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Remembering Rodger McFarlane
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Remembering Rodger McFarlane
by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

Rodger McFarlane, a pioneer in the LGBT civil rights and HIV/AIDS movements, took his own life in Truth and Consequences, New Mexico, on May 15, according to a statement released by his friends and family.

McFarlane was on the forefront of responding to the AIDS epidemic that ravaged the country, especially the Gay community, in the 1980s. Before HIV even had a name, McFarlane set up the very first HIV/AIDS hotline anywhere in 1981. Additionally, he took three organizations in their infancy and grew each into a powerhouse in their own way, empowered to tackle the national tragedy. As one of the original volunteers and first paid executive director of Gay Men's Health Crisis, he increased the organization's fundraising from a few thousand dollars to the $25 million agency it is today.

From 1989 to 1994, he was executive director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA) merging two small industry-based fundraising groups into one of America's most successful and influential AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations.

McFarlane was also a founding member of ACT UP-NY, the now legendary protest group responsible for sweeping changes to public policy as well as drug treatment and delivery processes.

Most recently, he served as executive director of the Gill Foundation, one of the nation's largest funders of programs advocating for LGBT equality. The Gill Foundation is where Josh Friedes, advocacy director for Equal Rights Washington, first met McFarlane.

"The night before I learned of Rodger's death, I saw the film Outrage, which includes several clips of him," said Friedes. "I couldn't help but reflect on how the present Gay rights movement is built on the shoulders of truly courageous people like Rodger. It's easy now to imagine full equality because people like Rodger demanded equal rights so long ago. He was a visionary and an activist."

Until his death, he was the president emeritus of Bailey House, the nation's first and largest provider of supportive housing for homeless people with HIV.

Despite the fact that he never completed college, he became an accomplished and best-selling author. He co-authored several books including The Complete Bedside Companion: No-Nonsense Advice on Caring for the Seriously Ill and The Tragedy of Today's Gays. In 1993 he co-produced the Pulitzer Prize-nominated production of Larry Kramer's The Destiny of Me, the sequel to The Normal Heart.

A letter was found next to McFarlane explaining that he was unwilling to allow compounding heart and back problems to become even worse and result in total debilitation. McFarlane's family said he was in a great deal of physical pain and no longer able to travel or work.

In the statement, family and friends asked, "How do you sum up someone's life in just a few words?" They went on to say, "We thought it was important that we communicate to the world that it has lost an amazingly wonderful individual who contributed so mightily to our humanity. No one will ever doubt Rodger lived a rich and complete life."
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