Stephen Gendin, who was at the center of AIDS activism for fifteen years and whose provocative writing in POZ magazine as a gay man struggling with HIV sparked community controversies, died on Wednesday, July 19, at New York City's Roosevelt Hospital. His partner, Kyle "Hush" MacDowell, was at his side. Gendin was 34.
Gendin's death was caused by cardiac arrest while he was undergoing chemotherapy for AIDS-related lymphoma. In addition to being a columnist and contributing editor at POZ, he was co-founder of Community Prescription Service, a national mail-order pharmacy service for people with HIV.
"I have never met a man I admired more," said POZ founder Sean Strub after Gendin's death. "Continued AIDS activism, in the absence of Stephen's integrity, excruciating honesty, and deep drive for meaning, at the moment, feels impossible."
Gendin, who served as the youngest member of the executive committee of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, learned he had HIV when he was an 18-year-old Brown University freshman. From that day on, he became a dedicated and outspoken activist on behalf of PWAs, founding ACT UP/Rhode Island and helping to launch the Rhode Island AIDS Project before graduating from Brown. A member of ACT UP/New York's fundraising commitee, he took part in dozens of demonstrations and civil disobedience actions, racking up a lengthy rap sheet of arrests. In 1989, he launched ACT UP's Treatment and Data Digest, a pioneer PWA-empowering treatment newsletter. As CEO of the nation's only HIV-positive-owned-and-operated mail-order prescription service, founded in 1991, Gendin continued to provide lifesaving medical information through newsletters, community forums, and other services to tens of thousands of people with HIV.
Larry Kramer, founder of ACT UP, said, "I remember the first time I saw Stephen at one of the first ACT UP meetings. He'd come all the way down from Brown. And he did it weekly, just to be with us, fighting. I remember the last time I saw him, just a week or so ago, looking just as much the handsome fighter, having just come through yet another awful close call, but standing straight, tall, with that same determined expression he had that first day. I remember thinking: He's going to make it through this after all."
Gendin continued to distinguish himself as one of the few activists to focus his energies on HIV prevention as well as treatment, long past the heyday of ACT UP's militancy. In 1994, when gay men faced a second wave of infections, he founded the AIDS Prevention Action League to spearhead new models of community-based, sex-positive prevention. Two years later, he co-founded Sex Panic! to combat attacks on New York City's sexual culture.
But it was as a POZ columnist that Gendin made his most controversial contribution. Whether writing about the indignities of HIV-drug-related diarrhea, his fantasy of assassinating Senator Jesse Helms, or the conflicted pleasure to be had in barebacking and the intense soul-searching that resulted, Gendin had the uncanny ability to catalyze community discussion of complicated, contentious issues. His pieces could also outrage a community of readers that prized itself on being beyond outrage.
Gendin showed early promise. He was a Boy Scout starting in the second grade, and was president of the 35-member science and engineering post #199 of the Wolverine Council, sponsored by Bechtel Power Corporation (where later, as a high school student, he secured an intership in the engineering department). He was named a "National Explorer Scout of the Year" (the Explorer Scouts are affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America). As a high school student, Gendin was one of the first out gay activist teenagers in the country.
Gendin was a 1989 graduate of Brown Unviersity, obtaining a bachelor's degree in Religious Studies. He attended the Union Theological Seminary, completing two years toward his master's degree.
Gendin is survived by his partner, Kyle "Hush" MacDowell of New York City; his father, Sidney Gendin of Ypsilanti, Michigan; and his sister, Margo Hart of Ionia, Michigan. His mother, Natalie Hauser Gendin, died in 1990 with Stephen at her side.
Contributions in memory of Stephen Gendin may be made to: Aid for AIDS, (212) 336-8043, an organization that distributes anti-HIV drugs to developing countries; the Hetrick-Martin Institute, (212) 674-2400; and GLSEN (the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network), (212) 727-0135.
The above obituary is from a press release distributed by POZ magazine, Greg Lugliani, Executive Editor.