May 20, 2024 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Pioneer: Phill Wilson

Phil Wilson is greeted here by President Barack Obama at the White House. (photo courtesy The White House)
Phil Wilson is greeted here by President Barack Obama at the White House.
(photo courtesy The White House)

BY KAREN OCAMB  |  “Our house is on fire,” Black AIDS Institute founder Phill Wilson proclaims at every opportunity.  He’s right—but sometimes it seems Wilson is shouting against the wind. While the Obama administration and many AIDS activists are excited about the prospect of “ending AIDS in our lifetime,” HIV/AIDS is still very much a crisis in Black and Latino communities, despite new medical advancements. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2014, 44% of estimated new HIV diagnoses were among Blacks, who comprise 12% of the US population, with an estimated 73% men and 26% women infected—with 57% gay or bisexual men, and of those, 39% young men aged 13 to 24. 

These are not just statistics—this is personal. This is his house. Wilson surmises that he has probably been HIV positive since 1981 when, as a 25-year-old newly out college graduate, he and his boyfriend Chris Brownlie were diagnosed with swollen lymph nodes. Their doctor suggested it could be the mysterious disease called “GRID” (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). But the gay men rejected that premise since the media reported that the white gay disease was prevalent on the East and West coasts and was contracted through poppers or by contact with “sexual athletes”—which didn’t apply to the mixed-race Chicago couple.

“GRID” became real and “scary” when Wilson and Brownlie moved to Los Angeles in 1982 and got involved in the national Black and White Men Together organization. 

“We had four or five friends sick at a time and we realized that nobody gave a damn,” says Wilson. “Either we were going to die or we were going to have to fight, and still we might die. Die or fight or both. I had just met Chris.  I had just found myself. I wasn’t ready to let either go. So, we fought to make sure we did whatever we could to not die—and to make sure our friends did not die.” 

Wilson has been fighting HIV/AIDS ever since. Wilson and Brownlie took every HIV drug as it became available (AZT, 3TC, D4T, etc) but Brownlie succumbed to the disease in 1989, two years after he was diagnosed with AIDS. But unlike so many at the time, Brownlie had a place to be cared for as he died. The Chris Brownlie Hospice was created by the AIDS Hospice Foundation (later renamed the AIDS Healthcare Foundation), an organization founded by Wilson, Brownlie, Brownlie’s best friend Michael Weinstein and Mary Adair.  The four has worked on the Stop AIDS Quarantine Committee in 1986 to fight Proposition 64, the AIDS quarantine initiative sponsored by anti-gay right winger Lyndon LaRouche.

After the initiative battle, Wilson became director of Stop AIDS Los Angeles, then director of public policy and planning for AIDS Project Los Angeles, co-founder of the Black Gay & Lesbian Leadership Forum, AIDS Coordinator for the City of Los Angeles, member of the President’s AIDS Advisory Council, renown guest on TV talk shows, including Oprah Winfrey, and today, the nation’s conscience as the founder of the Black AIDS Institute, intending to fight until the last embers die out.

Related Posts

New Injectable HIV Prevention Drug Approved By FDA

January 18, 2022

January 18, 2022

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first long-acting injectable medication for use as pre-exposure prevention, or PrEP, against...

AIDS/LifeCycle 2022 Needs More Volunteers

January 18, 2022

January 18, 2022

AIDS LifeCycle is back with more than $4 million raised so far for the 2022 ride benefitting the HIV/AIDS-related services...

‘Commitment To Life’ Documentary Exploring HIV Fight In Los Angeles

December 7, 2021

December 7, 2021

Production has begun on “Commitment to Life” a new documentary that explores the fight against HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles.  Directed...

Congregation Kol Ami To Host World AIDS Day 2021 Event

November 30, 2021

November 30, 2021

Progressive, Reform Congregation Kol Ami will mark World AIDS Day with a special interfaith observance, combining awareness, remembrance, and speaking...

34th Annual AIDS Walk Long Beach

November 16, 2021

November 16, 2021

The 34th Annual AIDS Walk Long Beach, a benefit for the LGBTQ Center Long Beach and other local providers returned...

New Documentary Pays Tribute to Transgender ‘AIDS diva’ Connie Norman

October 26, 2021

October 26, 2021

A new documentary titled “AIDS Diva: The Legend of Connie Norman,” will pay tribute to the transgender leader in AIDS...

AIDS/LifeCycle Kick Off Ride

October 11, 2021

October 11, 2021

AIDS/LifeCycle is kicking off it’s 2022 training season to end AIDS on October 16th.  Riders can sign up for the...

National Coming Out Day In Pasadena

October 11, 2021

October 11, 2021

Celebrate National Coming Out Day in Pasadena Memorial Park for its annual celebration. Pasadena Public Health Department, Pasadena Public Library...

Elvira Shocks Fans By Coming Out Of The Closet

September 28, 2021

September 28, 2021

Just in time for Halloween, the spook queen herself, Cassandra Peterson, a.k.a. Elvira, has come out of the closet.  In...

Teacher Removed After Having Class Pledge Allegiance To The Pride Flag

September 15, 2021

September 15, 2021

Kristin Pitzen, a teacher at Back Bay High School in Costa Mesa, who posted a video to social media of...

AltaMed Health Services to Host “Inclusion Beyond Pride: A Queer Art Show”

August 5, 2021

August 5, 2021

AltaMed Health Services, will host “Inclusion Beyond Pride: A Queer Art Show” on Friday, Aug. 6, 6-10 p.m. in Los...

Full Frontal Disco Returns To Akbar

August 5, 2021

August 5, 2021

Full Frontal Disco will return to the Silver Lake neighborhood gay bar Akbar. Resuming Saturday August 7th and continuing every...

PReP, The HiV Prevention Pill, Free

July 26, 2021

July 26, 2021

Insurers have been advised that they shouldn’t be charging for Truvada and Descovy as HIV prevention and that associated clinic...

Gaywatch: Back To The Beach

July 14, 2021

July 14, 2021

On Saturday July 10th Venice Pride hosted Gaywatch: Back To The Beach, a queer dance party at the only gay-owned...

“Gayest Episode Ever” An LGBTQ+ Podcast

June 29, 2021

June 29, 2021

Gayest Episode Ever is an LGBTQ+ podcast hosted by journalist Drew Mackie and screenwriter Glen Lakin. The podcast looks at...