Longtime AIDS advocate and LGBTQ leader Garry Bowie died on Tuesday, April 7. Bowie’s husband, Jeff Wacha, said his death was likely due to COVID-19.
A former executive director of the Long Beach AIDS Foundation and, most recently, serving the nonprofit Being Alive in West Hollywood, Bowie began experiencing flu-like symptoms on March 19, and was taken to a hospital in Downey on March 28 after his symptoms worsened, a worrisome sign for anyone who has HIV.
“I dressed him and helped him walk to the front door, where the paramedics put him on a gurney and loaded him into the ambulance,” Wacha said in a public statement. “They immediately put him on oxygen. I was able to exchange just a few words to him before they shut the doors and left with him. I told him how much I loved him, and he told me how much he loved me. It was the last time I would see him.”
Having lived with HIV for decades—Bowie contracted the virus in 1983, at the age of 22—Bowie became a sign of strength for many who had watched an entire generation of gay men taken by the disease. It swept through the LGBTQ community, disproportionately affecting the gay male and trans communities. Becoming an advocate for AZT, the life-altering drug that was at first difficult to come by in the 1980s, his role as a leader in the region was cemented as he provided access to drugs, therapy, and other services before helping create multiple nonprofits that would serve those living with HIV.
But when it comes to older gay men in the community who have already fought and survived AIDS, there are significant concerns about coronavirus.
“With all the cases and the passings that are happening due to COVID-19, I am beginning to feel a bit numb, saddened and scared like everyone else,” said Gabriel Green, a friend of Bowie. “The reality of mortality started to set in for all of us as the virus had begun to affect more and more people that we know. And we begin to wonder, ‘Am I next?’ and ‘Which one of my friends or loved ones is the virus going effect next?’ But this… Garry’s passing was a shock to all of us.”
Bowie is survived by his husband and his mother, Tomoyo Bowie, who helped him access life-saving drugs during his battle with HIV during the late 1980s.
A celebration of Bowie’s life will be held once the mandates for COVID-19 are lifted, according to Wacha.
“In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to his agency in his memory, Being Alive,” Wacha said.