EV’s OUTstanding Virginians: Jim Spivey – AIDS Activist
Two forms of caring particularly seem to define what compassion for our fellow human beings should encompass: pastoral care and health care. These two forms of caring coalesce in one outstanding Virginian, Jim Spivey, who helped create and then direct TACT, Tidewater AIDS Community Taskforce, an organization which he led for thirteen years as Executive Director. The specific church which initiated Jim’s passion to help LGBT persons in need was New Life MCC in Norfolk where he met his life partner, Rev. Jim Downing. The specific health care facility was a hospital, Sentara Hospital, where he was serving as Administrative Director of Radiology during the onset of the AIDS crisis in the mid 1980′s. When Jim noticed at his church the lack of outreach and even basic services to members of the LGBT community suffering with AIDS/HIV, he decided to do something about it. As a result of his conviction that all God’s children are worthy of love and respect, he organized the first support group for HIV positive Gays in the Tidewater area. Because of his reputation within the medical community of Norfolk, he was able to persuade the Director of Nursing to provide a much-needed nursing staff and in-services for those suffering from the pandemic. First as a TACT board member and then as its Executive Director, Jim enlarged how this organization changes the way the Tidewater area responds to the AIDS epidemic. With his creation of the Hampton Roads AIDS Services Coalition, for instance, he was able to further expand and coordinate the efforts of local groups responding to the needs of HIV/AIDS victims.
Over the years Jim developed a place in his large heart for one group within the LGBT community which too often found itself the target of special discrimination: the transgender community. Although he himself had always made it a point to hire qualified transgender persons to positions of professional responsibility, he took his concern for this neglected community further when he established the first Transgender Support Group. Because he wanted to raise the low self-esteem among members of this community, Jim decided to add some fun to his efforts. The first Ms. TACT pageant was the result. Soon bars and clubs which had frowned on transgender persons within their establishments were sponsoring fundraisers for TACT where the girls could put on fabulous shows for patrons. As a consequence of Jim’s efforts, there has not only been greater acceptance of transgender persons within the LGBT community but a greater sense of pride felt by those persons. Today the Ms. TACT pageant is staged in major Tidewater venues such as the Wells Theater and the Old Dominion University Theater.
Although now retired as official Executive Director of TACT, Jim continues to serve on its board where he uses his persuasive voice to remove the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. He is happy to report that TACT once again has expanded its services to include clients in the Williamsburg area. As he looks to the future Jim is proud to say that he has been “a witness to a moment in our history where forced Shame was replaced with Pride”.
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