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Remembering Matt Redman, Cofounder of AIDS Project Los Angeles

Matt Redman, Co-Founder of AIDS Project Los Angeles, has died

The HIV-positive activist died in late December. He was 66.

Matt Redman, one of the cofounders of AIDS Project Los Angeles, passed away on December 27, 2016.  Redman was instrumental in spurring the Los Angeles community to action during the early days of the AIDS epidemic and continuing the fight against HIV over the last 34 years. 

In October 1982, Redman and his close friend Nancy Cole Sawaya, along with Ervin Munro and Max Drew, attended an emergency meeting at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, which featured a presentation by a representative from San Francisco’s Kaposi’s Sarcoma Foundation about Gay Related Immunodeficiency Disease (GRID), one of the early names for AIDS.

Fear about this mysterious new disease was rampant, so the four set up a telephone hotline to answer questions from the community. The hotline was operated from a small closet in the Center, where volunteers answered the (single) landline  and read information from a fact sheet.

As the epidemic deepened, the friends raised money through a Christmas benefit, and founded their new organization with $7,000 in seed money. Dedicated to educating the community and trying to stop the spread of the virus, APLA elected first board of directors on January 14, 1983. Redman remained deeply involved with APLA after its founding; volunteering and serving on the board of directors.

“Matt was one of the courageous few in Los Angeles who stepped up in the midst of the total devastation of the early days of the AIDS epidemic and demanded that we all do something," APLA Health CEO Craig E. Thompson recalls. "With his close friend Nancy Cole Sawaya and a handful of others, he founded AIDS Project Los Angeles, changing the lives of countless individuals as a result. He never gave up, never did anything at less than 100 percent, and he never stepped away.  He was a relentless voice on our board of directors for the needs of people living with HIV and AIDS and was literally our conscience for more than 30 years. Only when his strength began to fade as he lost his personal battle with HIV did he pull back. To say he'll be missed is an understatement."

APLA was a founding member of the Federation of AIDS-Related Organizations—later renamed the AIDS Action Council, and then AIDS United—for which Redman served as a board member for six years. As a person living with HIV, Redman advocated for others who were HIV-positive and their right to live without fear of discrimination. In 2015 he recalled how difficult it was to launch APLA’s dental services program in 1985: “The fear of infection was palpable … even with the medical training required of dentists, oral surgeons, and hygienists,” he said. “When we decided to take this on as a temporary issue, it was even hard for us to find a landlord willing to rent space.”  APLA later bought a trailer and converted it into a dental clinic.

Recently APLA recast itself as APLA Health, to reflect its new mission to "achieve health care equity and promote well-being for the LGBT and other underserved communities and people living with and affected by HIV." It's a mission friends say Redman fully supported.

“Matt never lost his interest and enthusiasm for advocacy and policy,” APLA Health Director of Government Affairs Phil Curtis notes. “You could always count on him to ask just the right question, to push where the argument needed to go. And with his long institutional memory and very personal experience with HIV, his input was always fierce, heartfelt, and invaluable.”

In June 2015, Redman was honored by the Los Angeles City Council during the fifth annual LGBT Heritage Month, which recognizes LGBT activists, advocates, and pioneers for their work to advance equality. Redman worked as an interior designer for many years, but it will be his activism and the lives that APLA has been able to save, that he'll be remembered for. 

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