Man recalls journey growing up gay in the 60s and how he helps LGBTQ+ community today
Lenny Courtemanche was one of six children born to a strict Catholic family in Bridgeport in 1962. He says he went through 12 years of Catholic schooling.
Being gay back then, he says, was simply not an option. He says it was bad enough being a redhead.
"Now to be a gay redhead seemed to make me an even bigger target, I mean people made comments." he says.
Courtemanche was out by the early 1980s and says his family accepted him, but that's just when the AIDS epidemic struck, and it was harder to be out.
He says things were better by the 1990s, but then, suddenly, his world came to a stop.
"I found out that I was HIV positive," Courtemanche says.
He remembers calling an 800 number and meeting up with a health care advocate at a local restaurant.
"Gave me a bunch of paperwork and said you've got to see this doctor, his name is Gary Blick," he recalls.
Upon meeting Dr. Blick, Courtemanche recalls breaking down but says Blick got him through it.
He would later join the doctor's team at what is now Health Care Advocates International, a nonprofit clinic fighting stigma and discrimination in the LBGTQ+ community and worldwide.
Courtemanche now is the organization's director of Prevention, Outreach and Advocacy.
"Lo and behold, it's 2022, I'm still here and everything's okay," he says.
"So one of our mottos here at Health Care Advocates International is saving one life at a time -- and I think that's what Lenny has done for people who have come to our organization," says Blick.
Blick says Courtemanche has played a crucial role in helping people suffering from meth addiction, which he says has been an epidemic within the gay community.
"Now it's my turn to say to individuals coming to us for help that ‘You're here now and everything's going to be OK,’” he says.
Blick says Courtemanche has also worked tirelessly at the HIV clinic Blick established in Victoria Falls Zimbabwe on the African continent, where HIV has killed millions.
"Whether it was saving one child at a time in Zimbabwe, whether it was saving one person from our LBGQ community here in Connecticut with crystal meth, he has just really, really made his fingerprint part of the LBG community," says Blick.
Now at 60, Courtemanche says the road ahead is still filled with the promise of progress. By helping Blick steer his nonprofit in the right direction, Courtemanche says he's fighting the stigma, helping others and standing proud while doing it.
"I'm very happy to be a part of an organization where we can say, ‘I care’ and I know we care and we want to be there for you," says Courtemanche.