Christopher Burns

As Interviewed by Billy Flukinger, March 19, 2017

Chris Burns: In His Own Words

Chris burns talks about working as a gay rights activist at the GMHC.

How did you come to work at the GMHC and what inspired you to join it?

I came out of college and I had recognized that I was gay, that I was a homosexual. Well, at the time if you contracted HIV, which is the virus that leads to AIDS, there was no cure -- you died. It was very much a part of the gay community, so therefore if you came out as someone who identified as gay, having to address HIV and its impact was a significant and severe reality. So, I was terrified of it like anyone, and as opposed to being fearful, I chose to be proactive. And thatís when I sought out the GMHC to see if I could volunteer and work on their 24-hour phone hotline, which was set up for people anywhere in the world to be able to call and understand how to protect themselves from contracting and being infected by HIV. And I did this because, I figured, everyone has an impact.

Why do you think the GMHC has been so successful in fundraising and touching peopleís hearts?

Well, it was inspired by, a group of gay men, who were in New York. This was in the mid 1980s, and it was initiated because the government, our federal government, didnít acknowledge that all these gay men were dying. Very healthy young men were coming down with an illness and then dying within months. And Ďtil the 1960s, it was still a crime -- you could be put in jail for being a gay person. And so, there was a lot of social stigma not only towards homosexuals, but then when they started dying, there was so much mystery that, they would go to a hospital and they would be turned away. They were seen as being a threat to the other patients and visitors. So these men gathered together and created this organization to be activists for the help of their friends and their community, and they started with fundraising to get people some basic health care and to advocate for political action, to demand that elected officials acknowledge what was happening and do something about it. And by the compassion of other human beings, whether they were gay or not, supported this organization and continued because they see that it serves a vital role.

When you started working at the GMHC what was the response that you got from your friends and family?

Well, it was still a very tentative time for me, Billy, I was still not out, if you will, I was not... My parents didnít know I was gay at the time. I was still trying to understand that part of myself. Part of being a part of this was address my fear, my fear of being gay and my fear of being infected by HIV was to confront it, and go and be a part of an organization and understand and learn and be in a public forum it was a personal challenge for myself to find peace. ĎCuz we all volunteered. One of the most important days of my life what is known as the Gay Pride Parade, here in New York, and they have them all over the country now but, the first one was in 1969, and it started not as a parade, but as a protest march. This protest march that started in 1969, and every year, in every June thereís this big huge Gay Pride Parade. And for me, in 1991, when I was with the GMHC, I marched in this parade/protest march with a whole contingent of people from GMHC, and at the time I hadnít told my parents that I was gay, I was still finding my way to own my identity, and I was so frightened, I brought my bicycle with me so I could flee at any moment. And I reference this because at the end of this incredible march through New York City with this group of people from the GMHC, at the end of this parade, this protest march, it was the first time I said: I will never be ashamed of being gay again; I will never lie to anyone that I am or am not; and I will tell my parents; and I will tell everyone -- I will be proud of who I am.