The Bureau is proud to host Sean Strub for a reading from his new book Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS and Survival (Scribner, January 14, 2014). Following the reading, Strub will engage in a discussion with the audience.
BODY COUNTS is a powerful report from the front lines, a deeply personal testament from a veteran AIDS activist. Not merely a nostalgic look backwards, Strub’s book assesses today’s AIDS epidemic and offers powerful strategies for curbing new transmissions, while also demanding an end to AIDS criminalization.
As personally powerful as Paul Monette’s Borrowed Time and as historically important as Randy Shilts’s And The Band Played On, Body Counts provides invaluable insight into where we are today in the AIDS epidemic, how we got there and what must be done next. Body Counts has already drawn plaudits from prominent LGBT community historians Martin Duberman, John D’Emilio, and Jonathan Ned Katz, as well as Gloria Steinem, Mary Frances Berry, John Berendt, Lily Tomlin, Judith Light, Bill T. Jones and Rory Kennedy, among others.
In 1976 at the age of 17, Sean Strub left his native Iowa and arrived in Washington, D.C., to take a patronage job running a “Senators’ Only” elevator in the U.S. Capitol building. He was charming and precociously ambitious. As he explored the corridors of power in D.C., he also was drawn to another, hidden DC: the super-closeted world of powerful gay men in the nation’s capital. The subterfuge was ultimately untenable for an idealist who yearned to live his life openly, so Strub moved to New York City in 1979.
As a Manhattanite, Strub immersed himself in metropolitan life — from partying at Studio 54 to the liberating demimonde of gay bathhouses. He discusses his swift rise in business circles as a visionary direct-mail marketer and award-winning theatre producer. In BODY COUNTS, the author fondly recalls the friends and lovers who enriched his days and nights as a New Yorker. Significantly, Strub recounts the life-changing experience of being one of the first on the scene when John Lennon was murdered at the Dakota in 1980.
Not long after the first reports of a “gay cancer” surfaced, Strub launched into action. Strub became a pivotal force in AIDS activism through volunteering and fundraising for organizations. These included GMHC, the PWA Coalition and ACT UP (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). For the street activist group, Strub raised crucial funding and took part in their most notorious demonstrations. Strub was involved in putting a giant condom on then-U.S. Senator Jesse Helms’ house (an event funded by David Geffen) and took part in the infamous 1989 protest inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He would become, in 1990, the first openly HIV- positive person to run for the U.S. Congress, and later become founder, publisher, and executive editor of the groundbreaking POZ magazine. BODY COUNTS documents the author’s own near-death struggle with AIDS and his Lazarus-like recovery in the mid-1990s after the discovery of protease inhibitor therapy.
We watch Strub build a life and legacy that sees him crossing paths with a veritable who’s who of prominent gay men, including Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Vito Russo and Larry Kramer.
The author’s tale names names, identifying the villains and hypocrites who thrived during this era, and acknowledges the heroes who battled ignorance and apathy to bring the AIDS epidemic to the forefront. The author spares nobody in his assessment, offering a candid critique of where America fell short in its vision for ending the epidemic, including the government, the gay community and the so-called AIDS, Inc.
BODY COUNTS is a portrait of one man driven by passion and principle to make a difference in the world during a tumultuous era of great change and tragedy.
Sean Strub is an activist, writer, and executive director of the Sero Project, which combats the criminalization of people with HIV. He founded POZ magazine, the leading publication providing information about HIV, and is a frequent speaker about HIV/AIDS, selfempowerment, and the intersections of sex, public health, and the law. A native of Iowa City, Strub attended Georgetown and Columbia universities. He and his partner, Xavier Morales, live in New York and Milford, Pennsylvania, where he co-owns the historic Hotel Fauchère and is active in historic preservation.
Praise for Body Counts
“Strub paints a striking picture … A valuable document that gives an insider’s view into AIDS activism.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Sean Strub has written more than just a memoir. Body Counts pulls back the curtain on a hidden half-century of American history…. The tale of a life lived in high-resolution, high-intensity, saturated Technicolor.” —Ari Shapiro, NPR White House Correspondent
“Radicalized by the AIDS crisis and plunged into political activism for the LGBT community, Iowa-born Catholic-raised Strub chronicles the crucial years of AIDS awareness since the early 1980s, which parallels his own coming-of- age….Strub frankly and openly speaks about these painful and inspiring early years of the gay and lesbian movement, how the AIDS epidemic devastated the newly emergent community and ushered in a terrible backlash against gays.” —Publishers Weekly
“Read Body Counts by Sean Strub and share one American’s story of growing up with an instinct for justice, then finding oneself in an epidemic whose tragedy is multiplied by bias. As a man who survived sexual abuse, rape and an HIV diagnosis, Strub embodies the shared interest of women and men who fight for human rights, and against any government or person intruding on our bodies. By taking us with him on his journey from a conservative family in Iowa to the heart of a global movement for human rights, Sean Strub gives us ideas, strength and heart in our own journey.” —Gloria Steinem
“An absorbing read. It not only vividly recounts the personal odyssey of one man’s struggle with AIDS, but places it—with remarkable objectivity—within the larger story of those years. Strub is a dispassionate, reliable guide whose directness and honesty create considerable impact. Anyone would profit from reading this book.” —Martin Duberman, author of Stonewall
“This is the most personally powerful and authentic portrayal of our collective history that I have read since Paul Monette’s On Borrowed Time.” —Judith Light
“Body Counts is a powerful account of the epidemic’s early years and the subsequent three decades…a page-turner with moving insight and fresh analysis told in a compelling and highly personal style.” —Lily Tomlin
“Sean Strub’s Body Counts is an important document…fresh and compelling.” —Bill T. Jones
“This is the compelling life and near-death story of Sean Strub, of thousands lost to HIV-AIDS, and thousands more living with it whom his activism helped save. Wow.” —Andrew Tobias, author of The Best Little Boy in the World
“This take-no-prisoners memoir has the quality of a suspenseful page-turner, and will keep you reading until the final sentence.” —John D’Emilio, author of Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America
“From early struggles against AIDS to later collective acting up, Sean Strub’s lively, gossipy memoir is also deeply moving history.” —Jonathan Ned Katz, author Gay American History
“Strub’s memoir, like Strub himself, is an inspiration.” —Richard McCann, author of Mother of Sorrows
“The education and evolution of Sean Strub is a riveting and moving tale that needed to be told, and has life-lessons for us all. Body Counts is an important document in the history of our era that challenges conventional wisdoms and speaks truth to power.” —Doug Ireland, veteran political journalist
“A gripping story of a movement that changed the soul of our world.” —Kathy Boudin, Columbia University School of Social Work
“A compelling page-turner… To understand today’s HIV epidemic, read Body Counts. Sean is a born activist, widely revered by people with HIV and I’m glad he’s finally told his story.” —Rory Kennedy
“Elegantly written, moving and powerful, this book from one of the most important advocates for people with HIV/AIDS is eye-opening.” —Mary Frances Berry, Geraldine Segal professor of American Social Thought, University of Pennsylvania; past Chair U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
“This is obviously Sean Strub’s story and a very particular and personal history, but it’s also our story and our history. He is a wonderful storyteller … I very much admire his writing—how clean and powerful it is.” —Will Schwalbe, author of The End Of Your Life Book Club