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APLA cofounder Matt Redman remember as committed activist

Matt Redman at Light a Candle for Life march in Los Angeles in 1983. Photo: Courtesy of APLA Health

BALDWIN HILLS  – Matt Redman — a cofounder with the nonprofit AIDS Project Los Angeles and a committed activist who was instrumental in spurring the Los Angeles gay community into action during the early days of the AIDS epidemic — was known for his strong personality, biting wit and passion for details.

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 — later renamed the Los Angeles LGBT Center — about a menacing illness called Gay Related Immunodeficiency Disease, or GRID, one of the early names for AIDS.

HOTLINE IN THE CLOSET

Seeing a rampant fear in the gay community about this mysterious and deadly disease, Redman and his friends started a telephone hotline to answer community questions — the earliest beginnings of what eventually become AIDS Project Los Angeles, which would later be renamed APLA Health.

Volunteers, who operated a single telephone and read information from a one-page fact, worked out of a closet at the Community Services Center.

“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 said in a statement. “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,” Thompson said. “ Matt was a relentless voice on our board of directors for the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS and was literally our conscience for more than 30 years.”

Redman fought the good fight for 34 years. He died December 27 and  was 66 years old.

Redman died at Southern California Hospital in Culver City from complications caused by an upper respiratory infection, according to a report by Karen Ocamb in The Pride newspaper. Redman lived in Baldwin Hills.

Memorial plans have not yet been finalized, APLA spokesman Mikel Wadewitz said.

STARTING APLA

Shortly after launching the hotline. Redman and his friends hosted a Christmas benefit that raised more than $7,000 — seed money for a new organization, AIDS Project Los Angeles. The group’s first board of directors was elected January 14, 1983.

As a person living with HIV, Redman advocated for others who were HIV-positive and their right to live without fear of discrimination. APLA launched a dental program in 1985, and in 2015 interview with APLA, Redman recalled how difficult it was to start.

“The fear of infection was palpable … even with the medical training required of dentists, oral surgeons, and hygienists,” Redman 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 eventually bought a trailer and converted it into the organization’s first dental clinic.

NEVER LOST ENTHUSIASM

Redman stayed deeply involved with APLA after its founding, volunteering and serving as chairman of the board from 1987 to 1989. He continued to serve on the board for several years after stepping down as chair, and remained an honorary member after his initial board tenure ended.

“Matt never lost his interest and enthusiasm for advocacy and policy,” Phil Curtis, APLA Health’s director of government affairs, said in the statement. “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 recognized by the Los Angeles City Council during the fifth annual LGBT Heritage Month, which recognizes LGBTQ activists, advocates, and pioneers for their work to advance equality.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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