HRC Fund Dinner 1987
On behalf of the Whitman-Walker Clinic --its staff, its volunteers and the people we serve --I want to tell you how deeply honored we are by this award. We know there is nothing more sacred in this world than human rights and we honor you in your fight to protect them.
I never know where to begin when I speak about AIDS. The mere word, just four simple letters, an acronym, has taken on the impact of a sledgehammer, because AIDS is never subtle. Its mention terrifies people: it can stop any conversation; and its diagnosis means an almost certain death sentence.
But how ironic that AIDS also means caring and connecting. And that is what the Whitman-Walker Clinic is all about. Aiding-those in need.
The work we do comes--not from a huge budget or state-of-the-art facilities It comes from the phenomenal outreach of a concerned staff and community of volunteers --and I wish to honor those people in my words tonight.
The primary charter of the Whitman-Walker Clinic was to serve the gay and lesbian community which we have done since 1973. But AIDS dramatically changed the face of our patient list. People have increasingly turned to us for help and support in their time of crisis. And we turn no person with AIDS away.
Let me tell you a bit about our staff and volunteers. They range in age from 18 to 70. They are men and women, gays and straights, rich and poor. They represent all races and all religions.
You might say they have little in common. But as we all become more and more involved in the fight against this disease, the commonalities are clear: these people see service not as a duty, but as a natural act of compassion. Caring-for them-is a reflex -- it is the instinctive response of an open heart.
Our 1000 volunteers gave 100,000 hours of volunteer service last year alone. And our staff members do not know the meaning of 9 to 5. Never before has there been such a positive, mass response to a crisis. We are buddies to peopIe living with AIDS. We provide counseling support -- answer hotlines -- conduct educational sessions and outreach efforts while at the same time providing a comprehensive housing, medical and dental program.
In the gay community in particular, this volunteerism and this response to the struggle has changed our self-perceptions. We have recognized a need, we have acted upon it and this has given us the opportunity to be acknowledged as the caring people we always knew we were.
We all hear talk about quarantining people with AIDS, of keeping the children out of school, of denying them proper medical coverage. And when they speak of these people, they speak of them like a clinical case study; an Andromeda strain that we should isolate in a laboratory.
But we say, meet these people living with AIDS. As we all know, they are not just cases. Like us, they are human beings. Keep in mind that with the blink of an eye, any one of us can be on either side of the equation.
I asked a woman with AIDS I know - who has lived with this dread disease for four years - now - if you could give all these people here one message tonight - what would it be? With almost no hesitation, she responded, "Fight the disease and not the person."
In all this tragedy, which at times seems so desperately hopeless, and for so many who are so desperately helpless - we have learned there is hope and there is help.
The volunteers of Whitman-Walker have benefited from working with people who live with AIDS. Their drive, aspirations - their energy - has given us the inspiration to lead better and more productive lives - to help others and to love each other -unconditionally. I have felt this energy through my work with the staff, volunteers, and patients of the Whitman-Walker Clinic.
I can stand before you tonight and tell you some wonderful stories - inspiring, beautiful, poignant and some very funny ones too - but we all have stories! (PAUSE) And what better moment than now to acknowledge and reflect upon them (PAUSE) - to remember how they made a difference in our lives. (PAUSE)
For all of us in this room - the work goes on. From all of us at Whitman-Walker, we thank you for your recognition of our contribution.