A Tribute to a Legendary Advocacy Dynamo: Hector Hernandez

September 28, 2009

By Jim Pickett, Director of Public Policy

Hector fundraising on Michigan Ave. to attend the Campaign to End AIDS event in Washington, DC

In the time I have been doing HIV/AIDS advocacy work, I can honestly say I have never come across someone quite like Hector Hernandez. He popped on the scene about a year and a half ago, having just tested positive, and meteorically became a legendary advocate/activist here in Illinois and across the country. His natural abilities, energy, and passion; his ability to connect were stunning.

I was especially close to Hector and as I write this, two days after his death, I am feeling shocked, angry and sad, very, very sad. An insulating numbness is protecting me from truly feeling the impact of his loss. It will hurt. It will hurt.

And there are many he touched who will feel this pain as well.


You were only 35, dude. I had plans for you. You had plans for you. Why did you leave us this way?

Hector with (from left) AFC's Rev. Doris Green and State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz at 2006 Lobby Days

I’d like to share some story snapshots now. Before I curl into a ball and weep, I want to celebrate this beautiful, crazy character with you.

My first encounter with Hector was on the 5:00 p.m. train back from Springfield last year, having just attended our annual Lobby Days which had been his very first advocacy stint. He was sitting in the café car eating a bowl of cereal and going through a stack of business cards about four inches high. Earlier that day, Hector had not only lobbied his own state representative and senator, he had lobbied EVERYBODY. Every single person he could talk to – other representatives and senators, groups touring the Capitol building, secretaries, other lobbyists, random passersby – Hector talked to them ALL about HIV and AIDS and what needed to be done. And he requested a business card from each. He even marched himself right into the governor’s office and requested a meeting with Mr. Blagojevich. While the state’s chief executive was unavailable, Hector didn’t miss the opportunity to lobby every single person in the office at that time. Four inches of business cards and a bowl of cereal, traveling home from Springfield – I think that’s my favorite picture of Hector.

Hector with State Rep. Jaime Delgado at 2006 Lobby Days

This next snapshot is of Hector standing on State Street in downtown Chicago on a chilly April afternoon. He’s wearing a big handmade sign, handing out brochures and condoms, and asking for donations to help him get to AIDSWatch in Washington, DC. He never had much money or material things, and he never let that get in the way of something he wanted. Determined and creative – that was Hector.

Hector in the Springfield Capitol rotunda at 2006 Lobby Days

Here’s one of Hector wearing an eensy, weensy red bikini, feathers, and body paint across his torso spelling out “Condoms Save Lives” at the Gay Pride Parade last year. He was the wildest, most outrageous thing anyone had ever seen, and was undoubtedly the most photographed attraction. A week later when people picked up their film, not only did they see at least one picture of a wild man in feathers, they got a fantastic prevention message as part of the deal. Genius, really!

The final image I want to share with you is of Hector at AIDSWatch 2006 – his third time in Washington in less than two years. There was a congressional hearing on the reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act. Decked out in a cream-colored suit, Hector got up and marched right up to the front of the room and testified to the phalanx of high-level staffers on the critical importance of the services the CARE Act delivers to people living with HIV and AIDS, people like him. Eloquent, confident, and fearless – that was Hector.

I had plans for you, Hector. You had plans, so many plans. There is so much work to do, we have such a long way to go, and you were supposed to help us get there. You were going to motivate and inspire and talk to strangers on the subway. You were going to ROCK THE WORLD. Why did you leave us this way?


I am feeling very frustrated with the higher power that decided there was a different agenda than the one we had. As I just begin to confront the outer edges of what this loss means to me and the community of people living with HIV/AIDS, as the hurt begins to manifest itself, I refuse to accept any “bigger picture.” I refuse to see the forest for the trees. One day perhaps my tune will change.

Hector was really going places. He was in the very process of becoming legendary. And he left right at the second chapter. This will hurt. Oh yes, this will hurt.

We will miss you, baby.

Hector at 2006 Lobby Days


Categorized under Tribute.

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