By Eileen Rodriguez, Staff Writer
After working 15 years in Los Angeles as an entertainment publicist, University alum Thomas DeLorenzo has a vast clientele and long list of achievements to boast. He has the most nominated client list in Emmy history for an individual publicist, having four nominations at one Emmy Awards alone. Yet many know DeLorenzo's name for another reason – he is an openly gay man living with AIDS, committed to raising awareness for the disease.
On Wednesday, December 2, DeLorenzo addressed students and administrators to share his experience living with AIDS. His speech took on special poignancy knowing that the New York State Senate defeated a bill to legalize gay marriage on Wednesday with a vote of 38-24. He spoke briefly of this development. "As gay couples, we don't only want the legal implications of marriage, we want the brand."
At the same time as DeLorenzo's speech, students from the University's Pride Network rallied with 300 others in Times Square for marriage equality.
Dealing with the death of his longterm partner from AIDS, DeLorenzo procrastinated getting tested for six years until he began drastically losing weight despite eating a fast food diet everyday. "I was in denial, but I wasn't stupid," said DeLorenzo.
He quickly applied for health insurance while he could still honestly say no when asked if he had ever undergone treatment for HIV or AIDS, since preexisting conditions render people ineligible for insurance. DeLorenzo recalls a year later, "by the time I got tested on January 3,, 2001, I had 60 t-cells and a viral load over 300,000." "With my t-cell count and viral load, 75 percent of people did not make it two years."
After a long hospital stay, chance would bring DeLorenzo to become inspired for his project Swag for Good. He traveled to San Antonio with a client, where a visit to an AIDS hospice filled with clients who were spending their last days isolated and disowned from their families caused him to realize just how lucky he was. In 2006, DeLorenzo created the project, originally called the Christmas Goody Bag Project, for the residents of the San Antonio AIDS hospice. The items received would be from swag bags that celebrities receive for free all the time even though they can afford to buy the items in them. Sending out an email to his public relations contacts, DeLorenzo's goal was to receive five items for each of the residents, but within an hour, he received 10 items per resident. The project that spawned from a simple email sent in Los Angeles took off overnight reaching New York.
In 2006, the New York Times chose DeLorenzo as one of five "Unsung Heroes in the Battle Against HIV/AIDS" for his project benefiting the hospice residents of the San Antonio AIDS Foundation. He was also named "Angel of the Year" by the San Antonio AIDS Foundation in 2008. That same year, DeLorenzo expanded the Swag for Good project to include Joseph's House, an AIDS hospice in Washington, D.C., dedicated to serving homeless individuals with AIDS.
Through his experience, DeLorenzo has learned three things that he hopes to share with others. First, always trust your gut. Second, it's just educated guess work. Lastly, numbers are just numbers. "It's how you feel that counts no matter what anyone else says," said DeLorenzo, "that even applies to your GPA."
DeLorenzo's speech was part of the University's programming with National AIDS Week. For more information, visit http://www.thomasdelorenzo.com.