An Interview with Demetre Daskalakis

Doctor and gay activist Demetre Daskalakis administers free meningitis vaccinations at gay bars and sex clubs in New York City. ( S  ource )

Doctor and gay activist Demetre Daskalakis administers free meningitis vaccinations at gay bars and sex clubs in New York City. (Source)

Earlier this year, after New York City health officials urged "men, regardless of HIV status, who regularly have intimate contact with other men through a website, digital application ("App"), or at a bar or party" to get vaccinated against meningitis following a rise in deaths attributed to a particularly lethal strain, New York City-based doctor Demetre Daskalakis began holding free vaccination events at gay bars and sex clubs throughout the city.

"When I heard about the outbreak, I started putting together a plan about how I could help," Daskalakis told MSN News last month. "It's super easy. Once I set up, I end up vaccinating half of the people in the club. People are lining up at clubs to get vaccines. We get a lot of uninsured people, people of color and people who haven't disclosed that they are gay."

Inspired by his actions to ensure a healthier LGBTQ community, I reached out to Daskalakis recently to discuss his vaccination efforts, why Larry Kramer almost made him faint and Randy Shilts' book And the Band Played On.

CL: What are you up to these days?

DD: I am currently working hard to provide as much meningitis vaccine to men who have sex with men in New York City as possible. With the help of a lot of organizations like the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation and the Gay Men's Health Crisis, I have been able to bring vaccine to the people who need it most, completely free of charge. We have done vaccine events at sex clubs, bars and at the Gay Men's Health Crisis Testing Center and so far we have given out over 1,300 vaccines.

CL: How is what you're doing making a difference in the LGBTQ community?

DD: I believe as a gay doctor that does work in HIV and STDs, my job is part medical and part activist. Having heard many stories of people who could not afford vaccine, I felt that it was important to mobilize municipal and private efforts by syncing them with the underground nightlife in New York City to get vaccine to men who need it. We have been able to vaccinate a diverse group of uninsured and underinsured men in their social venues of choice as well as at a well-regarded community-based organization in the Gay Men's Health Crisis. I would like to believe that this effort and the attention I generated with my work has helped to control the outbreak of meningitis in New York City.

CL: What LGBTQ issue are you most passionate about?

DD: I'm passionate about HIV care and prevention as well as the prevention of sexually transmitted and related infection. I love public health in its rawest form. Like my colleagues that go to Africa or India to do public health service, my work in the clubs of New York City is my field work and my passion.

CL: Can you name the one person whose contribution to the LGBTQ community has inspired you most?

DD: Larry Kramer has inspired me most. Aside from being brilliant and controversial, he is a force for positive change and takes no prisoners. He recently told me he admired my work and I almost fainted.

CL: If you had to recommend one book, movie or song with an LGBTQ bent, what would your recommendation be?

DD: I'd recommend that young gay men read And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts. It's a bit sensational, but worth reading to get a sense of the history of HIV in our community.

CL: What do you hope for the LGBTQ community?

DD: I hope that the LGBTQ community stands strong to make it clear that their right to love who they want and access the services and healthcare needed to achieve the great things that LGBTQ people do are not debatable rights but part of being human.

I also hope that we use this meningitis scare in New York City to strengthen our political, financial and emotional support of the leaders and organizations that defend the health of our community.

To connect with Demetre Daskalakis, follow him on Twitter.

Previous interviewees in this series have included LGBTQ athletes, authors, businesspeople, entertainers and politicians. For a complete list, click here.

Note: A link to this post appeared on Towleroad on June 13, 2013.