the forty some thousand we worked with back in the early 80s). The "Community response" to AIDS has been replaced by an entire "AIDS Service Industry."

But the money which provided a plethora of services also took something away.

I'll never forget those times and I'll never forget some of the guys I met then who are now gone. They were heroes and they were just guys.

Sorry for this little bit of nostalgia, but what are ya gonna do.

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