Lesbian AIDS Advocate Named Interim Chief

Dr. Marjorie Hill, a veteran of AIDS service work, city and state government, and LGBT community leadership, has been named the interim executive director of Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

She will succeed Ana Oliveira, who has served as head of the agency for the past six years and has said she will leave in late February to pursue other professional interests. Hill, who is lesbian, will helm the agency during the time that GMHC’s board conducts a search for a permanent successor to Oliveira.

The last time the position was open when Dr. Joshua Lipsman — who arrived at the agency from the Alexandria, Virginia health department but whose one-year tenure was marked by the agency’s downsizing and widespread employee and client protest over its core mission — departed. At that point, in 1999, GMHC turned to an insider, Oliveira, who had been there more than three years and was widely admired. Oliveira was credited with leading the agency through a difficult reorganization process that was successful in restoring the confidence of staff and clients.

Hill, 49, who lives with her partner in Holliswood, Queens and is a licensed clinical psychologist, also has a long history with the agency. She is currently the managing director for Community Health, after having served as director of the Women’s Institute, both GMHC units, since 2004. She was on the agency’s board of directors from 1994 through 2001, the last two years as co-chair.

Hill joined the GMHC staff after three years as assistant commissioner for the Bureau of HIV/AIDS of the city health department. There, she had oversight of the HIV prevention, treatment, research, and housing programs. Hill’s GMHC biography notes that she worked to expand needle exchange programs and enhance inter-agency collaboration while with the city. The press release announcing her interim appointment said that she oversaw the distribution of more than 5 million male and female condoms citywide in 2004.

The Bloomberg administration’s record during those years in reducing HIV infections in New York shows limited success. The mayor made his first major policy address on the epidemic in March 2003, more than a year after taking office, and announced that he aimed to have New York “become the national model in leading the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention goal of reducing new HIV infections in the United States by 50 percent by 2005.”

But infection rates in new York remained stubborn. In an October 2005 interview with Gay City News, Dr. Lucia Torian, the health department’s chief epidemiologist, said that between 2001 and the first half of 2003, new infection rates for the city as a whole “just barely” declined, in statistically significant terms, and no such reduction was noted among men who have sex with men. The rate of new infections among gay and bisexual New York men remained relatively constant from 1993 through 2003 at between two and three percent each year.

In a December interview with Gay City News, Mayor Michael Bloomberg reiterated the goal of reducing the roughly 2,000 new infections each year by half—but this time the target date for reaching that goal is the end of his second term in January 2009.

Given that her appointment to head GMHC is interim, an agency spokesman said Hill was not doing press interviews about her new post. The group declined to comment at this time on the city’s record on prevention during her time at the health department.

Among Hill’s other significant professional accomplishments, she served as a commissioner for the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board and was Democrat David Dinkins’ director of the Mayor’s Office for the Lesbian and Gay Community. In that latter role, Hill attained significant visibility in the LGBT communities across the city, and since then has been a constant presence in many advocacy groups, delivering speeches and lending her name to promote specific issues. She has served in advisory posts for the Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Thirteen/WNET, and the American Foundation for AIDS Research, or amFAR.

On the same day that it announced its new interim executive director, GMHC, along with other community advocates, responded to the final budget that will be proposed by Republican Governor George Pataki, who leaves office at the end of this year. The agency offered the governor a decidedly mixed verdict. It lauded the fact that the executive budget, as Pataki’s proposal is known, includes full funding of HIV/AIDS services, including additions that the Legislature has incorporated in past years. The governor’s decision to use that as a starting point will likely reduce quarrels between him and the Democratic Assembly on HIV funding as serious negotiations get underway.

“The HIV/AIDS epidemic has not been static during the governor’s time in office,” said Ronald Johnson, the agency’s associate executive director, in a written statement. “The number of people living with HIV/AIDS is the highest it has been… We appreciate the much needed inclusion of HIV/AIDS funding in his executive budget proposal.”

GMHC also noted that Pataki had restored funding for the member organizations of the New York State LGBT Health and Human Services Network, which operate 52 community-based programs statewide. The Empire State Pride Agenda also expressed satisfaction with this funding, pointing out that after three budget cycles in which the governor supplied only $1 million for this initiative—though the Assembly supplemented that with its own discretionary funds—this year’s executive budget level of $2.4 million nearly matches the dollars Pataki provided four years ago.

“We are pleased with this restoration of funding and we thank the governor for his continued support for this program,” Alan Van Capelle, the Pride Agenda’s executive director, said in a written statement. “This was a good day for our community in New York State.”

Over the past eight years, allocations from the governor’s executive budget and Assembly discretionary funds for the 52 non-HIV LGBT health and human services programs have totaled more than $17 million.

GMHC took sharp issue with Pataki, however, over his plans for $1.3 billion in cuts to the state’s Medicaid program, noting that the government insurance plan is the largest payer of healthcare for HIV-positive New Yorkers and that the governor’s cuts will cost the state almost $3 billion in matching federal funds. The reduced spending, the agency charged, will limit access to needed medications and create barriers to care. Johnson, in a written statement, said that 70 percent of the 15,000 clients who walk through GMHC’s doors each year “rely on Medicaid for preventative, primary, and hospital care, as well as for life-saving prescription drugs.”

Christine Quinn, the lesbian Chelsea Democrat, who just became speaker of the City Council, also criticized the governor’s budget, but focused on his refusal to act in accordance with court rulings to comply with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity’s goal of giving city public school students parity with others statewide in the allocation of education funding.