When I came to New York in the 1980s, working as a media relations manager at the Direct Marketing Association, the city was a very different place than it is today.
New York was crawling out of bankruptcy, awash with graffiti, litter and crime, and thousands of people dying from a virus which our president barely would mention. ACT UP — AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, American Foundation for AIDS Research, God’s Love We Deliver, Housing Works — this was the new “industry” that rose up in New York (and elsewhere) to find a way to halt a crisis that was robbing the world of bright, young minds — people from all walks of life.
Straight or gay, we were all running and hiding from a virus … in advertising, in media, in fashion, in the arts, in finance, and so on. It didn’t matter who you were — it could find you, and you’d probably die. My own Stonewall was not a riot in Greenwich Village in 1969, it was joining the fight against AIDS 20 years later, and a fight for those who were afflicted, marginalized, and isolated as pariahs.
Welcome to New York — From Thousands of People I Never Got to Know
One of my first experiences upon moving to New York was giving food to and hugging a homeless man outside McDonald’s on Third Avenue. He was covered with lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma, a manifestation of AIDS. He said, through crying eyes, that I was the first person to have touched him in two years. He was so frail, but his hug was so strong. I know he probably did not live long thereafter. I cry for him, even today, as I recall this happening. I wonder, too, about all the thousands like him, whose contributions we’ve been denied ever to know.
This fight against AIDS must continue today — a cure must be achieved. Thankfully, drug treatments have emerged to help those who have HIV infection, to become undetectable, or to prevent infection altogether, but these therapies are expensive — and research toward better treatments, and a cure, must be funded. For those who become HIV+, it may no longer be a death sentence, but I’m certain it’s still no picnic. There are too many population segments living outside affordable, accessible, quality health care.
Pride and the Pursuit of Happiness
Through all this, I came to New York City because it represented a place where all of the world’s individuals could be who they are — no matter who you are — and the city fosters such individualism, collectively. Stonewall, having claim to the birth of our modern gay rights’ movement, was part of this allure. Growing up in small-town America, I loved small-town values, but I could barely find myself thriving in the restrictions, expectations, and judgments that served, in my mind, to repress my own freedom-loving path and pursuit of happiness. New York would be my catalyst. In fact, New York — even as a global city — is, to me, a quintessentially American city — where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness can be very hard, but well worth the reward.
In 1994 — on the 25th Anniversary of Stonewall — I marched down Fifth Avenue, with people from all over the world who gathered to show our pride.
Twenty-five years on, we are prouder still. In 2019, I’m going to march again in New York — this time on the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. I march for me, liberated, yes — and for all of those who live still in repression, who are denied equal access under the law, and who are hated, harmed, or ignored, simply because of whom they choose to love. World Pride is a celebration of boundless, limitless love — but also a love with responsibility toward ourselves and each other. Love respects. Love is compassionate.
Plan Your Travel Accordingly: Love and Education in a Campaign
When I was judging the ANA International ECHO Awards last year — an extremely rewarding experience that I’m hopeful you choose to make happen for yourself this year — many of my judging colleagues saw this data-inspired Destination Pride campaign from PFLAG Canada (agency FCB/Six, Toronto):
The Association of National Advertisers just posted this updated commentary about the campaign on its own site and YouTube Channel.
This campaign earned a GOLD ECHO, among many other advertising honors. The campaign shows how technology, data and creativity came together to truly help make the world more safe, tolerant and enjoyable for everyone, providing global destinations with a LGBTQ+ friendliness score. (New York City scores a 72 — with room for improvement. How is your city doing?)
I’m hopeful to see more such innovative, provocative, and engaging ECHO entries this year. Great work toward positive business and social outcomes matter.
Stonewall50 | World Pride, march on!