Jeffrey Scott Brown is a Tucsonan who could use your vote right now. The local HIV/AIDS activist and community volunteer is a Man of the Year finalist in a poll sponsored by Phoenix-based LGBT magazine 'N Touch. Brown tested HIV-positive in 1991 and came home from Los Angeles in the mid-'90s. After taking some time to get healthy, he became active with the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network (TIHAN), the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF) and Wingspan. To vote for Brown, go to www.ntouchaz.com.
What were you doing when you lived in Los Angeles?
I worked for AIDS Project Los Angeles and trained people to run marathons and raised money—close to $5 million. Back then, after being diagnosed, (during) every single run, I wore my red ribbon to let people know: "I'm living with HIV, and I thank you for your support." I've always been very up front and honest.
Why did you decide to come back home to Tucson?
There was nothing left for me at the time. I was in L.A. for nearly 15 years. When I left Tucson for L.A., I gave myself 10 years to achieve this, this and this, and I was able to do everything I wanted to in five years. But it got a little sketchy toward the end.
Is that why you came back home?
I came back here to recuperate and be closer to my family, and it was good, because I was not well. There were days I could not get out of bed, and I needed to get things in order. I'll tell you: Tucson's my home.
What's the most important work you do to keep healthy?
For me, I know exactly what I need to do: I surround myself with key things to keep me on the pathway of happiness. Joy is important, but (it's also important) to be honestly and authentically happy, to be carefree—that is the toughest one of all—and to not be angry. I try so hard to let it roll, to not let it get to me. Have I stumbled? Have I gotten pissy? I have, but I have also apologized.
A few months ago, you had problems getting the medications you needed from the state (insurance program). How did that work out?
I'll tell you, I'm alive and here right now because of the AIDS-drug assistance program through SAAF. If I didn't have them, I would not have been able to survive over the holidays. The state really fucked me up, and for two or three months, I wasn't able to get this one medication I really needed. SAAF is a great program. If you can't get your meds for some reason, Beth Carey (SAAF's director of care services) is the one to call. She's one of my angels.
When you got back to Tucson, how did you get involved in the community?
When I got back home, I started signing up (with groups) as a client. When I was in Los Angeles, I helped so much and gave, gave, gave, gave. When I came home, it was tough. I started getting back into getting client services and going to TIHAN's monthly lunch and working to feel special again. ... I also got some one-on-one counseling, which was invaluable. Then, once I started feeling like myself, I started volunteering—the AIDS Walk, Möda Provcater early on ... and, most recently, Night Thing for Wingspan. ... I'm also working on bringing my buddy (writer) Bruce Vilanch here from Los Angeles for a Wingspan fundraiser.
Why has it been so important for you to be active and get the word out?
Well, first of all, because people have been so wonderful and have cared about me so much. Like Wingspan—I am so thankful for them to turn to me for my involvement. It is a wonderful feeling. But I have a lot of angels out there who I know have helped me when I didn't even know it.
What's another way you try to help the community?
At (Hotel) Congress during World AIDS Day, we put out the AIDS ribbon on the fence facing (the Tucson youth collective) Skrappy's to remind the kids there to play it safe. ... I do different things like this, because I want to make a difference. I want to make a change. I want others to not get infected, and I want the spread to stop. I promised myself when I was diagnosed that I would do that.