In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when nobody knew what HIV was or how it was spread, few people in Baltimore were willing to go out of their way to help those dying of the disease.
Tom Patrick was one of the willing -- still is, in fact -- and will be honored for that commitment this weekend, as grand marshal of the Baltimore Pride parade.
"It's going to be a hoot," said Patrick, 65, who for the last 24 years has worked to deliver free meals and other services to the sick and dying of Baltimore with the nonprofit Moveable Feast.
The group is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and Patrick -- its longtime volunteer manager -- is about to retire, said Ted Blankenship, the group's development director.
"We love him," Blankenship said, "and we just thought this would be a really wonderful, special honor."
Moveable Feast began with just 12 clients, many of them shunned for the very disease that was killing them. Members of the local gay community organized the group to fill the void.
"They lost their friends, they lost their family, so we stepped in and we became their friends and family," Patrick said.
He still carries memories of the early days, of friends dying, and still has a hard time thinking about it. "One week they're in perfect health, one week they're sick, and the following week you're going to their funeral," he remembers, of how rapidly AIDS seemed to set in at the time. "It was horrible."
Moveable Feast responded, the early staff -- including Patrick -- working 40 hours a week and getting paid for two, the former liquor store owner recalls. "Back then it was very hard to get volunteers, because of the stigma," he said, but the group slowly built a larger and larger pool.
Always, Patrick said, the group stressed to its volunteers that spending time with the clients -- creating human connections with them -- was just as important as delivering their food.
Today, the organization is busier than ever, serving some 2,500 clients in the area -- about 55 percent with HIV. Many other clients have breast cancer and other forms of cancer.
Of his being named grand marshal of Pride all these years later, Patrick said it isn't about him, but the organization.
"I think it's wonderful that Moveable Feast is getting the recognition," he said.
They're always looking for volunteers, he said.
Elsewhere in LGBT news:
- The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore, which runs Baltimore Pride and named Patrick as grand marshal, also named an activist of the year: Sharon Brackett. You can read a Q&A with her here.
- As the June 24 primaries in Maryland approach, the race is heating up between Sen. Rich Madaleno, a Democrat from Montgomery County, and challenger Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, according to the Washington Blade.
- Speaking of dads and Pride, if you're looking for a way to avoid being that dad who keeps circling the block looking for parking when you come to Baltimore this weekend, there's an app for that. Baltimore start-up Parking Panda has a partnership with Pride officials this year, and is offering official Pride parking passes on its website, starting at $6. There are also a bunch of other Pride transportation options here.
So, what are your Pride plans?