Wednesday, May 15, 2019

“all ye who enter here abandon good taste. ”: and other reflections from the best organizer of my generation, RIP Andrew Vélez

Velez as I remember him, smiling,  leading, and joking. 

Andrew Velez stood up paraphrasing Frederick Douglass, during the ACT UP Chelsea Clinic Town Hall!    We learned long ago, power concedes nothing without a demand.  Power is never transferred voluntarily  in the epidemic.  Health care is a right.  We are not talking clothes for a party here.  We are talking life and death.  So join ACT UP, he explained.  ACT UP needs you.  Join us.
#Activism, #ActUp, #ActUpNY, #ActUpTownHall, #Chelsea, #DOHMH, #ENDAIDS, #FIGHTBACK, #healthcareisaRIGHT, #HIV, #HIVJustice, #newyork, #NYC, #‎Solidarity, #STD

Unknown activist, Jamie Leo, and Andrew Velez. 2015. HRC dines at the Waldorf while LGBT youth sleep in the streets.

A snapshot of the activist in Washington Square Park with Rise and  Resist. 

Keith Haring bathroom  below.
Andrew, James, Jim, Jamie, Jim, Vicki at the Rebel Friendships reading. 

Last interview in  January 2018.

Andy and Jay, over three decades of rebel friendship.

Jamie,  Emily, Jay, this blogger, Andy and Brandon after the reading. 

Andy through the years. 

The tides hit hard yesterday.
On the coast of Cornwall, a man was found washed up on the beach.
“He apparently drowned while kayaking home the night before,” noted a friend after class.
 My friend was close to him, knew his family, and had been with him just before it happened.
Earlier in the year, his poetry had burned in Paris.
And he was lost.

The tides were hitting hard.

I look at  facebook.

My friend Jay Blotcher posted a note about another friend:
“A man of great heart, deep conviction, and scalding wit has been taken from us. Veteran AIDS activist and ACT UP New York member Andrew Vélez died today (May 14) in a Manhattan hospice. He was 80.
There will be a private family funeral, and a public memorial service at a later time. Donations in Vélez’s memory may be made to ACT UP New York, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and the Latino Commission on AIDS.
¡Andy Vélez, presente y pa'lante!”

I’ve known some great  organizers, who’ve shuffled off – Keith Cylar of Housing Works – and countless others.

But Andrew Vélez, the thirty-year veteran of ACT UP, who remained active until this winter, was about the best organizer I’ve ever known.

If you got to a demo and Andy was there, you knew it was going to be good.
It was going to be powerful.
I followed who he chanted for, 
who he screamed at. 
He invited us all into the party. 

“I’m having to be a little more discerning,” he explained to me last year standing  outside of Borough of Manhattan Community College, where his granddaughter was about to sing.
For a decade or so there, I used to see him everywhere.

An activist, he was interested in public space. 
He laughed at people who aspired to good taste or thought they should work with police or ask for permission,
debating “whether they should get a permit.”
“– No –“ he replied. 

I know everyone has a favorite story about Andy Vélez.  But I’ll never forget Andy showing up at a reading for our book The Beach  Beneath the Streets: Contesting New York’ Public Spaces at the old Brecht Forum during the peak of Occupy.  We were discussing privately owned public spaces we had a legal right to occupy.  “You should occupy one on Broadway,” he replied during the question and  answer  session, instigating Occupy Broadway, a direct action gesture of occupation as creative resistance.  A veteran of an AIDS activist movement which has always used the city as a stage set for street actions, Vélez not only thought we should occupy a plaza on Broadway, he helped us plan it.  After the session,  he  talked  with a few organizers.  People compared notes, planned a meeting, set a date and started organizing. A week later, we were making plans. A week or two later, we held a 24 hour theater performance with Mike Daisey, members of the cast of Hair, Penny Arcade, Rev Billy and Countless others.

Long time AIDS activist Andrew Vélez was there talking with several activists.
Throughout Occupy Broadway, we spoke with reporters.   With two hours to go, Andy Vélez stood smiling, recognizing we were really going to do it.  He’d battled Bloomberg before.  And he was more than happy to see a counter-narrative to Bloomberg’s New York by and for the 1% take shape.  My friend Peter filmed Vélez talking.  Vélez explained that when he met a representative from the City after he’d helped organize a zap at the Mayor’s house, he was taken by how uptight the man seemed to be.  “Don’t’ worry, I am only attracted to heterosexuals,” Vélez declared attempting to put the man at ease. From Occupy Broadway to ACT UP, Vélez has made a career for standing up for what is right in this world, through direct action, play, and a little fun.”

The action was  an  audacious feat of organizing and theater.
And it would not have happened if Andy had not brought his spirit to the reading, followed with plans, sans ego, and helped us along the way.
He was the best organizer I’ve ever met.

Everyone has an Andy Vélez story.
She repeated the story over  and over, 
Including in one of my interviews with her.
That fall Sunday afternoon a few years  ago, we went to visit Elizabeth, also known as Sister Mary Cunnilingis of the Church Ladies for Choice. Welcoming us in, she showed us her Church Lady gear and memorabilia. We shared stories about activism, friendship, harm reduction, and a generation of reproductive rights activists. There is nothing simple about friendship, noted Elizabeth, acknowledging the fights and skirmishes that have worn on AIDS affinity groups such as the Church Ladies. “There are people I would walk across the street to avoid, but not until there is a cure,” she explained, paraphrasing ACT UP icon Andy Vélez. “But until there is a cure, I am going to work with them.” Until there is a cure for living, we all are going to depend on each other. After all, none of us is going to get out of here alive. 
It is the image of a city of friends that still inspires me, I explained to Elizabeth as we gossiped.

For Vélez, it was all part of the sartorial splendor of  queer activism.
After taking part in actions with the Radical Homosexual Agenda, parades without a permit, actions at the Mayor’s House after a man was entrapped by the police, in Harlem wearing fake butts to highlight the point that people without health  insurance have their butts hanging out there, he finally let me interview him in April of 2009. 
His  interviews found their way into four of my books and countless articles and blogs.
During  the interview, he told me about getting arrested, sitting being processed:

“What I said to the police was, “Look, we’re gay. We have tickets tonight for Bette Midler at Radio City Music Hall. We’ve got to get out of here soon if we’re going to make it back to NY in time.” —Andrew Vélez to the police in Meriden, CT, after having chained himself and ACT UP colleagues to the entrance of a biotech company producing bogus medication.
Andrew Vélez and company did make it to Bette’s show on that evening 1992. Bette had long supported the queer public sphere, performing at the baths. Queers had long reciprocated, showering Midler with their love and support. When Vélez and his colleagues from ACT UP returned for their court date weeks after the concert, “the judge said that rather than being arrested we ought to be applauded for what we’re doing as outstanding citizens and he totally threw the case out,” Vélez recalled in our interview years later. Getting arrested and going to Bette Midler concerts—for many that was what queer activism was all about. Play, direct
action, and performance were essential ingredients of the very serious, but sometimes campy, approach of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) to fighting the AIDS carnage. Susan Sontag (1964/2001, p. 63) reminds us, “There is a seriousness in camp . . . and often a pathos.” This was certainly the case with ACT UP.

Andrew always made us feel good about ourselves.
He appreciated our strengths,  embodying a humanistic philosophy of activism. 
Rather than demean, individual strengths are appreciated and celebrated. Vélez recalled different “talents” people brought to ACT UP. Early in ACT UP, the group held a talent show. Rather than sing or perform, many brought distinct skills not recognized outside the movement. Michelangelo, for example, put a whole banana into his mouth and showed he could remove it without leaving teeth marks to roars of approval. “Use who you are,” Vélez noted, smiling. “This is where it becomes fun.”

For Vélez and others in  ACT UP,
direct action  and theater overlapped.
Even civil disobedience was a form a theater, as well as a means of resistance to oppressive social mores. “They started telling us about hell, and I was so busy jerking off all the time and stealing from the donation plate, that I knew that was not the place for me,” recalled Vélez (2004) in aninterview with the ACT UP Oral History Project, describing his childhood. “So I headed right for the theater, and that’s where I found my first tribe,” Valez confessed. “I auditioned for something and got into some off-Broadway play, when I was in my teens.”

“More often actions were planned right at a meeting,” noted Vélez. “And there were occasions when a meeting was shut down and we simply marched out and got up to Gracie Mansion and had a demonstration right then and there.”

Direct action would get the goods over and over. Vélez referred to a specific moment when the group helped connect direct action and services. ”A social worker told us at a Monday meeting that there was a mother who had a young child who weighed 44 lbs and was unable to get her office to approve nutritional food supplements for him. Immediately, a group formed and within a day or two, they had gotten a photograph of the manager of that office. Three days later, we were picketing outside that office with the manager’s face on the posters. And the kid got his supplements.”

The street actions were a form of theater.

The arrests were also part of an approach to challenging forms of oppression, through outrageous, often embarrassing demonstrations which exposed injustice. “We were known enough so that people didn’t want to see their photographs on posters, with blood on them. People didn’t want to see us walking around their office building, chanting their names,” explained  Vélez, in  his interview with the ACT UP oral history project.  “It doesn’t matter how powerful someone is, in terms of what the world calls power. People do not like to be embarrassed. They’re afraid of that. And, that was one of the things that we learned that really works. And, one of the most powerful tools that ACT UP had was, we had no shame…It was a blast,” (Vélez, 2004). Vélez and other AIDS activists would say or do whatever they needed to do to make  a point, regardless of whom they offended.  If this meant risking arrest, then so be it.  For ACT UP, risking arrest was always part of the performance.  It was a gesture liked to acts of resistance of oppressive mechanisms of everyday living.  It also used the city as a work of art.

Jay Blotcher  helped me bring Andy to convene a panel as  part of the book  launch for my book
Rebel Friendships in 2015.  Many of my heros of activism, Jim Eigo, Elizabeth Meixell, and Karen Ramspacker were there.   

Jay Blotcher and Andrew Vélez, whose friendship in ACT UP helped inspire the story, offerred commentary.
Vélez confessed ACT UP had been there for him in good times and rough ones.  It had been there for him when his world felt like it was falling apart.  And really it helped save his life. There were so many stories.
Jay Blotcher described the ways people met and continued to experience joy, even the midst of the chaos during the early years of ACT UP.  None of it was simple.
Terri reminded everyone that there are multiple forms of friendships still propelling ACT UP, with people across genders and sexual orientations, including straight people.  She and several other participants suggested I consider the distinct meaning of women’s friendships, their categories, history and understandings.  This may be the next project.

Several audience members asked about my participation as a straight man. Its not a category that speaks to me at all as Foucault reminds us. Its more interesting to live on the boundaries. Being not quite queer was always fine for me. That’s an interesting space to be in anyway. 

"You are queer," Andrew V
élez chimed in.
He always made us feel good Jay commented today.
He always made us feel good.
In April of 2009, he described his relationship with Blotcher.

“It was really democracy in action on the floor in ACT UP,” explained Vélez. “And a democracy is a damn tough thing to run if you are doing it for real.” One night, AIDS activists would be in a meeting followed by a trip to a club or sleeping with someone from the group. The next day, they would be in the street being arrested, a wink connecting a moment between arrestees and lovers with the events of the night before.
Here the practice of building relationships was grounded in a range of activities, from meetings to demonstrations to meals to experiences in jail to trips to the bathhouses. And these friendships came to include many of the essential components of friendship, including “enjoying one another’s company, remaining useful to one another, and sharing a commitment to larger social good” (Bellah et al., 1985, p. 115). These friendships helped those involved feel comfort and intimacy, allowing them to persevere through adversity and stay engaged. Andy Vélez confessed he had thought of leaving AIDS activism. “I remember one night in those early weeks, I was sitting,” recalled Vélez.
“We had benches. And I was sitting on a bench, and I was feeling totally overwhelmed. And I didn’t know a soul. When I went down to the Wall Street action, I didn’t know anyone. Later I learned that one of the people was Peter Staley. Pete and I have now been friends for over twenty years. We still work together to fight the epidemic. But we didn’t become friends right away. I don’t remember when it actually began to be that Peter very clearly began to be my friend. I knew Peter before he knew me. But on this particular night that I’m referring to, I was on the verge of getting up and leaving and thinking this is too much. I feel too much like an outsider here. And instead, I turned to this guy next to me and made some remark about the lunacy that was happening. I think he laughed. And that was Jay Blotcher. And that was the beginning of a friendship that still exists—t wo decades and counting.”
The movement was a space where people depended on friendships, creating a culture of resistance to the epidemic’s onslaught. “When you talk about friendships, the interesting thing is how much work people could do with one another without knowing very much about their lives outside of the actual movement,” Vélez continued. “So people could work together, make posters, do flyers, do all the kind of stuff.” Many of these relationships served as the basis for transformative AIDS work.

BS  What about friendship?  How does friendship support or undermine this?  This was the central theme of our interviews. 

I interviewed him one last time in  January of 2018 after our friend Ravi had been detained by ICE during his regular check in.  My friend was being deported. I was feeling down. 
“I know,” Andy said, looking at  me with understanding, after the crazy day. 
He understood.
Simple and caring.
That little gesture of empathy helped get me through.
And we began our interview.

BS: Okay, sitting with Andy. When we did that reading at the, on the friendship book…. at the Bureau of Queer Services... you mentioned that ACT UP had saved your life. Or helped at some point when things were a little down, and I wanted to get a picture of that.

AV: Well it gave me a purpose when I was not recovered from a very bloody divorce.

BS: Okay.

AV: So I had a focus and something where I could serve a purpose of something of value.

BS: Serve a purpose. Yeah. I mean, why do we all do this? To feel like you're doing something meaningful.

AV: For different reasons.

BS: Yeah, absolutely.

AV: Because many people have lost someone and just wanted to ameliorate the loss by doing something of value.

BS: Pray for the dead but fight for the living.

AV: Yeah. And maybe hope they would come back.

BS: Yeah. It's very hard. But you've been able to stick with it for a couple years now... or decades?

AV: A little over 30 years.

BS: So how have you been able to stick with it all this time?

AV: Hm... I don't think I ever lost sight of the importance of what we were doing. It wasn't an ego thing for me. Or maybe occasionally, but really not. It was... in part what drew me to ACT UP and the movement... you can call it that, but I've never called it that... What drew me to it was the sense of the injustice and from childhood on, I've always had a very strong sense of unfairness and injustice. Seeing really poor people in Puerto Rico lining up with tin cans to get water from pipes along the roadside because they didn't have running water.

BS: You grew up in Puerto Rico?

AV: Part of the time.

BS: What about church? Did you have church when you were growing up?

AV: I had theatre.

BS: How was theatre...?

AV: It was a certain void... I was going to church in NY just simply because it was a place to go to and a sense of belonging which I never had when I was growing up. And then they started laying onto me things about... like my Sunday school teacher, this soft-cheeked, white-haired old lady with a sweet voice... I once said to her, "What is hell like?" and I must have been... I don't know... 11, something like that. 11, maybe 12. And she said, "Well, dear, if you take a match and light it and put it against your finger and burn your finger, that's an infinite little bit of what hell is like forever and ever and ever. So I didn't keep going much to church after that. Because I was so guilty about stealing from the collection plate and masturbating and doing various things -- mainly those two -- and I had skipped two grades in school. So I was already in school with kids who were two years older than I was. Guys who were shaving and all of that. And my high school, it was the theatre group. I somehow found my way there and started appearing in shows, and hi-ho-fiddledy, the actor's life for me. I was in an Off-Broadway play for a while. Not a commercial thing, but some women's theatre school. And then went for the full --

BS: With ACT UP, it had some famous comradery and some famous floor fights, and then there was the Tell it to ACT UP. Now, what did you think of the Tell It to ACT UP?

AV: Well, Bill Dobbs is such a... hotster and I never thought well of him. I still don't. I don't know that it served any particularly good purpose. It was just so nasty.

BS: Cause you could just write anything on the sign.
BS: People trust each other gradually. There's a lot of wounds.

AV: Or they never trust each other.

BS: Right. Well... the best thing about ACT UP could be the worst thing. There were just some times that, like a lot of things in life, some of the best things are these crazy personalities and people in stories being --

AV: It started crazy. You don't get much crazier than Larry.

BS: [Laughs] But also you had some famous... they also dealt with a lot of conflicts in productive ways. That's the thing I'm trying to think of, cause in life we're gonna have conflicts. That's gonna be life. There's gonna be a decision about a tactic that's one thing or another thing. At the action today, there was a conflict about --

AV: What saved us in ACT UP was even in times of great rancor and there certainly were those... was that we were dealing with -- especially in those early years -- literally life and death. I mean... many people around now wouldn't even know who David Feinberg is. Not long before he died, he came to rage at an ACT UP meeting about how ACT UP had failed him.

BS: Hadn't saved him. How do you respond to that?

AV:I was sorry for him that he was dying and understandably frightened, which I think played into a lot of why he spoke the way he did... But if we failed him, it wasn't for lack of trying.

BS: Yeah. I remember when I first came into the movement in '93... Fear and Loathing in '86 and Queer and Loathing came out in '94. I remember laughing at the lunacy of it. It gave me permission in some ways. I wasn't laughing; it was deadly serious. People were dying and -- I adored the writing. It allowed me to laugh and I think that's what I appreciated, is that's another way of dealing with the crazy.

AV: Oh yeah, absolutely. Laughing was good. I remember at the FDA action we were all stuck in buses that were being arrested because other activists were blocking the buses that people started and the bus finally got rolling, all of us were with our hands behind our backs, which I hate. And people... if you turned a certain way, you could raise your hands up like this, and we started tugging our ears and singing Carol Burnett's "It's so nice to have been here with you." It was great.

BS: Yeah. That's ACT UP though, right? Was there ever a moment... For you, you famously have sort of said, "After the epidemic, I will cross the street and walk away from -- How did you put it?

AV: That when the epidemic was over, I have an invisible list of names and when the epidemic is over, I will never have to speak to any of them again. But that's from then. I don't feel that way now.

BS: How come?

AV: I think I've become kinder and gentler. And I'm much more forgiving. There's still people I think are jerks and I can't stand and I don't want to waste any time talking with them or... it's just time wasted. Cause time is really precious and the older you get, the more precious it becomes. But I'm more forgiving.

AV: So, good for him. In activism, you don't have to like it... You just have to be willing to do the work. And in fact, if you say you like it, that means you're definitely cracked.

BS: Yeah. So maybe it isn't the friends, it's doing the work. Being in the movement. Not really about friends always.

AV: Absolutely. I always thought, what is it we need to do? And very often when I'm at a meeting and it's going off the rails because people are getting caught up with stuff, either induced by them or others, that what I'm good at is stepping in and saying, "Could we get back to what the point is here?" And variations of that.


AV: I learned that by being raised by two people who should never have been married, and I was always the negotiator. So it was a world class experience in preparation.

BS: It's hard. Everybody's got a different strategy. Today, at the action, when there was this ambulance that had Ravi on it and Williams from city council started sitting down in front of the ambulance and then Rodriguez does and then Juan Carlos does, and then we all do and then the police are pulling us away. Part of us --

AV: Did they not arrest all the people they pulled away?

BS: They eventually did. But I'm thinking, "We're blocking an ambulance, but we don't know where this ambulance is going, so I don't really know," but I also understand the rage people felt. They went up to the 11th floor, spent all day, took this guy who has some minor tax violation... He's a wonderful person. His whole community is saying, "Please keep him here." There's this rage. I think there's a place for that. What are we supposed to say, peacefully, "Okay, take our friend away"? You know? This organizer that we love? It's heartbreaking. But some people scolded some of the people and some of the anarchists were like, "Well I don't believe in God and I listen to you," you know? Like, don't scold us for -- It's hard. People have different approaches. There's no right approach.

AV: Even if he wasn't a good person, it's an injustice.

BS: It's an injustice. Yeah.

AV: I don't have a litmus test for "Oh I'm willing to do this for so-and-so because he's a great guy." The issue is, is there an injustice happening here and what can we do about it?

BS: Right, and that's what it's about. You've always had a sense -- and not everybody has this sense -- of "there's a movement, and it isn't about me." There's a lot of folks who think it's about "me getting my picture taken," and that's part of the beauty of it but it also can be very --

AV: And early on, more or less, the first ten years or so was fun seeing yourself spread all over. Not only domestic, but international newspapers. I remember when I created the first blood action and it was up in Albany and I had these kits, ziploc bags with sponges and blood for our faces and our hands, and there we are in glorious technicolor. That was fun.

BS: Wow.

AV: But eventually... maybe for some not... eventually, it was, "Okay, so what else you got?" And I was good -- I still am good -- at thinking of actions and focus. And when you're not afraid to throw a turd in the punch bowl, it gets you a lot of freedom.

BS: That's right.

AV: I was at an all day seminar yesterday about people aging with HIV. And there's quite a few people there -- it was at NYU -- they wanted to come away from the day with "Where do we go from here and what do we do about this to address it?" I said, "I have an activist mentality. When I walk into a room almost anywhere, I look around and I'm already thinking, 'Hmm, that would be good for dropping a banner over there.'" When I first started speaking yesterday -- I was actually the last speaker of the day -- I said "Queen Elizabeth comes into the story, but you'll have to wait till the end to hear about her." So then I talked about various things about activism and I said, "All of you here have to be thinking, 'What can I do?' when you walk out." And I said, I found out a couple years ago that my granddaughter -- who was 7 at the time -- loves Queen Elizabeth. And I thought about that, and what she... She told me what she loved about her is that she's a real person and that she became a queen when she was so young, and when she goes to England, she wants to meet the queen. So I thought, "This is a girl with aspirations." So I thought about it for a couple of days and I said I went into what I call my 'activist mode.' I wrote a letter to the queen. I told her all about my granddaughter and what she liked about her and that kind of stuff, and I said, "I thought I may get an answer to this, because I know the queen has people who read her mail and pick out things. But I won't get an answer if I don't do it. And that's where you all come in. You know people who have been working in the epidemics, you know how much bullshit goes on. So you have to name it and do what you can to get rid of it." So I said, about a month after I wrote the letter, I got this big envelop from Buckingham Palace filled with pictures and a letter from the Lady in Waiting, she identified herself, said, "Her majesty wanted me to tell you how much she enjoyed your letter." I gave it to my granddaughter for Christmas that year. When she opened it, she started to read. She looked at me and said, "Is this real?" I said, "It's very real." I said I wrote a letter, and I gave her a copy of my letter too. And later, she said "I love my present. I can't believe that I have two pen pals -- Adriana and Queen Elizabeth!"

BS: You gotta try! There's a guarantee you won't win if you don't try. You won't always win when you try, but there's one sure guarantee if you don't try. So... within all the -- if you were to give advice to somebody entering activism, how do you keep the focus vs. get pulled into the personal? Cause if you're doing activism --

AV: First of all, be awake and aware to what strikes you as important. Some issue that you care about, that you can connect with. And remember that everything you are, a totally insufficient jerk, or whatever ways you have of putting yourself down, can be of value. Or useful. So you just have to get in. Do it. And you will learn a lot. It's in fact an amazing ongoing learning experience in activism. And how you are today, and if you stay with it, and how you will be tomorrow or a year, or ten years from now... It's amazing how much changes. And things you never thought you could do, you can do.

BS: So stay on that stuff. The personal stuff gets a little messy.

AV: If you're going to focus on your inadequacies, you're lost.

BS: You're lost.

AV: And you are totally inadequate. You are a jerk. You're not as gorgeous as you thought or hoped you would be. All of that is just chatter. Old tapes.

BS: But did any of the floor fights ever draw blood? Did they ever wear on you?

AV: Well for a lot of the time, for several years, I was one of the facilitators. So that was a specific task, and I loved it. I'm a trained psychoanalytic psychotherapist. I used some of what I do. Instead of screaming at people, get quieter. Screaming is just out of control. Just speak a little lower. And then you also have to know, sometimes you can't fix something and you just have to let it go.

BS: Yeah. Let it go. Don't let it touch you. That's what Lidell said to me. He said, "I just don't let things get inside."

AV: Yeah, and it can touch you, but that doesn't mean it has to overcome you. Your being touched by something or upset is a natural human reaction. So let it be.

BS: I don't mind being touched. I was touched today. I was deeply sad, but I'm okay --

AV: But you're talking a different kind of touch.

BS: Ego wounds, where I feel, "Oh that person thinks I'm stupid -- " and then you start to question yourself "Are they treating me like a child?" and you react, and that's a whole other.

AV: A lot of the time, don't say anything. Just let it be. Don't feel you need to get a hard on and prove yourself.
BS: Go on.

AV: It's more important... what is the real issue here? I don't know -- how come you don't know what the real issue is? Then find out. [Pause] Are you writing a piece or something?

BS: Yeah.

But you've got a crystal meth meeting, I don't want to keep you. I would. I love to gossip with you.

AV: In about another five minutes.

BS: Any other advice to the young activist? Any other final words before you sign off?

AV: Discouragement is a natural part of it. You have to be able to tolerate being discouraged. Activism is not something to do alone. Just like life is not. So if you speak up, you will find some support. Either you'll find someone just as crazy as you... there are people there and you'll either share a laugh, or just look at each other and shrug. One of the best examples of that is -- one of the early ACT UP Monday nights... it was like a tsunami there of yelling and people carrying on and whatever. It was before we really instituted Roberta's rules of order, and this guy was sitting next to me and I had the impulse to just get up and leave. And I was able to stop myself because I had the thought "What brought me here is more important than the sense of inadequacy that I feel right now," and I turned to the guy -- mind you, it was 1987 -- I turned to the guy sitting next to me and I said, "This place is nuts," or something like that. And he agreed and that was Jay Blotcher and that was the start of our friendship.

BS: 30 years later. Well thank you. You're my hero. I'm just grateful to get a coffee with you, regardless.

He was the best organizer I’ve ever met.

Interview with Andy Vélez
April 8, 2009

Andy Vélez, a long time member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, suggests that one of the first things ACT UP helped activists do was to disabuse their view of good taste.  That would have to be thrown out if activists were going to get anything done.  AIDS / queer activism is based on a direct action ethos which requires letting go and learning to cope in such moments.  Yet, when one comes out on the other side, a profound sense of freedom and satisfaction replaces such inhibitions.  Talking about play and improvisation Vélez, recalled a recent moment of fighting a pattern of harassment against queer men on prostitution charges which have raged on and off in New York for many years.  From 2008 -9, such events have been on the upsurge.

“Its both scary and fun planning these things.  You never know when you would come up with something.  Like just recently around the Coalition to Stop the Arrests.  I was at a meeting and they were talking about an upcoming rally  that was going to happen and weather they should get a permit– No – for a rally in Sheridan Square.  But that was something on the agenda for three and a half weeks off.  And I’m like, ‘what are you waiting for? Too much time.  You’re letting way too much time pass.’  I said, ‘You know what?’  And this is off the top of my head.  I said, ‘Valentines is coming up.  I think we need to give the Mayor a Valentines.  We should go to his house on 79th Street.”

It was a relatively modest number of people who went up there, but it happened to be a day in which the media was hungry for something.  And of course tying it in with Valentines Day cause it was Valentines Day was perfect.  We got huge coverage.  And a meeting the following week with Christ Quinn and a whole bunch of people, including from the Mayor’s office.   It was mostly damage control on their part.

BS:  But its tough to get a meeting.  I remember with XXX zoning, we couldn’t move anything ten years ago.  Yet with this thing where you’ve basically harassing people for cruising, which the police have been doing forever, all of a sudden they are apologizing.  So what is it that makes the police have to respond?

Because we got a lot of media attention focused on him and we embarrassed the Mayor who wants to be god and be re elected.  And one of several signs, the sign I made said, “DUMP the MAYOR.”  So, its like his nightmare coming to life.  And that’s not stuff he wants to hear, even from crazies.  That’s why that meeting came about.  And that’s why (NY Police Commissioner) Kelly has backed off.  If it wasn’t in an election year and at a time when the Mayor is trying to get every backing, including from the Gay Community. And I’ll say this within the context that as far as I’m concerned he’s closeted.  And that’s just not being touched.  And I don’t see any reason to touch it.  I mean he finally and belatedly came out in favor of gay marriage.

"If the mayor can't or won't put an end to these abuses, then we'll have to get a new mayor," Andy Vélez, a coalition member, told the crowd.

For more  on the actions, see;
Humm, Andy. 2009.  Police Charged with False Arrests of Gay Men at Adult Video         Stores.  The Gotham Gazette (2 February).

Osborne, Duncan. 2009A.  Bloomberg's Home Targeted In False Arrests Protest
Gay City News. (14 February).  Accessed 25 May 2009 from         1&dept_id=568864&rfi=6

Osborne, Duncan. 2009B.  150 Rally Near Stonewall Site To Demand Prostitution            Arrests End.  Gay City News.  (22 February).  Accessed 25 May 2009 from

Osborne, Duncan. 2009C. Arrests at porn-video shops are obscene, gays say
The Villager.  Volume 78 - Number 39 / March 4 -10, 2009.  Accessed 25 May,    2009 from

“Born in the Bronx in New York, March 9, 1939
Back in the early 1960’s I participated in some anti-war demonstrations here in New York.  At the time I didn’t become as deeply involved, not even remotely as I did in the epidemic.  But I knew that that war was wrong and I knew it from early on. And that was a very, very unpopular position to have at the time.  I remember nearly losing my job at an add agency.  First they tried to joke with me when they heard that I was going to anti-war marches, which were very modest in number at the time.  There are times to talk about what you believe in and there are times to just shut up because it’s a waste of your bad breath. And one of the things to do an activist is to pick your moments.  One of the owners didn’t speak to me and it actually played a part in me looking for another job.  At the time those events were very sparsely attended and there were often more people on the sidewalk shouting angry things at us than there were people in the marches themselves.  And the police were totally pro the war.”
Vélez would carry signs declaring “Middle Class Against the War” to distance himself from the profile of the hippy anti-war protester.

And I remember going to the UN and it was gigantic.  It was easily 100,000 thousand people.  And I thought now, I don’t have to do this anymore because clearly something has happened.  My participation doesn’t matter and I can go on to other things, which I did.  Not political but…

BS: Gay liberation or other?
No, sexually I had been with both men and women in my life and I was pretty comfortable with that.  In the late 1960’s I got married and that and a family were the focus of my attention.

When I first began hearing about GRID.  People weren’t even talking about HIV then.  They started to jump from GRID to AIDS.  So someone didn’t have HIV, they had AIDS.  And I began hearing about it, I guess in the very early 1980’s.  And I separated from my then wife in 1982 and we were divorced five years later.  And it was around the time of the divorse, by that time I was hearing more about people who had AIDS.  Its difficult to describe what it was like and what was happening, that people were literally collapsing, falling down on the sidewalks and dying.  “I don’t know.  He seemed fine.”  “He went to the hospital last night and dead.”  That kind of stuff.  And I didn’t think it had anything to do with me because I didn’t go to bathhouses.  I wasn’t a habitué of any number of the sorts of places that people who were falling sick seemed to going to.  I was more concerned about herpes at the time.  And happy when the brits discovered a cure for that.

I did begin to be aware that there was a lot of repugnance and fear on people’s part about AIDS.  And I felt badly for people who had a disease that was apparently incurable, went through them rapidly, and couldn’t afford the only inadequate medication.  And were dying in shame and alone in many cases.

So I saw this sign on a lamppost about an action down on Wall Street against the high price of AZT.  And I didn’t know anyone in ACT UP.  I don’t think I’d ever heard of ACT UP.  I think I actually was over was at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center. At the time, I was conducting/ facilitating groups for men who were coming out because part of my background is that I’m a psychoanalytic psychotherapist.

On his training in psychoanalysis being useful in activism.

Everything I have learned in life turns out to be useful.  And certainly my training was very helpful in dealing with very challenging situations both individually and with groups.  The whole gestalt is there.  I know how to spot things, recognize things, see a difficult situation, anticipating it, knowing enough.  We can avoid that whole thing by just doing this, instead of doing that.

And so I remember one night at the Center when I was running the group, I hear this lunatic screaming his head off.  “You’re all going to die…”  I didn’t know him at the time, but I came to know that that lunatic was Larry Kramer.    He was exorting most of these, I guess mostly gay men, who were at this meeting about how this epidemic, which wasn’t being called an epidemic yet was going wipe them out, unless they did something about it.  I sortov tuck that away in my mind.  I went to this action on Wall Street, which was scary.  I didn’t plan to get arrested and I didn’t get arrested on that particular occasion.  I was still involved legally in a custody suit for my then young children.   And I was very concerned that this could end up being brought up in court.  And you have to remember that I’m talking 1987 and as much as there wasn’t the kind of support around gay issues that there is now, however imperfect the support is now.  My now ex wife had included something in my diverse papers about my having a change of lifestyle, which wasn’t true and so there was a concern on my part that they were going to bring up the whole gay issue when in fact from my point of view it had absolutely nothing to do with our divorce.  And certainly not with the quality of my parenting, which was terrific.  But anyway that was the story of my involvement with ACT UP.

I immediately started going to the Monday night meetings.  Within a few months, I was chairing the actions committee.  I became involved in the media committee.  Mike Signorile and Jay Blotcher, they had been pals in college.  And the three of us began going to the media committee meetings that Vito Russo was heading.

Part of the experience of activism and I daresay this is transferable to other movements is you have to be willing to tolerate embarrassment, discomforts of different kinds.  You will run into people who think or feel they own the organization that you are getting involved with or the movement you’re getting involved with.  So it can take time for people to begun to recognize and respect that others have something to contribute.   And it was like that in ACT UP.

BS: How do you coordinate a simple campaign?
Starts with a simple request – pills into bodies.  We’re gonna use research, direct action, mobilization, media, and some fun along the road.  How did you see these pieces fitting together?  You were on the media and action committees?

As far as sound bites are concerned, you have to learn how to say headlines.  And you learn early on not to answer the question you’re asked by a reporter.  You answer the question they should have asked.   And you can even say to them, “that’s a really important question, but the one you should have really asked is.”  And then you say what you were going to say and you say it in as briefly as possible so that they can’t really cut it out.  So they are either going to use you and you are going to get across your message or they won’t be able to use it.  But most of the time, they end up using it.  We were really good as saying things an eye catching way.

You also as an activist need to learn really quickly, particularly when you are dealing with serious issues is: all ye who enter here abandon good taste.   So what is conventionally good taste and manners, forget about it. 

Now ACT UP remains, and I think this is a glorious thing, a non violent organization.  We certainly were and are very confrontational.  And I guess somebody could argue throwing theatrical blood onto a punch bowl or onto a table of food at a pharmaceutical company occasion is violence of a sort and I won’t argue with that.  Yet we certainly never used physical violence against a person.

But we did learn early on how effective and powerful it is to embarrass people.  So you can do way more with the photograph of a corporate president or the NY Times owner and do a march, not just outside their office, but their home.  Nobody, including Punch Sulzberger, liked being embarrassed at home in front of his neighbors.

Talks about making a Warhol portrait of Sulzberger.  I still have it.


This is where the creativity of the people you are working with, its amazing how people come up with stuff.  One of the great things and essential things and essential things to learn is:  no matter who you are, you have something to contribute.  Your exact experience, whether you’ve had schooling, havn’t had it, no matter what you’ve done, if you’re willing to do some work, who you are is going to be valuable, just out of your life experience.


And so somehow we got a picture of Sulzberger and I did a black and white copy of it and colored it in sortov Andy Warhol deglo style.  But I added one thing to it.  I added a toilet plunger and the message was: Cut the Crap Punch.  At that time, the Times’ coverage of the epidemic was so pitiful and lame.  They were still hemming and hawing about using the term gay.  And, of course, this epidemic swept a lot of that stuff away because the numbers were so huge.  And then people at the New York Times itself began dying.  And that made a difference, some of whom left their insurance policies to ACT UP and that’s how ACT UP had money for a while.  We began getting lots of money from insurance policies.  The Times slowly began changing.

Contrast this with Arthur Bell who went to the Post and scheduled a meeting.

What I found was if I could get past the thumping in my chest, the fear as I stepped off the sidewalk into a potential arrest situation.  And the various other situations like after you go into the 92nd street Y after you buy two tickets and you purposely fully get them in the middle of the row before they can drag you out.  You are going to get a chance to say something.

Sulberger’s son, as a matter of a fact, was speaking at the Y.  And I was there with a guy who has since died.  And I just stood up.  92nd Street Y is like a cultural Mecca.  People who go there are so thrilled that they are being vaccinated with culture.  So for rowdies to interrupt a scene there is scary stuff.  And actually a very well activist was supposed to go in with me and said “I changed my mind.  I’m not going in.”  At the time, I was pissed.  I was scared to.  I’m more forgiving about it now. As it happens the guy who went in with me, it was important to him because he was ill.  He has long since passed away.  And he got so unraveled.  He started screaming.  When we stood up and I called out to Sulzberger.  We interrupted him and the anger was huge from the audience.  “They are covering the epidemic.”   And so,  you just learn to do those things.  I knew we weren’t going to be arrested.  I knew we were going to get tossed.  But we had accomplished what we wanted to.  I saw that Surlberger, he didn’t have the anger, he was actually defensive.  So, we had made a point there and that’s what we did.  We kept chipping and chipping away.

Friends and non friends.
And so as an activist you have to be willing to do the work even when you are scared and disappointed.  And it can feel lonely.  But if you’re willing to do it, you will always find some, sometimes very few, who are willing to participate.  And they will almost inevitably include people you don’t like.  You do have to learn how to work with people you do not like.  You never know who is going to end up being helpful and useful through the years.

BS  What about friendship?  How does friendship support or undermine this?
To me, those networks, that keeps me going.   You’re inevitably going to meet some people whom you feel simpatico with.

I remember in those early weeks when I started going to the Monday night meeting of ACT UP.  That room was packed and it was packed with leather clad young guys.  It became the hottest place to be in New York, literally because there was no air conditioning.  It was wall to wall, not exclusively, but mostly guys.  And there was a lot of the cruising arena kind of stuff.  It was very daunting and to someone new and an outsider, it could sortov feel like a lunatic asylum.  There was a lot of shouting.  It took a while for the meetings to really hold a consistent form, where there were elected facilitators, who would do quarters.  There were four of us for each three month quarter.  And I actually enjoyed it tremendously.  Its easier to be a facilitator.

BS: did you use your clinical skills.
BS: process counts.

Yes, because I always stayed calm.  And I also always speak clearly.  And encourage speakers who had to come up and do a report, they’d sometimes mumble.  And I’d say, “You gotta speak up and speak clearly. They are gonna go for what you are saying, but you need to speak.”   There were some brilliant people in ACT UP who couldn’t talk to  a crowd for anything.  They were scared of them.  They were nervous.  They were sometimes contemptuous of the floor.  So you had to support them in order to get them to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish.  And some of them never resolved their difficulties with that which is how the Treatment and Data Committee ended up breaking away from ACT UP.  Even though they did tremendous work, they also aroused tremendous hostility from people on the floor who were suspicious of them for various reasons, ranging from political to racial.  So, they broke away and a new organization was formed, Treatment Action Group (TAG).

And so it was really democracy in action on the floor in ACT UP.  And a democracy is a damn tough thing to run if you are doing it for real. 

BS: But how did the friendship support it or undermine it?

There are other friends I’ve had from ACT UP internationally, actually, Paris, Germany, England.  And people who I’m regularly in touch with.  I will likely work at the International AIDS Conference next year…  And so I’m looking forward to seeing some of them there.

And I quote “dated” a few people in ACT UP.  There was lots of sex going on.  That was not my prime motive or goal or interest.   I was pretty focused on the work.

And when you talk about friendships, the interesting thing is how much work people could do with one another without knowing very much about their lives outside of the actual movement.

So people could work together, make posters, do flyers, do all the kind of stuff that we learned to do and learned more and more to cut corners on.  I remind you when ACT UP started there was no money so people were doing what is called guerilla Xeroxing.  And they were working in offices, so they could run off 500 flyers.  This predates fax machines.  So when we started doing actions and could have walkie talkies, this was like a big deal.  So many of ht emeans and methods that are available now would have been like science fiction.  We were still racing to a corner to call someone.  Or to call AP and say “You need to get here.”

BS: Well, that’s what’s so innovative. ACT UP’s Diva TV anticipated the whole Indy Media, You Tube movement.  Create a video of a person in a hospital gown which says, “Your Ass Isn’t Covered.” Can you talk about how direct action was able to communicate a message, creative direct action to advance goals.  Why did they feel it was necessary. Direct  action to direct services.

More often actions were planned right at a meeting.  And there were occasions when a meeting was shut down and we simply marched out and got up to gracie mansion.  This was when Kotch was Mayer.  And had a demonstration right then and there.

Two occasions come to mind.  One was a social worker told us at a Monday meeting that there was a mother who had a child who weighed 44 lbs and was unable to get her office to approve food supplements, nutritional supplements for him, liquid supplements.  Immediately, a group formed.  Within a day or two, they had gotten a photograph of the manager of that office.  The office was on 31st Street between 6th and 7th Avenue.  Two or three days later that week, we were picketing outside that office with the manager’s face on the posters.  And the kid got his supplements.

So that was that.  BS: direct action got the goods.

Over  the years, we ran into each other at  action after action. 
Rise and Resist,  ACT UP, Occupy, everywhere.

But gradually the meetings slowed down.

This March, I reached out to Vélez to try to get coffee or meet  up.

 “Have to decline”  he replied. “Planning to get to one of your readings. Best, Andy”

“Thanks for all your support...through the years and now. Big love to U!” I replied.

He was the best organizer I’ve ever met.

All day, we’re remembered him.
The spirit and philosophy of ACT UP found its manifestation in decades of activism.
We’ll never be the same.
The world  won’t.

Eric Sawyer
15 hrs ·
“I am heart broken. My dear friend Andy Vélez has passed. I loved Andy like a brother. Andy no doubt attended more ACT UP meetings than any other person - almost never missing an ACT UP meeting since 1987, week after week, up until his recent fall and hospitalisation.
I attended many many demonstrations with him and worked with him planning many actions, press conference, and conference panels at AIDS Conference in several countries around the world. I also had the pleasure of being part of the Liaison Team he Chaired in several countries.
Andy always made me laugh, he always had something witty to say about everything.
Andy, you were a hero, a wonderful Activist and I will miss you dearly!”

Peter Staley is with Andrew Velez.
16 hrs ·
I have never known a single LGBTQ activist that has shown up and marched at more demonstrations for our community than Andy Velez. He was at ACT UP from the get-go, and was still going to meetings until his recent health issues. I got closer with Andy during my
days, when he became a loving moderator on the site's very busy community forums. Folks from around the world got to know and love Andy online.
A huge thanks to his sons, Ben and Abe, for letting me say my goodbyes to Andy three weeks ago at Bellevue. He was so fucking proud of you both.
"Andy Vélez, an internationally prominent AIDS activist, whose three decades of advocacy work resulted in improved drug access and civil rights for people living with HIV, especially in the Latino community, died on May 14, 2019 at Mt. Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan. He was 80.
His sons Ben and Abe Vélez said the cause of death was complications arising from a severe fall in his Greenwich Village building in April.
Until his recent accident and despite several health challenges, Vélez had remained consistently active in the AIDS and social justice communities, taking part in protests for ACT UP and Rise and Resist. Vélez was a seminal member of ACT UP, joining the group in 1987, its first year of activity, and played a prominent role in its most notorious demonstrations over the past 32 years.
Vélez was born on March 9, 1939 in the Bronx to Ramon Vélez and the former Dorothy Solomon. The family, including siblings Eugene and Raymond (“Al”), soon relocated to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, where they lived a few years before returning to the Bronx. Vélez graduated from William Howard Taft High School in 1955 at age 16. He attended City College for a brief time, but interrupted his studies to leave home and escape the abuses of his father. Years later, after attending night school, Vélez would formally graduate.
Vélez earned a Master’s degree in psychoanalysis in 1976 and worked with the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies under Dr. Phyllis Meadow in the Village. He maintained his own therapy practice for two decades. Vélez had initially explored psychoanalysis for personal reasons, suspecting that he was homosexual. In 1964, he was entrapped by an undercover policeman in a Park Avenue South bar. Vélez spent the night in the jail facility known as The Tombs, a traumatizing experience that would provide the impetus for his activism. Vélez lost his position at the Housing Authority when his boss learned of his arrest. He received a suspended sentence of six months. But when Vélez pushed back legally with the help of a progressive lawyer, his conviction was later reversed.
While he initially hoped to become an actor, and appeared in several off-Broadway productions in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Vélez found success in other careers. He entered book publishing in 1969. Over the course of 16 years he worked his way up to the position of president of the prominent Frederick Ungar Publishing, managing the company until it was sold in 1985. Notable among his literary projects was a 1984 collaboration with screen star Marlene Dietrich to update her 1962 bestseller Marlene Dietrich’s ABC.
Once he was divorced, Vélez began to make active connections with the LGBTQ community. He served as a leader for the Gay Circles Consciousness Raising Group for almost three years. One evening, after his group ended, Vélez walked past the first meeting of a new organization dedicated to addressing government inaction surrounding HIV/AIDS. He was intrigued.
The group soon had a name: ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. Vélez became involved in several ACT UP committees, including the Media Committee and Actions Committee. He was involved in high-profile demonstrations and civil disobedience arrest scenarios that showcased ACT UP’s signature street theatre activism, such as chaining himself in the office of a pharmaceutical company, or covering himself in fake blood to symbolize the lives lost to AIDS because of government negligence.
However, Vélez found his niche with the group’s Latino Caucus, which focused on the raging but neglected epidemic in the Latino community. Significantly, Vélez and his colleagues traveled to Puerto Rico to help organize a local ACT UP chapter in the commonwealth. He was also a founding member of Queer Nation in New York City in 1990.
He was involved in many AIDS educational and service organizations over the years, serving as an administrator and bilingual educator for
for more than a decade. His writing and activism intersected significantly when he moderated a community forum on
, where he directed desperate people to lifesaving medical information. Vélez also wrote about the epidemic for numerous community publications, including POZ, Body Positive, and SIDA Ahora. For ten years he moderated the POZ Forum. He took part in aggressive and effective treatment access work with Treatment Action Group, and worked in a New York City HIV clinical trial unit, alerting affected communities to their vulnerability to tuberculosis.
From the 1990s through the 2010s, Vélez returned to his first love of theater by covering the scene for several LGBT magazines, as well as by conducting interviews with jazz greats for All About Jazz and the New York City Jazz Record. He penned liner notes for the CD reissues of several Broadway musical classics, such as Finian’s Rainbow, The Pajama Game, and Saratoga. He also provided liner notes for vocal collections by legends such as Doris Day, Fred Astaire, Ella Fitzgerald, and Artie Shaw. From 1990 to 1992, he taught courses in musical theater at the New School. Among his in-class guests from the golden age of Broadway: Barbara Cook, Sheldon Harnick, Elaine Stritch, John Kander and Fred Ebb. He was included in the anthology Cast Out: Queer Lives in the Theater, a collection focusing on out lesbians and gays currently working on the American stage.
Vélez became a prominent presence on the international AIDS scene for more than two decades, working with co-organizers of the International Conference on AIDS to guarantee the inclusion and active participation of people with HIV. He also served for several conferences as the official liaison to the activist community. He served as a consultant to the Latino Commission on AIDS, and was a guest speaker on HIV/AIDS issues at high schools and colleges across America.
Years ago, when asked how he would like to be remembered, Vélez replied, “As someone who was able to help.”
Andy Vélez is survived by his sons Ben and Abe, both of Brooklyn, his daughter-in-law Sarah, his granddaughter, his younger brother Eugene (“Gene’) of Alamo, California, as well as thousands of comrades in the global AIDS and LGBTQ activist communities.
Donations in Vélez’s memory may be made to ACT UP New York, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and the Latino Commission on AIDS.
Andy Vélez, presente y pa'lante!"

16 hrs

“About Andy ...
Emma Goldman refused to be part of a revolution where she couldn’t dance. My comrade Andy Velez, who died on May 14 at age 80, felt the same way.
As a leader in ACT UP and the AIDS activist movement, Andy was happy to do the hard work.
I can’t count the times he attended government hearings, lobbied politicians, handed out condoms, manacled himself to gates, spoke at funerals, and risked arrest over the course of 32 years of service to the LGBTQ+ and AIDS communities.
But immersed in this living hell, Andy also knew the importance of wicked fun. He’d invoke it during our life-or-death battles. To save our sanities.
Andy dressed in jewels and brooches for demonstrations. He created protest signs that simply said, “Cut the crap!” And when we found ourselves in a jail cell after a protest, he insisted we all sing 60s girl group songs.
If you accused Andy Velez of excess, he would promptly remind you that good taste should never get in the way of defiance.
His irreverence provided a laugh at crucial times during the early Plague Years, helping balm frayed nerves or crushed spirits as we continued to fight for our lives.
I learned sass, courage, wisdom, and hope from my ACT UP comrade Andy Velez. Being 21 years my senior, he insisted I call him Mother. In turn, he called me Sisterwoman from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
A diehard movie and musical theatre queen, Andy gave me a bonus education while in the trenches. I learned the difference between Marie Dressler and Maria Callas, Eddie Cantor and Eddie Fisher.
Thanks to his stacks of original cast albums on vinyl, I learned the magic of Sondheim and Rodgers & Hart. In 1990 and 1991, Andy hosted a Broadway Musical class at the New School in Manhattan. He made me his teaching assistant, so I got to meet legends like Barbara Cook, Sheldon Harnick, Elaine Stritch and Kander & Ebb.
Life was truly a banquet with Andy. I owe much to this indefatigable and fabulous soul. So does the rest of the world.
Andy Velez ... presente! (March 9, 1939 - May, 14 2019).” — by Jay Blotcher
📷 © David Williams (1991)
📷 © @billbytsura
📷 © @billbytsura
📷 © Kevin Robert Frost (1994)
#whatisrememberedlives #theaidsmemorial #aidsmemorial #neverforget #endaids

Dearest Andy, I tried my best... Love, Jaybo'
Eulogy for Andy Velez 
May 20, 2019

Andy Velez was the Emma Goldman of ACT UP. He refused to be part of a revolution where he couldn’t dance.
He protested like a warrior. But he added irreverence to the mix. Andy dressed in pearls and jewels for demonstrations. His naughty jokes would easily defuse a stand-off with cops. When we were thrown into jail after a protest, Andy led us all in 60s girl group songs. Or at ACT UP meetings, when some blowhard went on too long, Andy would hold up one of his trademark laminated index cards that would say “Sit Down!”
Andy’s difficult past provided the fuel for his activism. A punishing childhood. Being jailed in 1964 after homosexual entrapment. Navigating a bitter divorce. Coming out at a time when gay was synonymous with AIDS. Andy possessed life lessons that most of ACT UP didn’t.
So Andy would guide the hotheaded youngsters. He modulated our fury. He knew that if you always carried anger in your gut, it would destroy you.
And woe unto the person who accused Andy of excess -- or suggested he tone down his tactics. He would fix that individual with a pitying glare and explain that good taste should never get in the way of defiance.
Andy was a supreme movie and musical theatre queen. I was one of his keen students. While I was learning AIDS activism in the trenches, Andy gave me a bonus education. Thanks to him, this diehard rock n’ roller learned the difference between Marie Dressler and Maria Montez, between Eddie Cantor and Eddie Fisher. Andy’s crash course included wicked Merman anecdotes. And mercy, that Monty Clift story. But I digress…
Andy bestowed stacks of his old vinyl on me. I enjoyed a steady diet of Sondheim, Jule Styne, Rodgers & Hart, Archie & Mehitabel. I officially became a musical theatre queen in training.
The tutelage escalated. In 1990 and 1991 Andy hosted a Broadway Musical class at the New School. He made me his teaching assistant, so I met the legends: Barbara Cook, Betty Comden & Adolph Green, Sheldon Harnick, Kander & Ebb. And I rescued him one afternoon from a hostage situation in his apartment – perpetrated by Elaine Stritch.
Many stars became Andy’s friends. Not because he was a fawning fan. But because he was honest. He dazzled them with his encyclopedic knowledge, but also dispensed critical analysis that was illuminating.
Andy was an enthusiastic lover of the arts. But a discerning one. In 1995, we went to Rainbow & Stars to see Lorna Luft. Bless her heart, she was no Judy Garland. Nor even a Liza Minnelli. Halfway through the concert, Andy pushed a cocktail napkin across the table. On it he had scribbled “Gee, this sucks, Sally.” I spent the rest of the show squelching giggles.
So we come to this sad day. Even on the matter of death, Andy offered comfort and enlightenment. In 1988, my mom died. I was 28. I was a mess. I had only known Andy a few months in ACT UP, but he was there for my mourning period. Andy shared profound wisdom at the time. I was too grief-stricken for it to register. But the way wisdom works is that when you are ready to hear it, it comes through loud and clear.
Andy explained, “When a loved one dies, the conversation you are having with them does not end. The way you communicate simply changes.”
So, Andy, let’s keep the conversation going. Right now, I suspect you’re hobnobbing at one hell of a cocktail party, clinking glasses with Marlene, Eartha, Barbara, Betty & Adolph, Stritch, and, of course, your beloved Muggsy.
Keep the party going until we get there. Because we will reunite, just as the lyrics tell us in another gem Andy loved: the ballad “Some Other Time” from “On the Town”:
Just when the fun is starting,
Comes the time for parting,
But let's be glad for what we've had
And what's to come.
There's so much more embracing
Still to be done, but time is racing.
Oh, well, we'll catch up
Some other time.
Eliza Pelham Randall Tis a Fearful Thing

‘Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.

A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –

to be,
And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,

And a holy thing,

a holy thing
to love.

For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.

- Judah Halevi

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