BY Bob Adams
November 20 2009 10:00 AM ET
John Duran remembers exactly how he became an AIDS activist: working to defeat California's 1986 Proposition 64 ballot initiative, which would have forced HIVers into quarantine. "It was that fight and a promise I made to a very good friend -- the first person I knew to die of AIDS -- that made me committed to making a difference," says the 50-year-old attorney.
Although Duran's résumé since then is both lengthy and impressive -- he's defended members of ACT UP, was the trial attorney for the Los Angeles needle-exchange program, and won California's first medicinal marijuana test case, among many other accomplishments -- he's perhaps best known as the nation's first HIV-positive mayor. A West Hollywood city councilman since 2001, Duran served as mayor from 2004 to 2005 and again from 2007 to 2008.
"That really allowed me to be a public voice for people with HIV," he says. "It was very exciting. And very humbling."
When Jennifer Flynn cofounded the New York City AIDS Housing Network in 1998, the group's main target, the city's emergency housing program for homeless HIVers, seemed broken beyond repair: a stubbornly wasteful bureaucracy that only benefited the greed of slumlords. NYCAHN was so effective at strong-arming change, Flynn has essentially claimed victory and has taken her community organizing talents over to the Health Global Access Project, or Health GAP, where as managing director, she now fights for worldwide access to antiretroviral meds.
"She has a particular talent for connecting and engaging individuals from challenged backgrounds in affected communities and working with them and supporting them around advocating for themselves," says Marjorie J. Hill, chief executive officer of Gay Men's Health Crisis. "I think that is the best advocacy one can do."
W. David Hardy, MD
David Hardy knew he had found his career path when HIV began its onslaught among his gay male peers just as he was graduating from medical school.
"Really, what we were doing at the time was helping people die with dignity. But then in 1996 and 1997 people stopped dying and everything about HIV care changed," says Hardy, who now serves as director of the division of infectious diseases at Los Angeles's Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Patient care has evolved so rapidly throughout the pandemic that Hardy cofounded the Los Angeles Physicians AIDS Forum to help local doctors educate each other about the disease and its treatment. He shoots for a similar goal on a national level as director of education for the American Academy of HIV Medicine.
"There's still a great need for HIV caregivers to get together, share information, network with each other, and advocate locally and at the state and national levels," he says. "It makes us better doctors."
Marjorie J. Hill, Ph.D.
Marjorie J. Hill towers over those around her. A licensed clinical psychologist who served as the assistant commissioner for New York City's HIV services bureau and who is now the first black chief executive officer of a major LGBT organization, New York City–based Gay Men's Health Crisis, she is just shy of six feet tall. But as proud as she is of her accomplishments, she'd rather stay as down-to-earth as possible so that others might follow in her footsteps.
"People think that there's a different kind of animal that decides to assume leadership," she says. "I think both my initial work in HIV and my continued motivation comes from the people who are living with HIV, with dignity, and with tenacity."
Bob Huff is the circumspect, levelheaded brainiac who works as well helping pharmaceutical companies understand the needs of patients as he does teaching HIVers about the latest cutting-edge medical research. Beginning in 1987 as a member of the Treatment and Data Committee of ACT UP, whose advocacy succeeded in speeding new therapies onto the market and promoting openness in HIV research, he went on to work for amfAR and helped found the AIDS Treatment Registry, an organization that tracked AIDS clinical trials.
After editing the Gay Men's Health Crisis "Treatment Issues" newsletter, he joined the Treatment Action Group, where he continues to fight for new developments in HIV care. "What I would really like to see is one more great breakthrough in the quality of treatment," he says, adding jokingly, "I'm sort of getting old and winding down!"