Gunther Freehill, a longtime HIV/AIDS activist, died in Washington, D.C. on July 15 due to complications from a heart attack, according to Frontiers LA. He was 60 years old.
In his lifetime, Freehill served as the former Director of Public Affairs at the L.A. County Office of AIDS, a board member of AIDS Action, a bureau chief at Washington, D.C.'s HIV/AIDS Administration, and a “near founder” of ACT UP/L.A. His work was instrumental in the fight for funding social services and health care in Los Angeles and on a national scale.
A former Catholic, Freehill was also a vocal activist against the AIDS policies of the Catholic Church. In a 1991 op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times, Freehill and co-writer Eliseo Acevedo Martinez reprehended Church officials on their condemnation of condoms and other contraception.
“It is a known fact that condoms, used properly, block the transmission of HIV, the virus associated with AIDS,” the op-ed stated. “Despite this, the [Church] categorically condemns their use while teaching that taking a human life in self-defense is morally acceptable. The perverted message is this: The violent use of a knife or a gun to protect your life or the life of someone you love is perfectly moral; the loving, responsible use of a condom to protect your life or the life of someone you love is a grievous sin.”
In the same piece, Freehill also gave his own organization, ACT UP, sage advice on the power of respect and diplomacy: “Remember that being offensive is not necessarily being effective. Offending people is easy. Challenging people to think is hard.”