Well before Jeffrey Brooks (’04) had a six-year stint working with HIV/AIDS clients at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and before he earned his JD from CUNY Law School, he was a young man living in New York City in the early 1980s. It was a time when the world was just learning about the HIV virus and AIDS.
“My friends were all getting sick and dying quickly,” says Brooks, who is gay and now 57 years old. “I had no reason to think that I wasn’t going to be next. It was a frightening time.”
The toll on Brooks’s circle of acquaintances over the past three decades has been severe. He knows hundreds of friends and co-workers who have died.
“In the 1980s, there were no treatments. It would drive you crazy knowing you were HIV positive and just waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Brooks says. “And it did.”
His life partner of more than a decade, the Spanish AIDS activist Tomás Fábregas, had been diagnosed with the HIV virus in 1989; Brooks tested negative. Together, the two moved to the San Francisco Bay area and became AIDS activists.
After Fábregas died in 1994, Brooks made his way back to New York and eventually to CUNY Law School. He was drawn by its national reputation for public interest law at an affordable price. During his visit in 2001, students had staged a hunger strike to protest after a professor had been denied tenure.
“As soon as I saw the angry, principled, impassioned political discourse covering the walls, I was thinking about all my Act Up experience, and I felt right at home. I couldn’t wait to get there,” he says.
After CUNY Law, Brooks needed a job and found one at GMHC. He joined the organization even though he had promised himself he would never do HIV work again after his time in the Bay Area with Fábregas and after having come to terms with his death. To Brooks’s surprise, he enjoyed the return to HIV work, standing up for his clients’ rights.
“I understood their issues,” says Brooks. “I had a real commitment to winning that bit of justice they needed at that moment to make their lives better so that they could go on, to help people with their day-to-day needs. You can really change a person’s life with that. ”
The same can be said for CUNY Law graduates who have dedicated their careers to HIV/AIDS work. That includes Brooks and the many alumni who have received his client referrals.
“It’s a wonderful manifestation of the school’s mission,” says Brooks.
– Paul Lin