fight back, fight aids

On the couch: 5 questions for GMHC’s Kelsey Louie

Kelsey Louie of GMHC
Kelsey Louie (Photo: Chris Hayden)

Kelsey Louie is chief executive officer of GMHC, the world’s first and most prominent HIV prevention and AIDS services organization.

Officially established in New York City in 1982, GMHC continues in its mission to “end the AIDS epidemic and uplift the lives of all affected.”

It serves approximately 10,000 people in New York City with comprehensive psychosocial and prevention services. We caught up with Kelsey as he sheltered at home in Manhattan.

The son of Chinese immigrants, Kelsey, 45, was born and raised in New York City and attended NYU. He began his career in social work, rising to the position of COO for the non-profit Harlem United Community AIDS Center before he joined GMHC in 2014.

Kelsey lives in Manhattan with his partner, Brett, an attorney. In addition to being CEO of GMHC, he serves on several boards and is an adjunct professor at the NYU Silver School of Social Work, helping uplift future leaders of commitment and care.

The important pandemic question, Kelsey: What are you reading/streaming/listening to right now?

I recently re-read Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead, which is a great reminder about leading with vulnerability and courage. I am so proud of the dedication and work that is accomplished by staff at GMHC that I wanted to be sure that I showed up as an effective leader for them during this unprecedented year.

I am also listening to Taylor Swift’s two new albums, Folklore, and Evermore because she is a lyrical genius and these albums are exactly what was needed in 2020! I love Taylor Swift!

What are you looking most forward to doing as travel/social restrictions start to lift?

I have been doing my part in socially distancing and not gathering, so I cannot wait to see more of my family members, friends, and co-workers. At GMHC, we closed our building operations in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While we have very successfully pivoted to remote delivery of services to meet the critical needs of thousands of New Yorkers living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, I look forward to having staff return to our building and provide in-person care, support, HIV testing, and prevention programming to our clients.

Have you been following any workout routines or other fitness programs that you can share?

I am a marathon runner and truly appreciate it when I can find the time to run – about seven miles a day. Running allows me to stay healthy and mentally alert while reducing stress. I often have my best ideas while on a run.

I relate my experience of running marathons to running an HIV/AIDS service organization, as the stress can be distinctly challenging, yet rewarding as I push through each “psychological” mile. I am constantly reminded that the work of GMHC is a marathon, not a sprint.

Kelsey Louie (center) marches with GMHC at New York Pride
Kelsey Louie (center) marches with GMHC at New York Pride (Photo: GMHC)

What are your biggest concerns around the future of LGBTQ sexual health?

My concerns connect to populations that continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV, including young Black and Latinx gay and bisexual men, and other men who have sex with men as well as transgender Black and Latinx women–men and women who are over the age of 50 living with HIV—including long-term survivors—and have specific needs related to aging, stigma, isolation and depression and other medical issues. It is clear we have more work to do.

How do you think the changing political situation will impact HIV treatment and prevention efforts?

While I am hopeful for the work we will do with the Biden-Harris administration, I am worried that more attention has and may continue to be focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. We must stay focused on all health-related issues affecting people in the United States, and not trade in one issue for another.

It is important to remember the intersectionality of issues of HIV/AIDS, COVID-19, racial injustices, health inequities, as there have been increased needs related to mental health and substance use issues, poverty, violence, stigma—and more.