Category: act up

AIDS Silent History: Act Up; We the People; Ed Savitz; Lynne Abraham; Jerry Sandusky

When I posted about Matt Bomer starring in the new HBO film, “The Normal Heart,” by Larry Kramer, I mentioned I would write something else about AIDS that people may or may not know. A large part of what I recall as a kid had to do with a group called Act Up.

Although this topic could be a non-fiction book, I’m only linking to a few articles I found. And the photo above is one of my first pieces of published fiction that I wrote for a group called “We The People,” in Philadelphia that I’m linking to below. I couldn’t find much about the group and I don’t think they are around anymore. A lot of these organizations were run on strict budgets, and a lot of the people who started them are no longer around for obvious reasons. The piece they published for me was a running series in a newsletter that contained excerpts from a novel I’ve never actually had published anywhere else. It wasn’t erotic romance or erotica. It was more LGBT literary mainstream fiction, and I never found a market for it. Publishing LGBT fiction twenty years ago was virtually impossible. I still have the novel in hard copy in my files. Maybe one of these days I’ll revisit it and think about self-publishing it as a novel about AIDS during the height of the crisis. In my novel the mc didn’t focus on having AIDS. It was more about the fear of getting AIDS.

This first link leads to the Act Up Philadelphia web site. This one is still around and they are still working for the cause. They used to be more controversial, which I’ll post links about below.

ACT UP is an all-volunteer organization, and we rely on your support to campaign for the rights of people with HIV in Philly and worldwide. Please support us with a donation today.

Just to show there was a group called “We The People,” I’m posting this link. But it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere, which is why I think WTP isn’t around anymore. If it were, I’m sure there would be more info out there. A lot of these groups started pre-Internet, and they weren’t mentioned in the mainstream media as often as they should have been. So what you get now are bits and pieces of what they once were, without getting a complete image. I was surprised to see there’s even a map on this link, to what looks like where their offices used to be on South Broad Street in Philly. We didn’t submit electronically then. I usually just dropped my fiction off at the front desk.

Here’s a link to a web site with a photo and a bio/obit of a young man named Ted Kirk. He actually worked with “We The People.” I may have met him, but I’m honestly not certain now.

Thomas “Ted” Kirk, one of the city’s leading experts on AIDS and mental illness and a former board member of We The People, died of complications from the disease on October 26th. He was 31 years old.

A memorial celebration will be held for Ted at Keystone Hospice, 8765 Stenton Avenue in Wyndmoor, on Sunday, November 22nd at 1:00 p.m.

Born in Atlanta, Ted was informed of his HIV infection at the age of 18. But “he never stopped fighting,” according to Pam Ladds, director of WISDOM. “He was a gentle person, but very tough on the inside. Ted empowered himself and others through his activism. He fought as long as he could.”
Ted obtained his Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 1992 from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. On coming to Philadelphia, he became involved with Philadelphia AIDS Coordinated Therapy Services (PACTS) and Philadelphia HIV Mental Health Services, which at the time were the only mental health programs in the region specifically for people living with AIDS. As a clinician at those agencies, Ted provided therapeutic counseling and other services to several hundred people with AIDS over the next three years.

In general, it looks like an interesting web site. It’s Gay History Wiki.

Now this next link will take you to an article that’s all about a man named Ed Savitz. This was a huge story in Philadelphia. Ed Savitz, AKA “Uncle Ed,” was a wealthy businessman who lived in a very expensive Philadelphia neighborhood. His hobby was bringing young men to his home and performing unusual sexual acts with them. He died of AIDS related complications in prison.

But in a news conference yesterday, she said that the man and his lawyer, who was also not identified, had agreed to allow the authorities to release his nickname, Uncle Ed, and a general description in publicly notifying people who may have had sex with him. Abraham identified him as a white man, about 50 years old, who lived in downtown Philadelphia.

“The purpose of this announcement, which is made with the defendant’s knowledge and consent, is not to create a panic,” she said, “but is instead made with the express purpose of advising those young boys and men who may have had intimate sexual contact with this defendant that it is in their interest to take appropriate steps because of the fact that this defendant has AIDS.”

Although no official information was made available on the name of the man arrested, the Associated Press carried a report yesterday giving his identity as Ed Savitz, 50, a resident of an apartment building in downtown Philadelphia.

Abraham said yesterday that the man was being charged in the cases of two minors with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual abuse of children, indecent assault and corrupting the morals of a minor.

The authorities said they believed there were a number of other sex partners, but they declined to provide any details. They said the man had had AIDS for at least a year and that he had carried HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, for at least one or two years before the onset of the AIDS symptoms.
I thought this article was important to add not just because it was such a huge local story back then, but also because of the fact that we didn’t know that much about AIDS, there weren’t HIV drugs like we have now, and because “Uncle Ed,” did have AIDS. In the years following this story, I have yet to see it mentioned again, aside from when Ed Savitz died. So there’s not much more I can add about what happened to the young men involved with Savitz.
This next link is also about Ed Savitz and Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham. I mention Abraham specifically because every time something happened AIDS related it seemed to me as if she was involved. I even remember a news clip of people from Act Up throwing condoms at her on the steps of city hall. I can’t find much about all that anymore, but I think it’s important to mention her because since then she’s gone dead silent with regard to anything AIDS related in Philadelphia. She’s still around, too, and active in Philadelphia politics from what I gather.  

“I think Dr. Ross’ naivete about the political process did not serve him well in this case,” said David Fair, president of the activist organization We The People Living With AIDS/HIV.

“By lending his credibility to Lynne Abraham’s sensationalist distortion of the whole thing, he really set the clock back in terms of basic public health principles. The real impact was to scare people away from getting tested,” Fair said.

I do remember David Fair. I also remember the panic and sensationalism Abraham created. Enough said. If you lived in Philadelphia today, you’d never think any of this happened.

This next article shocked me because I didn’t know there had been an association with convicted child sex abuser and rapist, Jerry Sandusky and Ed Savitz. In fact, I live in New Hope, Bucks County, PA, and I never once heard the name Ed Savitz connected with Jerry Sandusky once during the entire Penn State sex scandal. And there was plenty of this in the news around here. Interesting.

Bucceroni says he accompanied Edward Savitz, a well-known Philadelphia businessman, Democratic political booster and advocate for at-risk children, to a fund-raiser “somewhere past Harrisburg.”

The event was to raise money for the recently established Second Mile foundation, and Bucceroni says he remembers meeting the man everyone referred to as “The Coach,” Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who founded Second Mile in 1977. Bucceroni says Savitz and Sandusky knew each other through The Second Mile and political fund-raising events.

Notice how this was published in the NY Daily News, not in a Philadelphia newspaper.

Since then, Second Mile Foundation has gone defunct. Whether or not Sandusky and Savitz were connected with regard to sexual abuse remains to be seen. And we might never know for certain.

This final link leads to a web site that talks about what it was really like back in the late eighties and early nineties with regard to protests and making people more aware about AIDS. The article was originally pubbed on June 1992.

It was a defining moment. For five years Act Up – the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power – has been rewriting the rules of public protest with just such repulsive tactics. Whether by crowning ultra-conservative North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms’ house with a giant condom or confronting Archbishop Anthony J. Bevilacqua in the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul with a shower of Trojans and insulting slogans – “Bevilacqua, He’s a mess! He’s a Nazi in a dress!” – this determined band of rude, irate, inspired radicals are the shock troops of AIDS activism.

Unfortunately, it seemed the only way to get attention back then was to create all kinds of drama to get the attention. No one would pay attention otherwise. And it’s really that plain and simple, and Act Up did what it had to do. I remember. I was there. I also find it interesting how they mention a confrontation with Archbishop Bevilacqua. This, of course, was years before all of the sex scandals that rocked the Catholic Church.

One of those edging away is Philadelphia’s new district attorney, Lynne M. Abraham, who has had her own run-ins with the group. She was appalled.

“It was typical of them,” she says. “They poured, what, clam chowder or oyster stew all over 16th Street? The truth? I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. Political activism is one thing. These people. .. I don’t know, they’re just so rude! “


Notice how Lynne Abraham is mentioned yet again in this article. You have to love her quote. Clearly, she didn’t get it. And I would imagine she still doesn’t get it today. But Act Up did what it had to do, and it made people aware of something the mainstream media wouldn’t have touched unless there was some kind of grand-standing happening. AIDS just wasn’t important enough to be mentioned otherwise. It was discussed in LGBT papers, but rarely in the mainstream. This is something I remember personally, too.

From the gay perspective, life was good in Center City Philadelphia. There were more than 20 bars openly catering to gays within four blocks of Broad and Spruce Streets. The center of the action was the Allegro, four stories of wall-to-wall flesh on weekend nights, so hopping that the party frequently spilled out to the streets. Caught up in the swirl was a whole generation of gays who had never known the closet, who were cheerfully tearing down centuries-old sexual barriers. They were the avant-garde of cultural revolution, widening definitions of human rights, demanding acceptance, shouldering their way into mainstream popular culture. They were loving each other openly, goosing convention and trying to redefine concepts of marriage and family.

Then gay men started dying. Word of a gay plague started spreading in the late Seventies.

“The gay press was following it early,” says Tucker, “and people were asking questions: What’s going on? What does it mean? The government wasn’t doing its job getting the word out. “

And just that fast, how you looked at things became a matter of life and death. The epidemic made that elegantly clear. Self-righteous heterosexuals saw the hand of God in a deadly disease transmitted primarily by anal intercourse, and their self-righteousness bred inaction that meant death. Social qualms about teaching sex in schools meant death. Families that refused to disclose the nature of a loved one’s fatal illness preserved an ignorance that meant death. Church prohibitions against contraception and frank sexual counseling meant death. Government policy, no matter how well-intentioned, that delayed the mass availability of a promising treatment until exhaustive trials were complete meant death. Travel restrictions imposed on those afflicted with AIDS that impeded the vital exchange of information and ideas, meant death. …

Physically, the disease was catastrophic. Intellectually, it was oddly clarifying.

“Basically, the idea of (anal intercourse) drives a lot of Americans bonkers,” says Tucker, who believes he would not have contracted the disease if health officials and the press had acted more aggressively in the early 1980s to inform the public of AIDS, and how to avoid it. “An act which I consider one of the most beautiful in the world is obviously an act which a lot of Americans find absolutely disgusting and abhorrent. In fact, to a degree that they think I should die. I find that really interesting. “

There’s a lot more to the article, and I recommend reading it in full to get the full impact. It was a very interesting time, and it’s still not talked about nearly as much as it should be. So when I see films like “The Normal Heart,” coming out, with openly gay men (heroes) like Matt Bomer, I find a little comfort in knowing all that terrified us back then wasn’t just in our imaginations. It really happened, and the saddest part is that it all could have been done so differently.

I’ll be posting excerpts from my unpublished novel, “I’m Over It,” that I’ll take from the We The People Newsletter. I’d like to see that online where it will remain.