Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Death of an AIDS Activist and Human Rights Pioneer

"Dennis deLeon, AIDS Activist, Dies at 61"
Photo by Vio DeLucia
Published: December 14, 2009

"Dennis deLeon, a former New York City human rights commissioner who was one of the first city officials to announce that he was infected with the virus that causes AIDS and who later led one of the nation’s most influential advocacy groups for Latinos with AIDS, died Monday in Manhattan. He was 61...

Mr. deLeon had been human rights commissioner for three years when he disclosed his condition in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times in 1993. At the time, AIDS bore far more of a stigma than it does today, and he said he had been struggling about whether to go public.

'When I contemplated disclosure,' he wrote, 'I felt that my hope to continue contributing to society as a lawyer and human rights activist was threatened. Would I be evaluated on my merits if I sought to be a judge, a law professor, a law firm member or a governmental appointee?' ...

As commissioner, he had seen hundreds of cases in which H.I.V.-positive New Yorkers were shunned by colleagues and employers, he wrote.

'Often, the person is transferred into a meaningless position, passed over for advancement or fired,' he added. 'Such treatment is often made to appear superficially legitimate but is frequently revealed through investigation to be based on discrimination. Why should I put up with this?'

He would not. A year later, Mr. deLeon became president of the Latino Commission on AIDS, an organization that had a staff of two. It now has a staff of 45 and a budget of $5 million and works in partnership with 380 organizations around the county. Mr. deLeon was its president until a few months ago.

Under his leadership, the organization created a national Spanish-language clearinghouse for AIDS information, a network of prevention programs in Spanish-speaking churches, and committees with the mission of mobilizing gay Latinos as well as immigrants, women and inmates with AIDS. In 2003, the organization sponsored the first National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, a program that is now held annually on Oct. 15 in 40 states...

As commissioner, Mr. deLeon worked to calm disputes between blacks and Orthodox Jews in Crown Heights and Williamsburg, Brooklyn; blacks and Korean grocery owners in Flatbush, Brooklyn; and Dominicans and the police in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan...

Under Mr. deLeon, a human rights commission study found that many hospitals and clinics in the city were refusing to perform abortions on women infected with the AIDS virus. Investigators posing as patients made appointments at 50 health centers but were turned away from 20 clinics when they said they were H.I.V.-positive.

'To have this service denied to these women is really a crime,' Mr. deLeon said. ;No one wants to deal with these folks. We’re sending a message to the clinics that this is illegal, and we will pursue you.'”

Read the complete article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/15/nyregion/15deleon.html?hpw

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