Remembering Fred Strauss, Co-Founder of One of the Country’s First Gay Clinics
The longest-serving Berkeley Free Clinic volunteer and co-founder of one of the nation’s first and oldest gay men’s health clinics, Dr. Fred Strauss, died at his Oakland home on Sunday, September 26, 2021 He was 72. He cared for HIV-positive patients at the start of the AIDS epidemic and fought for the reproductive rights of LGBTQ people. Fred was a compassionate provider, connecting, listening and teaching to both patients and colleagues. During his 48 years in medicine, he was a fantastic, gentle and caring mentor and a friend to many.
Born October 8, 1948, Fred grew up the youngest of four brothers in McKeesport, Pa., Where his parents ran a grocery store. His upbringing was guided by Jewish cultural traditions brought in by his family’s recent immigration experience as well as WWII survival stories, which led to his long-standing love for Jewish comedy and comfort foods. Fred’s early interest in problem solving and puzzle solving led him to UC Berkeley in the late 1960s to study math and computer science. As a student he worked as a residence counselor in the campus men’s dormitory, Bowles Hall, where he formed lifelong friendships.
After graduation, Fred worked for a short time as a math teacher at a public school in East Bay before deciding to return to college to study medicine. He was accepted into one of the first cohorts of the UC Berkeley – UCSF Joint Medical Program. It was around this time, in 1973, that Fred began volunteering with the Berkeley Free Clinic (BFC). âIt seemed like he was here forever,â Fred said at BFC’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2019, âbut it had only been around four years.â
Fred loved and felt rewarded by the form of basic medical care practiced at BFC run by volunteers. He was part of the team that recruited and trained community members to work, under the guidance of doctors, to go through routine checkups for things like colds, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and cuts. or minor injuries. He helped run the clinic’s lab in its early years, helped run the clinic, and became a physician and coordinator of the medical section, all before graduating from medical school.
While working as a BFC doctor at the end of 1975, Fred saw a client who had an STI he contracted in a gay men’s bathhouse. The client had gone to ask Kaiser for help, to be physically attacked by a homophobic doctor. As a bisexual who had sought non-judgmental sexual health care himself, Fred knew that this client’s experience with homophobia in health care was more the rule than the exception. After Fred helped this client find a support provider, the client reconnected and, along with others, they designed a sex positive STI clinic for the gay and bisexual community.
One Sunday in 1976, Fred and the team of gay and bisexual community members they had formed opened the Gay Men’s Health Collective (GMHC) for service. The shifts were done in the evenings, and then all the volunteers would go out to dinner together, creating a non-bar social space for the volunteers and making the working relationships feel more like family. It was one of the first community STI clinics for gay / bi men (two similar, unconnected programs opened in New York around the same time, and another opened in Washington, DC, a few years later. late), and the only one from this period we are aware that it continues to work today. With the exception of a closure at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the GMHC has been open every Sunday since its founding and has seen thousands of people get tested, counseled and treated for STIs. The program has provided hundreds of gay volunteers with the experience and inspiration at GMHC to pursue careers in nursing, medicine, research and social services in the United States and the United States. foreigner.
After graduating from medical school, Fred began a medical career at San Francisco Health Center 1, later renamed Castro-Mission Health Center, which became an epicenter for the treatment of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. . Despite the unknown risks of working with the as yet untested virus, Fred had the support of his family to work tirelessly in San Francisco and at GMHC with people affected by HIV at a time when survival was a challenge. Fred has continued to serve people living with HIV throughout his career with the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
In the 1980s, Fred and several GMHC volunteers formed a private clinic to treat cases of genital warts that were too complex and take too long to treat at BFC. The wart clinic operated for a number of years during off-peak hours at a women’s health center in Oakland, refusing no patients for lack of funds.
Fred supported the world’s first queer sperm bank, where he served as medical director. The program enabled gay and lesbian donors to access sperm banking services that they could not access elsewhere. For many years, Fred was also Medical Director at BFC, and after retiring from SFDPH, he continued to maintain his medical license to serve as a physician for the Berkeley Free Clinic.
When Fred retired from Castro-Mission Health Center in 2013, one of his patients described him as an “AIDS hero” who not only championed non-judgmental healthcare, but did so. with compassion and respect. âFred never pushed me to have an AIDS cocktail until I had good medical reasons to do so, greeted me by bringing written questions and taking notes during the consultations, a saw the value of alternative healing methods including acupuncture and Reiki, and was a true partner. in my health care delivery.
In retirement, Fred continued to assist in the deployment of the SFDPH’s electronic medical record system and obtained the tax preparer certification to directly help low-income individuals and families access tax assistance. free.
Fred was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer in 2001 and received treatment in the form of numerous surgeries and experimental radiation therapy. By the time his cancer turned terminal in 2020, he had been battling it for 20 years. Toward the end of his life, Fred fought for an expensive cancer drug, Sandostatin, licensed for palliative purposes so that people in palliative care could access it to relieve their symptoms and improve their comfort and quality of life. The day before his death, he and his wife, Mary, received a call telling them that their efforts had paid off and that other people in hospice care will now be able to access the drugs through their insurance or a humanitarian access program established by the manufacturer.
Fred had two children, Tessa and Jesse, with his first wife, Lili Shidlovski. As a proud and loving Zeyde (grandfather in Yiddish), Fred and his second wife, Mary Dermody, spent time with Tessa and his wife’s twins Micaela Reinstein, Ever and Jude. Fred was the stepfather of Mary’s daughter, Mirae. Fred enjoyed singing with his friends in the Anything Goes choir, hiking in East Bay State Parks, and gardening. In his senior year, he watched childhood television shows and comedies and frequently requested the Jewish comfort foods of his youth – raisin challah and matzo ball soup. He died at his home, wearing a tie-dye t-shirt, surrounded by his family. If people are interested in honoring Fred, the family encourages them to donate to the Berkeley Free Clinic and note that it is to support the work of the Gay Men’s Health Collective.