“We’ve had one of the greatest epidemics of all time and this was the history, the history of the community banding together and helping itself. It was a phenomenal story.”
An attorney, Jim Graham has led in two of Washington, DC’s great gay community struggles: the response to HIV/AIDS and the advance of LGBTQ community members in local and national politics.
For two decades, beginning in 1979, Graham shaped the development and direction of Whitman-Walker Clinic and its evolving response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Elected to the DC City Council in 1998, he has shown that members of the LGBTQ community can represent not only their own interests but those of all city residents.
Within four years of arriving in the city, Graham came to terms with his substance dependencies. His decision to leave a career in the federal government enabled him to be publicly “out” and in a community leadership position.
In October 1979, Graham joined Whitman-Walker Clinic’s board. He helped the Clinic survive its initial funding crises and in April 1981 became President of the Board. Within three years, he became the Executive Director, in which position he led the Clinic’s response to AIDS for fifteen years. Under his leadership the clinic became the nation’s leading HIV/AIDS institution, with more than 1200 volunteers, 270 full time employees, and satellite operations in Southeast Washington, Maryland and Virginia. When Graham left WWC in January 1999, it had become one of the most comprehensive community based medical organizations responding to AIDS/HIV in the US.
For Graham, the epidemic became real in the mid-1980s. Graham recalls, “It was the most difficult period that I’ve ever been through, there’s no question.” In 1984, dismayed by the quality of legal support, Graham himself undertook the legal aid counseling of those with AIDS for 18 months: “I went to dying people to straighten out their legal affairs ... in addition to other duties. It carried me right into the trenches; it created the whole experience. I vividly remember going to the bedsides, the horrible circumstances. ... It was extremely emotional.”
Graham represents the city’s Ward One as Councilmember. He also sits on the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority. In the DC Council, he currently chairs the Committee on Public Works and the Environment.
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