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Prominent Gay, AIDS Activist Dennis DeLeon Dies at 61
by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Dec 15, 2009
Dennis deLeon, a prominent GLBT and HIV/AIDS activist, has died of heart failure at age 61.


An Dec. 14 New York Times article recounted that deLeon had been a fierce advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS. He was himself diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1986, and subsequently made public a revelation of his HIV status in 1993, when he was the city's human rights commissioner.
"When I contemplated disclosure, I felt that my hope to continue contributing to society as a lawyer and human rights activist was threatened," deLeon wrote in the op-ed piece in which he publicly disclosed his HIV status. "Would I be evaluated on my merits if I sought to be a judge, a law professor, a law firm member or a governmental appointee?"
The Times article noted that deLeon's doubts had been intensified by what he'd witnessed during his tenure, since 1990, as human rights commissioner. "Often, the [HIV-positive] person is transferred into a meaningless position, passed over for advancement or fired," deLeon wrote. "Such treatment is often made to appear superficially legitimate but is frequently revealed through investigation to be based on discrimination. Why should I put up with this?"
deLeon went on to take charge of the Latino Commission on AIDS in 1994, transforming the group from a tiny organization to a force with national reach that seeks to educate Latinos about HIV, AIDS, and prevention. deLeon remained at the head of the Latino Commission on AIDS until earlier this year.
A Dec. 14 article at Gay City News noted that prominent gay New Yorkers spoke out about deLeon's death. "It will be a challenge to pick up the mantle Dennis has left for us at the Commission," wrote Guillermo Chacon, who succeeded deLeon as president of the Latino Commission on AIDS. "Dennis was a friend, a mentor, and an example of what a national leader should be. He is a testament to the human spirit and the power of perseverance. His work and his dedication to our community will not be forgotten."
"He touched countless lives," a statement from city council speaker Christine Quinn said, "from his days as a young attorney helping migrant workers in California to his building of the Latino Commission on AIDS into a powerful force in the fight against HIV/AIDS. During his time as the Human Rights commissioner, he called attention to pervasive discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations suffered by those living with HIV/AIDS."
A Dec. 15 article at praised deLeon's commitment to issues affecting the Latino community. "De Leon's visibility, consistency and commitment to advocacy around HIV and AIDS was a matter of justice," the article read, employing a variant on the spelling of the leader's surname. "He stood against budget cuts that would affect the poor. As the longtime head of the Latino Commission on AIDS, he used the organization to build vast community-based networks for increasing awareness among Latinos.
"When medical advances began allowing people with HIV to live healthier and longer lives, this offered some promise," the article continued. "But the intensity of the head-on activism around HIV and AIDS waned. de Leon continued to remind people that this health crisis had not disappeared and that our community could not sit back. In regularly writing for this paper, he was particularly focused on safe sex education for young people."
Added the article, "The loss of such an ardent defender of Latinos could have left a vacuum in our community. But de Leon had the foresight to groom leadership and successors, an example more Latino organizations should pay attention to."
deLeon, the New York Times reported, was survived by various family members, including his life partner of 32 years, Bruce Kiernan.
information about services for Mr. De Leon this morning:
Viewing will take place at Redden's Funeral Home at 325 West 14th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues on Wednesday, December 16th (4-9pm)
Mass will take place Thursday, December 17th at the Parish of St. Joseph in Greenwich Village located at 371 Avenue of the Americas between Washington and Waverly Place (10am).
Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.
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