Keith Cylar, an openly gay AIDS activist and cofounder of New York City's AIDS service organization Housing Works, died of cardioarhythmia in New York on Monday. Cylar, who was HIV-positive for more than 20 years and also suffered from a serious heart condition called cardiomyopathy, was 45. Cylar served as copresident and COO of Housing Works, a community-based organization that provides housing and other social services for HIV-positive New Yorkers and advocates nationwide on housing issues.
Cylar was born in Norfolk, Va., and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Boston University and a master's degree in social work from Columbia University. He was a former member of the New York chapter of ACT UP, where he helped found the group's housing committee. In 1992 he, longtime partner Charles King, and attorney Virginia Shubert founded Housing Works, which in addition to offering housing services for homeless HIV-positive people also provides health care, job training, service referrals, and other social services. The agency also operates four Housing Works Thrift Shops in the city, the Used Books Cafe, and a gourmet catering business that support the agency's services. Housing Works has found shelter for more than 15,000 people since opening and has an annual operating budget of $30 million.
Cylar also was active with Beth Israel Medical Center in helping to encourage minorities to participate in AIDS clinical trials and was a vocal advocate of the harm reduction approach to drug use and abuse as a board member of the National Harm Reduction Coalition.
"For Keith, the struggle against AIDS, racism, homophobia, sexism, poverty, and homelessness was a struggle for the very survival of our communities," Gay Men's Health Crisis executive director Ana Oliveira said in a press release. "The greatest tribute that we can all make to Keith is to redouble our efforts in the fight for health and justice." Patricia Bass, chair of the Communities Advocating Emergency AIDS Relief Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based AIDS advocacy group for which Cylar served as a board member, said in a statement that Cylar's death "is a tremendous loss for our organization and the larger HIV/AIDS and social justice community."
Cylar is survived by his partner, King; parents Anne E. Patton of Cleveland and Marva and Harry Langester of Portsmouth, Va.; a great-aunt; and several cousins. A funeral service is planned for April 13 at the Church of the Intercession in New York City. Following the funeral there will be a dance party in celebration of Cylar's life from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Webster Hall, 125 E. 11th St.