The Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8 were a great moment in history. When I lived on the eastern Shore, I had the privilege to care for a large number of patients infected with HIV. Many were homosexual males. At that time I was among an elite group of doctors who were Family Physicians and “AIDS Doctors” as we were called then. I had trained in New Jersey. I had several patients with AIDS in my residency training. They were both heterosexual males and females and homosexual males. Many of my patients had suffered in silence with being gay and then had the added stigma of AIDS.
I really did not choose to be the primary provider for these patients. They found me. I had gained a reputation because of my patients. Word was spreading and patients were calling. We scheduled each patient so they could come to the office without fear of being found out. This was not easy in a small town. Everyone prided themselves on knowing everyone one’s business. I have forgotten many of the secrets I dared not write in my charts. That is a good thing. One of my patients was openly gay and he contributed to my reputation. He was flamboyant and so much fun. My favorite encounter came was when I told him his CD4 count and he fainted. We made a deal that I would only tell him if there was a change that was significant. That made our lives a little easier. My nurse was especially happy.
He met and fell in love with another patient of mine. They were as different as night and day, a modern-day Rhett and Scarlet. One was a tall African-American male who gave the appearance of being fearless and the other a White male who fainted. Together they contributed to changing AIDS care on the Eastern Shore. They became tireless advocates for patients and families. The two of them dealt with their illness in such different ways. Like many African-Americans, the one patient was diagnosed after a major illness which left some neurological deficits. That did not matter.
They invited me to the blessing of their union. The priest who performed the ceremony was later stripped of his position. He was accused of performing a marriage. We were all there and the celebration was beautiful. It was a blessing of two courageous men. Here is a link to the article: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1995-06-10/news/1995161005_1_priest-bishop-easton. Fortunately when I left, they started seeing my colleague outside Philadelphia. She is still a Family Physician who cares for patients living with HIV/AIDS.
The SCOTUS decisions on Wednesday July 26, 2013 made me reflect on that time. We have come a long way. Lisa Winkler’s blog entry SCOTUS & I Am Harvey Milk: Perfect Timing was so moving; it caused me to reflect on my own moment in history. At the time, I was just being a good doctor and an advocate for two courageous human beings. I still at that time had to worry about my personal reputation and the practice. I still had patients who would not have been supportive of our being there. When I attended the marriage of my two friends on Staten Island last year, in a beautiful marriage ceremony, I had no fear of loss of patients or revenue. Thankfully, I may never have to experience that again.