Thom Tate and Alan Mundt: ‘I snapped this shot of them embracing on Fowler Beach’
LGBT+ activist Mike Balaban on his Hamptons housemates architect Tom Thate, designer Todd Shearer and Alan Mundt
In 1986, I spent the summer in Southhampton, an NYC-area beach resort, renting an apartment with friends. It was the first of 12 consecutive summers spending virtually every weekend and many vacations there.
Tom Thate, Alan Mundt and Todd Shearer became my housemates for the next few seasons. I snapped this shot of them embracing on Fowler Beach one day that first summer.
Alan would contract Aids and pass away within a decade. Tom, an architect with Columbia Pictures, moved to LA. When he was diagnosed as HIV+ and struggled financially, his family wasn’t helpful. They offered to support him but only if he moved back home to Maryland and managed their real estate properties, and abandoned his “gay lifestyle”. (In fact, I was one of several friends who helped tide Tom over financially at his lowest point.) While he survived the Aids epidemic, he later died in an auto accident driving back to LA.
Todd is a design professional and the only one of the three still around. Fate is fickle (whether you’re gay or not), so making the most of our time on this planet is all we can strive to do.
Anthony Kabungo: ‘Everything changed for us in a second… how quickly gravity pulled us down’
Hair salon owner Joan Dellavalle on her Zambian father, who worked for Memaco, the local metal marketing corporation, and died in the 90s
This day, the 21 August 1992, we received the sad news of your passing. We all knew the day would come as each day you became frailer and frailer. You would be in and out of hospital, sharing a room with other sick patients, everyone fighting for their lives as doctors tried to find out what Aids was.
We came to visit you and observed some patients sleeping on the floor because families couldn’t afford beds for them or the hospital didn’t have enough. Those days were hard to witness. I still have visions of grown men crying in pain. I still have visions of you crying and singing “Oh to Jesus I surrender”.
In the early 1990s, Aids was not mentioned – they would have called it “TB”. Watching you go through pain every day was heartbreaking. Most third world countries had no access to medicine then; the only thing they had was prayer and hope. You lost your job as soon as they found out you had that disease, as they called it.
Oh, I remember how everything changed for us in a second. I remember how quickly gravity pulled us down. I also remember how you found strength to instil wisdom in me. I’m so grateful to have had you as a father.
1992 feels like only yesterday when you took your last breath to another journey. Aids took you so quick like the speed of light. I know amazing people out there are trying to find a cure for what took you so fast – that one day will be found a cure.
I advocate for you, my sister and many other loved ones we have lost from this cruel disease. I continue to advocate for loved ones living with HIV/Aids. I advocate to give strength to families and friends watching loved ones fight this battle. I am grateful to have found new friends at the aids memorial who can feel this pain like I do.
Today I sing our favourite songs: All to Jesus I surrender; Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home. It doesn’t matter whether it has been weeks, months or years – the pain of losing you always pinches me like lightning for a lifetime. Dad, you fought a good battle.
Ronnie Bennett: ‘I sat at his side, told him his sis was here for him’
British makeup artist and performer Ronnie Bennett by his sister Charli
My darling brother, 20 months younger than me, my pal, my partner in childhood pranks, my irritating sometimes but much-loved sibling was lost to Aids-related cancer on 20 September 1990.
I remember the call at work in the summer of 1988. “Hi sis darling, have you time for a chat?”
“Yes, of course, boy, you sound worried.”
I knew before he even said the words. My brother had tested HIV positive. He said, “Don’t worry, sweetie, we fear the worst but hope for the best.”
Time passed, he became unwell. During hospital visits I sat reading things out of fashion magazines at his bedside, speaking about my tiny children whom he adored. We laughed, we cried. We reminisced about the showbiz parties where I stood back shyly, not having his sparkling wit and charm and outrageous sense of humour.
On his last day, I had a strong feeling of him needing me. I phoned my boss, took the day off and headed with a sense of dread to Westminster Hospital in London. I found my dear boy in a room, in some pain. The nurses made him comfortable and clean.
I sat at his side, told him his sis was here for him.
He opened his eyes briefly. I’m sure a faint smile was there. I squeezed his hand and told him I loved him and would be there as long as he needed me. At 15.40 his breaths got further and further apart. At 15.45 they stopped. My heart was broken. I called our mother and my sister to tell them our boy was gone.
Our beautiful boy, Ronnie, aka Juicy Lucy – model, dancer, makeup artist supreme, and best friend. Miss you everyday.
David Burns: ‘I miss him more than I can say’
New York party organiser David Burns by his friend since school days, actor Nora Burns
We met dancing on a platform one night. We spent the rest of the night rolling each other around the Fenway in a shopping cart and didn’t leave each other’s side for the next several years. I moved to NYC that fall and he came several months later. It was 1979. We spoke a language I’ve never had with anyone else. He died in 1993 and I miss him more than I can say, but he left me a wonderful legacy: many of the people I love and admire most I met through David so I would just like to say, Thank you David, I love you.
Ray Petri: ‘We kept the diagnosis secret for two years – it was hard for us’
Stylist and designer Ray Petri, by his friend and housemate Buffalo stylist Mitzi Lorenz
Ray Petri was diagnosed with Aids in 1987 after a visit to the doctor for a minor health complaint. He’d been tested for HIV without his knowledge.
We kept the diagnosis secret from all our friends for the first two years. Just me, Ray and Jamie [Morgan] knew about it then – it was hard for us. I wanted so much to talk about it, but it was scary. We had so little information about the disease other than those awful TV adverts of a tombstone falling to the ground.
There were no symptoms at first other than what looked like a sty on Ray’s eye. It turned out that he had Kaposi’s sarcoma, which would later spread all over his body. We lived together in a large house in Primrose Hill. Me and Jamie occupied the floors below, Jamie’s sister and her family lived above, and Ray in the middle.
It was a Sunday evening when Ray complained of an extremely painful headache so we took him to the nearest A&E – the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead. I told them he was HIV positive. They put us in a private room to wait.
Hours passed. I kept going outside to check on when a doctor would come to see us. They kept saying someone would be with us soon. The pain was getting worse, to the point that Ray found it unbearable. He’d taken the maximum amount of painkillers before we’d got there. Ray lay on the bed. I massaged his head. Waiting and waiting.
Jamie had fallen asleep in the chair. I kept going out to see what was happening. I’d got really quite angry with the staff, demanding that a doctor come and see to him only to be told again that someone would come soon, but nothing. I massaged Ray’s head all night long. Still no doctor or nurse would come into that private room.
Ray was crying with pain. I was furious with the hospital staff. By 6am, still no show. Jamie had woken up, so we all decided to go home. It was a cruel blow. A new reality, far from what we were used to. I gave Ray more painkillers when we got back home and we went to sleep.
Barry Hayden: ‘Miss B, I wish you were here’
New Zealander and airline worker Barry Hayden who died in 1996 aged 31, by his old friend Joe Baycroft
I was going through your photos recently and I stumbled upon one that I had sent you sometime in the early 90s. On the back I’d scrawled: “Miss B, I wish you were here.” Nothing’s changed.
I remember when I summoned the courage to go to a gay ba r in mid-1984. I remember that you were the first person I met there.
I remember that despite my general awkwardness we became steadfast friends.
I remember your quick wit and turn of phrase, punctuated by never letting the truth get in the way of a good story. I remember when you moved to Auckland, and I remember following you there.
I remember dancing at Alfie’s or the Staircase (or the Es-ca-lada as you called it) and “sampling the suburbs” if we got lucky. You worked for an airline by then, and I remember that you helped me escape the tediousness of 80s New Zealand, by allowing me to pay for my one-way airline ticket in instalments.
I remember how loyal you were to me, even when you didn’t necessarily agree with my approach or perspective. I remember thinking that everything in your life seemed to be coming together when you consulted your doctor about a lesion that had mysteriously appeared on your arm in 1996.
I remember when you called me to tell me that you were not only HIV+, but had “full-blown” Aids. Twenty-two years later, I have a laser-sharp memory of taking your phone call in my bedroom, and I remember struggling to comprehend what you were telling me.
I remember that I remained optimistic, somewhat buoyed by the success of drug cocktail therapy in the mid-90s. The next thing I remember was our friend Vaughan calling me in tears to let me know you were gone. I remember trying to reconcile this cruelty with your intrinsic goodness. I couldn’t.
Rev Charles Bewick: ‘I wish I had known him longer’
Dr Vanessa Crawford on her family friend Rev Charles Bewick, an early champion of ACT UP HIV advocacy group. He died in 1989
My mother met Charles at The Royal Star and Garter Home, in Richmond upon Thames in the UK. She was a volunteer, he was a visiting priest. Mum has an eye for beautiful gay men! When Charles became ill, he would stay with my parents. The press would park outside, mercilessly trying to get a story. My parents loved and protected him.
Charles invited me, when he went to share his story on a television discussion programme. I was a medical student and wanted to see what could be done to halt the spread of HIV, learning from the US.
My student elective was on Ward 5B, in San Francisco General Hospital. Charles linked me to his friends, Mark and Doug. San Francisco was the last time I saw Charles – my parents kept in touch until he died. Charles was an intelligent force of nature – I was in awe of him. I have a memory of being told that he used to work in real estate and had a black panther; it was believable because Charles could do anything, except live out his life.
I was 25 when he died. His funeral service was in Richmond upon Thames; he was given overdue respect. I wish I had known him longer. Like my dad, he would have been the brightest, sharpest mentor.
I love my parents so much for loving Charles unconditionally. I sponsored a Bewick’s swan for mum, to ease the sadness of losing Charles.
Uncle David: ‘How his presence might have changed my life’
Naomi Gordon-Loebl remembers her uncle, David Loebl
I am remembering my Uncle David who died, at the age of 37 in 1993, when I was five years old. This picture was probably taken in 1990 or so. As you can see, he was the best uncle because he brought his adoring twin nieces the pretzels from his flight. Check out how psyched we are. I can never quite wrap my head around his absence from my life, or how his presence might have changed it.
Bill Rizzo: ‘We were best friends till the day he died’
The TV producer Bill Rizzo by his friend, the photographer Lucien Samaha
In 1977 I got my very first credit card. I was 19 and strutted into Water Tower shopping mall in Chicago directly into a menswear section, where I met Billy, one of the salesmen. We immediately became friends, best friends till the day he died.
When I found out he was very sick with Aids in the late 80s, I flew back to Chicago to visit him at the hospital. I sat on his bed and held his hand; it seems like for hours. He was bossing the nurses around, wanted to know every detail about everything, what drugs he was taking and why, etc. Billy was the same way with the disease, fiercely doing whatever he could to stay alive.
I went back the next day, but the room was packed with people, family and friends. His father, seated in an armchair in the middle, like a Sicilian clan chief, was now the boss. I sat next to Billy like the day before and reached for his hand; I was shocked when he rejected my hand almost violently. Then it occurred to me that, even at this late stage of the game, his conservative Catholic Italian father was still in denial.
I took these photographs of Billy in August, soon after we met in 1977, as he was seeking to build his modelling portfolio. He worked as a TV executive for Harpo Studios turning round Oprah’s ratings when she was on Chicago local TV by introducing such controversial guests as Chilli Pepper, Chicago’s reigning drag queen at that time.
Karyn Foster: ‘I was nervous that you wouldn’t come back for me’
American law student Ashlee Foster, on her mother who died in 1994. Both her parents died of Aids-related illnesses in the 90s
As far back as I could remember, I’ve always felt nervous. Not because we lived in crack houses and not because I was always around drug addicts and alcoholics. Not because my father was always yelling and very abusive to us. My nervousness (from what I recall) started when you would leave me with your drug-addicted friends, and not because they abused me or starved me. I was nervous that you wouldn’t come back for me. I was nervous that you would get so high and forget about me. I felt nervous because I didn’t know if you had eaten, if someone was hurting you, or even if you were alive. I was nervous because at times I wasn’t able or around to protect you. My mind never in a million years would have thought you would die from the one thing I couldn’t protect you against… Aids.
I have good and bad days. But on my hardest days I will never stop fighting for you, mommy… for US! Beautiful Rage was created in my mom’s like. February 2 1994 changed my world, my life… for GOOD. Nothing was the same. Reminding Queens to fight, not give up and understand you are not alone.
Perry Ellis: ‘Happy Birthday to my father’
Fashion designer Perry Ellis, by his daughter Tyler, an accessories designer
Happy Birthday to my father, Perry Ellis, the iconic American designer who passed away from HIV/Aids in 1986. He would be 78. Thank you to @ejaf [the Elton John Aids foundation]and similar organisations who fight for an end to this terrible disease. A huge thank you to those who devote their time and money to spreading the word, treating and eventually eradicating this epidemic.
Mark Ashton: ‘He was wickedly funny’
Activist Mark Ashton by his friend filmmaker Ashtar Al Khirsan
Mark Ashton (19 May 1960 – 11 February 1987) lived his life at full throttle. I met him when we volunteered for an organisation called Red Wedge, a collective of leftist musicians and activists.
Mark was a lifelong political activist and a member of the Communist Party. He was key to forming Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, which supported the coal miners during the ‘84-’85 strike. I made a panel for him not long after he died – a glittery hammer and sickle next to his red stilettos.
Mark went to the doctor’s with a bad cough. The doctor sent him to the hospital for a scan and Mark never came back. He was gone within two weeks.
I miss his warmth, his sarcasm, his decency, his moodiness and loving generosity. He was wickedly funny and irreverent and got away with it because you could always see his vulnerability and charm.
Thanks to his friend Mike Jackson, Mark now has a blue commemorative plaque outside the Gay’s the Word bookshop in London in recognition of his life and activism. He’d be squealing with delight if he could see all the fuss that’s been made of him.
CC Borisovich: ‘We curled up in her hospital bed and sang Carpenters songs’
CC Borisovich by her long-time friend Gina Garan
This is dedicated to my friend CC Borisovich, no longer with us. As we all know, CC was quite a character! OK, so I’m gonna pull a few tales out of the vault. Some of my favourites: her story about her sister, Tempest (Bledsoe), finding out her real name when we went to get her passport, oh God! Listening to her stories about growing up in a castle in Germany. LONG nights listening to the Carpenters in Ted’s kitchen… but the most moving of all, CC came to my parents’ house for holidays. She sent a sweet note to my mom after our last Christmas together but, strangely, it got lost in the mail and wasn’t received until a few weeks after she passed away. It was VERY much in keeping with CC’s ways. You never quite knew what she was up to! What to believe! And to be honest, it’s what made her even more charming. I saw her the day before she died, and we curled up in her hospital bed and sang Carpenters songs. We had one very funny laugh together and that was that. I miss her so much.
Joseph Cortellino: ‘Nobody could make me laugh the way you did’
Joseph Cortellino by his friend artist Eileen Lang
RIP Joseph Cortellino, my beautiful friend. You changed my life for the better and I miss you every day. Not a day goes by that a memory from our friendship doesn’t flash into my head and bring a warm feeling to my soul. Nobody had your infectious smile or could make me laugh the way you did. You lost your battle with Aids at the age of 29 in 1995. It was much too early in your young life. I am forever grateful for your love and friendship.
Andi Septic: ‘I was lucky to become friends with him’
The punk artist Andi Septic by his friend, artist Eva Lake
In 1978, I met a remarkable artist named Andi Septic. He was already rather famous as a punk artist. I’d read about his show and went out of my way to see it. The exhibition really knocked me out. Here was someone doing what I was only dreaming about at that time – making very clear art statements. The artist was so young but had this complete, well-conceived and executed solo exhibition in London.
I met Andi at a club one night and told him just what I thought of his work. I was so lucky to become friends with him.
Eventually he renamed himself Andru Layke. His name at birth was Laurence McGinley, but I don’t think he used it. I’d moved back to the States and we exchanged many letters and works of art. All of his letters were passionate, full of struggle and interesting ideas. Andi also contributed to mail art projects and fanzines I was involved in Stateside. And he kept changing – going from the punk style to full-blown New Romantic. He was a Blitz kid, into fashion as well as art, designing his own clothes. Then at a certain point we lost touch.
Andru made statements about gay culture back then. He wrote quite a bit about it, his love and his discomfort, the push and the pull. He seemed to possess a certain intuition. Like any good artist, he anticipated, looking through the front window.
As the plague roared on in the late 80s and early 90s, I often thought of him, uneasy. Family members told me that he left us on December 25, 2003 of Aids-related illness.
I just had to add something to Andi’s memory and am so grateful to @theaidsmemorial on Instagram. His work and his friendship are treasured.
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