Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Buffalo plane crash victim remembered for HIV prevention work, not for gay men's health advocacy work

Bronx-native Ronald Gonzalez, who dedicated his life to improving the life of disenfranchised youth and was a long time HIV prevention and gay men's health advocate, was among those who died when a plane crashed a week ago just outside Buffalo.

From the Feb. 13 The Star Ledger:

Ronald Gonzalez, the director of the New Brunswick School-based Youth Services Program, was among the passengers who were on Continental flight 3407 when it crashed outside Buffalo Thursday night, killing 50 people.

Gonzalez, 44, was on his way to visit family in Buffalo, said Jeffrey Vega, president of New Brunswick Tomorrow.

The youth services program, which provides services to city schools, such as mental health counseling for students and their families, case management, youth employment, tutoring, and New Brunswick High School's Parent Infant Care Center, is part of New Brunswick Tomorrow, a private, non-profit organization.

"He wasn't somebody who had an ego. It wasn't about him, It was all about the children," said Vega. "He was dedicated to helping kids and families that were disadvantaged."

Vega said Gonzalez worked long hours, and moved three blocks from New Brunswick High School, where his office was, just to be closer.

"He worked round the clock, very hard, to make the program a success," said Vega

Gonzalez came to New Brunswick from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, where he was a National Urban Fellow. Previously, he was executive director of Alianza Latina, a nonprofit organization addressing HIV/AIDS in Buffalo, N.Y.; and also education services director and community educator of AIDS Community Services in New York.

Gonzalez also volunteered at a fitness center in East Harlem, N.Y., where he led free exercise classes for the poor.

Yes. He certainly seems to have been an amazing guy and, considering he worked in similar fields, I am a bit surprised we never met.

Amazingly, the Ledger's account of his accomplishments is only partial and so is that of New York City's WCBS, Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle and even that of he Associated Press, among other mainstream media. You wouldn't know, by these reports, that Gonzalez was an openly gay man or that he also was known for his work in promoting better health practices by gay men.

Leave it to gay community newspapers and blogs to tell that story.

From Outcome, Buffalo's LGBT news publication:
Gonzalez, an openly gay man, worked to educate gay youth and young adults about health and safe-sex both through his work at Aids Community services and in collaborative programs at Gay and Lesbian Youth Services of Western New York.
And from Trevor's Blog:
My friend and 'Bottom Monologues' co-coordinator Erik Libey informed me today that his friend and colleague, Ron Gonzalez, was aboard Continental Flight 3407 when it crashed last week, killing all 50 passengers and crew members. Ron has a long history of fabulous work within the Gay Men's Health movement, and will be missed.
Trevor's post elicited a response by Erik which reads, in part, as follows:
In the days since the accident, much press has been written about Ron---and all of that press has highlighted the amazing man that he was...but much of it has also "de-queered" him by failing to reference him as a gay man. For me, however, Ron was above all else an articulate, intelligent and EMPOWERED queer man. He was unashamed of himself or his community and he worked tirelessly, both professionally and personally, to make the lives of queer people better. It is profoundly heartening to see his life celebrated in queer spaces by queer people.
A hunch tells me that the omission in details of Gonzalez' past work with LGBT communities probably stems from any official statements released by his family highlighting his life's work rather than from media oversight.

Still, back in 2007, the Star Ledger had featured a profile of openly gay Ausbury Park police detective Dave D'Amico and included a photo of him sitting down at home with Gonzalez.

At the time D'Amico said they were in a "serious dating relationship."

I don't know if the relationship survived over the years but the Star Ledger certainly knew that there were other aspects of Gonzalez' life which were kept off the profile they printed after his death.



Anonymous said...

Thanks, Andres, for yet again highlighting the unsung heroes of the Latino/ LGBTQ/ HIV commmunites. I worked with Ron back in Buffalo years ago and had no idea he was on the flight until you posted it on your blog.

Ron Buckmire said...

Pam Spaulding calls this "straightwashing."

They need to be called out on it--thanks for pointing it out, Andres!

Anonymous said...

More importantly, Ron, was one of the dearest and sweetest men we could ever want to know. If you were a friend of Ron's you were a friend for life. As crazy as his schedule was at times, I looked forward to and enjoyed every single moment we were able to share, whether it was sharing a cup of coffee while perched at SPot or a Saturday afternoon shopping at Target, Bath and Body Works, or Wegman's. One of the most recent memories I will cherish was being together this past Thanksgiving for dinner with my family--at my sister's with my nephews-- who fell in love instaly with Uncle Ronnie and then dinner again at my house--where he helped me shop and then in his striped apron, prepare and serve dinner to our friends.

Ron was an incredible friend to have, he would do anything, anytime, anywhere if you told him you needed him. Ron was incredibly supportive of our endeavors, pushed us to do our best, and kept us on track when we struggled and lost sight. I am incredibly blessed to have known him these past 10 years and to have made so many wonderful memories. I now know who I want to be when I grow up. I love you Ron.

Gary (