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Donor Spotlight Shines on Dr. William Valenti

Dr. William ValentiDr. William Valenti has seen two diseases — polio and smallpox — eradicated during his lifetime. For the past 30 years, he has taken a leading role in the work to eradicate a third: HIV/AIDS.

He was drawn to the medical field from an early age, having participated in the Salk polio vaccine trial as a child and then soon seeing the disease eradicated. He decided he wanted to work in the realm of infectious diseases, captivated by its ever-changing, puzzle-solving nature.

In 1989, Valenti cofounded the Community Health Network, in response to the need for HIV care during the AIDS crisis. He recalls with gratitude that his idea to establish an HIV/AIDS clinic was highly welcomed in Rochester, with community members and organizations investing financially in what was then only an idea.

“I didn’t do it by myself,” he says. “There were many hundreds of people who contributed to its foundation.”

Now known as Trillium Health, the network has continued to grow and today serves all populations, whether HIV positive or negative. Its comprehensive model provides primary medical care, pharmacy and laboratory services, and other support services (such as housing, transportation, and support groups) all under one roof. It continues to offer specialized care for the LGBTQ community and for HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C patients. It also has a large transgender health program, currently utilized by nearly 400 patients.

Valenti appreciates the welcoming culture he’s found in Rochester, where he feels LGBTQ-affiliated groups have strong visibility and are well integrated into the community. “Rochester stands out as a community where people have the opportunity not only to be themselves, but to advance themselves,” he says.

He sees the work of both Trillium and the Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus as integral to overcoming stigma, which he says is an important part of advocacy. “We shouldn’t be stigmatized for who we are,” he says.

He sees the RGMC as an example of Rochester’s positive community atmosphere, connecting people through the power of music — and adding an important layer of visibility, too: “I like that the RGMC has had the word ‘Gay’ in its name for 30 years,” he says.

The chorus’s alignment with Valenti’s own goals made it a natural fit for his philanthropy, which he has focused on LGBTQ initiatives.

“As you get older,” he says, “you think about giving back, about what needs to be done, and what you can do to connect the dots in meaningful ways.”

His personal goal is to help LGBTQ-affiliated groups like the RGMC to “reach out, develop, and help other people,” he says. “Especially in this political climate, we need to make sure that the gains that LGBTQ people have had are sustained — to help sustain the movement.”

Valenti emphasizes that philanthropy comes in many forms, including smaller gestures that add up. “Philanthropy doesn’t have to mean millions of dollars,” he says. “It can be as simple as attending an event.” He sees the benefits of attending an RGMC concert as reciprocal: “The mere presence of other people like you — being a part of that culture — helps people to accept themselves. Going to a concert could be as beneficial as going to your shrink.”

Dr. Valenti joined us at our June 17, 2017, concert, We Will Rock You, to speak about his work to end the HIV epidemic by 2020 and his memoir, AIDS: A Matter of Urgency, published in March. He signed copies of the book after the show and donated $10 to the chorus from each of the 43 books sold that evening.

This concert was a particularly fitting tie-in: the show honored the music of Queen, whose frontman, Freddie Mercury, died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991 at age 45. In a statement released the day before his death, in which Mercury first confirmed the rumors that he was sick, he said, “I hope that everyone will join with my doctors and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease.”

It’s a sentiment Valenti shares, and a fight he continues to lead.

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