City’s Only Black Gay Men’s HIV Group Imperiled

GMAD's board of directors –– Jelani Hunter, Ivory Thomas, Tokes M. Osubu, Bishop Zachary Jones, Kevin McGruder, and Kevin Coleman –– at the group’s 25th anniversary event in February. | GMAD

New York City’s only agency that focuses exclusively on HIV prevention work among gay and bisexual African-American men is struggling financially and may be forced to close its doors.

“The organization will close if the trend does not change,” said Zachary Jones, a senior bishop in the Unity Fellowship Church Movement and the board chair of Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD), a Brooklyn-based AIDS group that was founded in 1986. Later in the same phone interview, Jones added, “I cannot predict that we will be closing. We’re open today, we’ll be open next year, and we’ll be open for the next five years.”

A copy of a recent monthly report made to the board and other documents were mailed anonymously to Gay City News. A current GMAD employee confirmed that the July 2012 report is real as is the dire state of the agency’s finances.

“The concern about the agency’s viability continues to grow,” the report read. “We are several hundred thousand dollars short of our annual budget and this is due in no small measure to the fact that the positions of the executive director, deputy executive director, and finance director are largely unfunded.”

Tokes Osubu, the executive director, and the two other top staff members have skipped twice-monthly paychecks in recent months.

“Over the last quarter I would say at least once a month,” Jones said. “It speaks to their commitment to the organization.”

The agency borrowed $25,000 from the Fund for the City of New York to pay staff in June and part of July, according to the report. The report said that GMAD is owed just over $100,000 from “funders,” but it has already spent that cash.

“It should be noted that the said amount is what the agency has already expended and if we had these reimbursed on time, our situation would be less dire,” the report read. GMAD is also in “arrears on the rent,” Jones said.

“Unfortunately, it appears that as HIV/AIDS… is not the priority of the local or state governments, therefore we have not been refunded in a lot of areas.” — Bishop Zachary Jones

A second set of documents that were also mailed anonymously to Gay City News, apparently by the same individual judging by the cover letters that accompanied both mailings, showed that GMAD’s revenues were just under $358,000 for the first six months of this year and just over $657,000 for the first six months of 2011. The group’s deficit as of July 12 of this year is nearly $284,000. These documents were described to the current GMAD employee who spoke to Gay City News and the employee confirmed their accuracy. Jones declined comment about the information in these documents.

The financial documents listed nine major funding sources. Three that supported GMAD in the first six months of 2011 gave no support this year and the other six made large cuts in their support.

GMAD’s total expenses in the first six months of this year were just under $642,000 compared to just over $624,000 for the same period last year.

The lack of funds has impacted services, according to the report. Because GMAD could not supply clients with MetroCards to pay for their travel, the agency conducted just 13 HIV tests and two syphilis screenings in July. GMAD had “40 appointments and just two group meetings” for one of its programs in July. GMAD recruited a single new client that month. The agency is also late in launching an anti-stigma campaign that is funded by the city. GMAD has submitted proposals for other federal and city contracts.

The cash shortfall is at least a year old.

“It was a slow decline, but it felt very drastic this year,” Jones said.

In late 2010, GMAD won a state health department HIV prevention contract valued at $350,000. It subcontracted with VillageCare to deliver some services and GMAD was to pay the Manhattan non-profit $76,000 over the one-year contract. GMAD paid no monthly vouchers to VillageCare from September 2011 through May 2012. GMAD paid

VillageCare the $52,941 it owed only after the Manhattan agency complained to the state funder. Osubu blamed the delay on the state AIDS Institute.

“Due to the slow response time by AI, GMAD has experienced a serious financial hardship and any monies received were used to pay staff and health benefits or risk cancellation by the insurance company,” Osubu wrote in a July 30 email to Village-Care, according to other documents obtained by Gay City News.

Like many small AIDS groups, GMAD relies almost entirely on government grants so if one or more of them is eliminated, it has a significant impact.

In 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, $1.15 million, or 88 percent, of GMAD’s $1.3 million budget was from government contracts. In 2009, $1 million, or 76 percent, of the agency’s $1.3 million budget came from government contracts. The agency spent $5,300 on raising private dollars in 2009 and nothing on such fundraising in 2010.

Federal funding for HIV prevention has been flat at just under $1 billion a year since 2007. The city and state have cut HIV prevention dollars. Government funders are increasingly spending their cash on HIV testing and treating those who are positive. The theory is that people who learn they are positive will change their behavior to avoid infecting others and, with treatment, they will be less infectious so if they do have unsafe sex, they will be less likely to infect others.

“Unfortunately, it appears that as HIV/AIDS… is not the priority of the local or state governments, therefore we have not been refunded in a lot of areas,” said Jones who added that the board was planning a number of fundraising strategies and events.

“We do have a core group of people,” he said. “We feel that they are willing to respond to us… I do believe that with the right kind of exposure, those people will respond and encourage others to participate.”