The Giver Gets

Steve Gaynes has an employment resume, but if you want to be wowed by his accomplishments, read the one that lists his 25 years of giving back to the LGBTQ community. Gaynes came out, joyfully, in late 1970s Manhattan, but by the time he moved to San Francisco in 1986, at the height of the epidemic, he understood that he had HIV and would die here sooner rather than later. He says now that he could never have anticipated the city would become a place where loss and survival would come to define him so profoundly—nor a place where he would experience a rebirth of sorts.

SteveSuit“I was losing a lot of close friends,” Gaynes remembers, but he found purpose and community inside the leather community. In 1988, after meeting Alan Silby, the beloved leather “Daddy” and devoted philanthropist, Gaynes took on his first volunteer gig as a board member of the AIDS Emergency Fund, which was at the forefront of helping people with HIV facing financial crisis. Over the years, Gaynes’ volunteer commitments burgeoned as he joined the boards of organizations like the Folsom Street Fair, the Castro Merchants, the Leather Alliance, the Castro Street Fair and The 15 Association.

No amount of working or volunteering, however, could save Gaynes from the challenges of those difficult times. After loving his job at AT&T for many years, Gaynes became disillusioned in 2012 and then started to feel anxious and depressed, which immobilized him at work. Eventually, in 2013 his job ended, but the depression and anxiety continued to be crippling. Gaynes said that, up to that time, he had been “too busy to feel; I worked and volunteered and played, I didn’t have time to feel.” But the truth is that Gaynes had a lot to feel about. He had lived through the worst of the AIDS epidemic: the loss of countless friends, his own confirmation of having HIV, and, most devastating of all, the death of his beloved partner Conrad Reny. But Gaynes said he “just went on” with his life thanks to meeting his current partners.

When Gaynes finally reached out for help in 2015, he came to AHP. He thought reinventing himself would resolve his problems, and he attended our pioneering Returning to Work support group. The experience was great and, through it, Gaynes realized he wasn’t ready to go back to work yet. He embarked upon a series of individual therapy sessions, a course of antidepressant medication, and a support group for men with HIV—all through AHP. Armed with a well-honed ear for anything that sounds like judgment, Gaynes has been relieved that AHP’s group facilitators are culturally competent and sex positive, and get what it means to be a gay man living with HIV. He calls his experience at AHP “fantastic” and the reason his mood and outlook have improved so much.

As Gaynes prepares for the next chapter of his life—he is hoping to find a leadership position within the non-profit world so that he can combine his business and board expertise—Gaynes is preparing to go back to AHP’s Returning to Work support group. He’s ready now and we are convinced he will continue to add much to the LGBTQ community, with the resilience and passion of someone who’s seen so much and given so much more to others.