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HIV Profile: Alison Gertz

By Justin B. Terry-Smith

March 25, 2011

Justin will regularly profile someone famous or well known who has either been infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS. This is his choice for March.

On February 27, 1966, Alison Gertz was born to a prominent family in New York. When she was 16 she had her first sexual encounter. She was infected with HIV. At the age of 22 after being sick and spending several weeks in the hospital, doctors couldn't understand what was wrong with her. At this time HIV/AIDS was known as a Gay or Intravenous drug users disease, so she was not tested, at least at first. Her doctor then tested her for HIV and the test came up positive. This young beautiful woman who came from a prominent New York family was diagnosed with HIV. It was shocking and she became one of the first women known to be infected with the HIV virus and also to be public about her HIV status.

When Gertz found out that she was positive she began to speak to young people about protecting themselves against the HIV virus; she became an HIV activist. During Gertz's time as an activist, she was voted Woman of the Year by Esquire magazine, received the Secretary's Award for Excellence in Public Service from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and a film based on her life starring Molly Ringwald was released called Something to Live For: The Alison Gertz Story; or another title was Fatal Love.

In the song "Life Support" from the rock opera Rent, members of a support group in the beginning of the song say their names. Jonathan Larson used the names of his HIV-positive friends as the characters in this song. At the beginning of the song, one character who refers to herself as "Ali" was named after Gertz.

Sadly Gertz died from AIDS complications on August 8, 1992; she was only 26 years old.

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See Also
More HIV Activist Profiles and Personal Accounts


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Justin's HIV Journal

Justin B. Terry-Smith

Justin B. Terry-Smith

Justin B. Terry-Smith, M.P.H., may be one of the most public African Americans living with HIV: He has his own website, and he's even on YouTube. He is a noted HIV and gay civil rights activist and the creator of "Justin's HIV Journal," a popular blog in which he shares his trials and tribulations of living with HIV. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Justin resides in Laurel, Maryland, with his husband, Dr. Philip Terry-Smith, and their son, Lundyn. Presently, Justin is working toward earning his doctorate in public health. He welcomes your questions.
(Photo credit: Don Harris)

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