Terri Wilder: Candy, do you remember the first time you heard about AIDS?
Candy Marcum: You know, I do. In 1981, I met a man named Howie Daire and he was starting a gay counseling center, and he had gone up to New York and looked at the counseling center they had up there—this was before AIDS. And he went to Houston and looked at one that was there, wanting to start one here in Dallas. And so together we worked on starting this counseling center. I had already started a small private practice. And so we went from bar to bar to talk about the counseling center, because there was no [LGBT] newspaper here in Dallas. There was no texting or email or anything like that. So you had to go in person, place to place. So we did that. And very quickly we started the counseling center, in January or February of that next year. So four or five months later.
TW: And what year was this?
CM: It was the very next year, 1982. So four or five months after we started the counseling center. And September of ’81, we went to this conference in Houston on gay mental health. So they probably didn’t use the word “lesbian” back then. When we attended the conference, we started hearing about GRID—gay-related immune deficiency. It was a virus that seemed to be spreading with gay men. We had driven to Houston, and so on the way back, Howie said—we had two phone lines in the counseling center, the counseling center was real small and I was single at the time. I was very fond of that second phone line. Howie said, “I think we should turn the second line into a GRID hotline.” And I said, “Really, do you know anybody that’s gotten that?”
And he said that he played in New York and he played in San Francisco and his friends in those towns were starting to get sick. So he could see it, certainly better than I could, and I think that a lot of people could see it. And so the counseling center very quickly turned into a community services place. So it was called Oak Lawn Community Services. And some of the services there were housing something called a “buddy project,” where we would put someone who was HIV positive with a friend who was healthy—they could have HIV, too. They don’t know. And at that time, like I said, I had a private practice and I asked Howie to come share office space with me. And he did. But he very quickly got sick. And so, eventually he died in 1986. So, four years after we had heard about the virus.
Fortunately, he had the buddy systems swoop in, and I was his buddy. And his mother came up from South Texas. She was an RN, and she took care of him. Howie lost his sight to CMV [cytomegalovirus]. He had Kaposi sarcoma. He was hospitalized two or three times and then died at home in the summer of 1986. He was probably the first kind of well-known person in Dallas who died. Then my experience was that my clients were getting sick, my friends were getting sick—I had a lot of male friends. My colleagues, the people that I [shared the] office with and did psychotherapy with, were dying.
I was seeing several men free of charge, pro bono, because they just didn’t have any money. And I would visit them in their hospital rooms. We would do some therapy there, and eventually I would visit them at home. This always chokes me up. It’s hard for me—and I watched them die. When you have a little time to die, you get your affairs in order. And one of the things that they did is they wanted me to come speak at their funerals. And so I would gird up my loins and go and do that. It was never, never an easy thing. The second picture that I sent to you is from a man named Don McCleary, and Don McCleary was the managing partner of a very large, probably the largest law firm in downtown Dallas.
He and I met through our social activism. He was involved with, at the time called the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. Eventually HRC. And he served on the board. Then I got on the board, he became chair of the board, and several years after, he died. I became chair of the board for the Human Rights Campaign for four years. And Don was about four or five years older than I, and so was Howie. And I see both of those men as mentors to me. I probably had more in common with Don than I did Howie. We would travel a lot. His partner and my partner, we did a lot of things. Don was in a hurry to live, because he knew he was dying.
This is all before the cocktail. So, things changed in ’96. Now, Don died in ’96, but the cocktail came out right after he died. So things changed within a 10-year period of time to a more hopeful stance. But what it did for me, it filled my life and gave me purpose. I know that it’s probably a wonderful thing to give to the opera and give to the museum. But I gave to people who were dying, and I gave time and effort and money, because there were people I knew. So now, today things are very different, but people are still seroconverting. There are lots of men these days that don’t remember a time when there was not AIDS, so they take, you know, better precautions. They had like a 10-year incubation period. You would get infected and then your symptoms would show right away. Then they would go away and then they would come back again. We didn’t know a lot about the virus. We didn’t know anything about the virus, really, for me until ’82.
TW: So can you tell me about the 1980s in terms of what was happening in Dallas? And I mean you and Howie set up services, but was anybody else doing anything in Dallas?
CM: There were lots of things going on at that time. When we started the counseling center there was the MCC church, the Metropolitan Community Church, which has now morphed to the one here in Dallas, the Cathedral of Hope. But you know, they already existed. When the AIDS crisis came, they would be good people to talk to. I think they were doing two or three funerals a day at the church. There was activism, and Dallas, I have to brag, is known for its leadership. You talked to Cece Cox, she’s a great leader. She is the CEO of the Resource Center. At one time it was called the AIDS Resource Center.
So there was like a political group and a church and a counseling center all before AIDS. That’s all we could see is that our friends were getting sick and they were dying and they were young. So did they have a lot of insurance? No. ’Cause they were in their 20s. They think they’re going to live forever. So they had a lot of needs. Plus what I saw in my office was that the young men would bring in their parents, and a lot of clients would bring in their parents and come out in their session. But the difference with the AIDS guys is that he would bring in his parents and he would say, “I’m gay,” followed up with, “I am dying.”
The guys were all, you know, mid-20s, mid-30s. Yeah. So there was a lot of need from them. But if the parents could wrap their head around it, like, took care of their kid, they brought them home to caretake. Because everyone at that time was dying. There was no—there was treatments for the symptoms, but there was no antidote for the virus. Lots of parents, I’m sorry to say, did not come up to the plate. And so, housing started in Dallas. The AIDS Services of Dallas provided housing.
And still there’s a good number of gay men, you know, that are HIV positive. I’m 69, and I have friends who I guess got infected in the ’90s that got on that cocktail and they’re with us still, thank God. So that cocktail made a big difference. But before then—and the other thing that I thought was really good was that like, with the counseling center there was an opportunity for people to be on a board of a nonprofit and be true to who they were. That could be lesbian, gay, bisexual. Back then, I don’t think there were any transgender people on the boards. But that’s a wonderful opportunity to develop leadership and experience, because a lot of our leaders were dying, and then a thing came out called Leadership Lambda. And I was involved with that. It was about having people going to a six-month seminar series and learn how to be a leader politically at a nonprofit. It was to continue to have leadership in Dallas when our leaders were dying. Howie was a leader, Don was a leader. Lots of wonderful people who died early.
TW: Were people supportive of your involvement in HIV? I guess I’m asking this question because I’m curious, did you ever get criticism about your helping gay men with AIDS?
CM: You know, I never did. And I think that’s it. I understand why you’re asking it. But I would say that would never come to my mind because, often, people in my life, I have met through my volunteer work, including my wife of, in June, 34 years. My best friends, you know, lesbians and gay men and some straight folk. We all met because we had something in common. We wanted to help the gay movement, and in people my age, the AIDS crisis. I don’t think I would ever have been that involved in the gay movement if there hadn’t been AIDS. If I was a business person or school teacher or real estate person or whatever. But I was right in the middle of it, not only because my friends were dying, but because I’m a psychotherapist and people were coming in for counseling. So I just felt moved to help my people.
TW: So can you tell me a specific story that you remember about helping a gay man with AIDS during the early years of the epidemic?
CM: Well, you know, I told you about Howie, about how his mother came and he died at home. I had several clients whose parents came and care took them, and I would go visit once a week, and as they got closer to death, more often. I would spend more time with the parents, because the guy living with HIV was not able to do therapy, not able to talk. And as I said before, I spoke at too many funerals. So, you know, that’s my story, with an amalgamation of probably 10 or 12 people.
TW: What were some of the challenges during the early years?
CM: Money, money for drugs. Wanting pharmaceutical companies to make drugs. Our county hospital, my county hospital is supplied by taxes, you know, so it doesn’t cost that much to go to a county hospital. Our county hospital is named Parkland Hospital. And we needed them to respond to our men who were sick. We needed them to not only treat them, we needed them to advocate, to get meds for them, and we had to push them to do that. Now there are people who can speak to that better than I can. I knew the men that were pushing for it. I knew what was going on, but I was not personally doing it. I wasn’t going to Parkland. I wasn’t talking to people there. I wasn’t going to City Hall and talking to people there. Mine was a different kind of deal. But I think anyone’s story about this will sound just like mine. There were people that were getting sick, and Ronald Reagan would not use the word “gay.” We had lots of trouble getting federal funding until the Ryan White Act.
And that bill sent a lot of money to a lot of communities. And every year, HRC fought to keep that bill intact and funded because every year the federal government wanted to cut it. And we really, really needed it. I liken this to people playing on a bluff on a hill and there’s a fence around it, but the fence is kind of broken in one place and people are falling off that bluff, coming downstream to places like Dallas and Houston. And here we are dragging them out of the stream and trying to deal with them there, when what I wanted to do was fix that fence so they quit rolling in, you know. So by that I mean we needed a vaccine. We needed affordable medicine. Like I said, any kind of a big illness impacts you financially in a very negative way. And these people were young, so it’s not like they had a bunch of money. And a lot of them didn’t have insurance, medical insurance, so they couldn’t afford their meds. So some of these organizations that were formed helped people with housing, with medicine and things like that, but there was a huge need.
TW: So when you think about the early years of the epidemic, what are you most proud of from that time period?
CM: When you would listen to those fellas talk, they would talk about how AIDS was a good thing for them. So really what’s, why is that? And they would say because it made them more healthy, it made them focus on their health. It made them focus on a relationship versus a one-night stand. It brought them closer to their families. So, interesting enough, there was a lot of grace in the way they died and the way they lived. You know, we used to call them PWA, people with AIDS, and then PLWA, persons living with AIDS. Because they were living—not very long, but they were living. And they were so brave. I was really touched by that.
TW: What would you do differently if you could?
CM: You know, what comes to my mind is, I’d make a lot more money and give it away. But, you know, I worked as hard as I could. I don’t think I would do anything differently. Like I said, I’m filled up from what happens. I think it is the story of my life. I’m pretty happy.
TW: Is there any other memories from that time period that you think would be important to share?
CM: Such an important thing for me is the people that it brought into my life. Like I said, my friends, my partner—I mean, my wife.
Things you learn through this: how to work with people. You know, volunteering and serving on committees and boards and things like that. You have to get along with people. You have to work together. There’s no boss who tells you what to do. So I really enjoyed learning to work with people and meeting these fabulous people. I continued to meet wonderful people. So you know, that’s the good that came out for me was that it did define my life. It absolutely does. Still chokes me up. And it’s filled it with people and love. So that’s a good thing.