Oral history interview with Randy K., 1967-


Oral history interview with Randy K., 1967-


Oral history with Randy K., who talk about his work as an advocate and activist and work with D.C.'s HIPS program, which provides harm-reduction services for sex workers. Interview conducted by Caitlin Firmage.


4 December, 2015


The interview belongs to the Rainbow History Project. The RHP release form was used and all rights belong to RHP.


Randy K. was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan in 1967. His family moved to D.C. in 1974, and he has lived in the city since then, and sees it as his home. Randy grew up in the Adams Morgan neighborhood with his mother and four siblings. He knew he was gay from a young age and was often bullied in school. He was also caught up in the juvenile judicial system, and as a result became involved with the Big Brothers of America program. The program matched him up with Congressman Mickey Leland. Leland helped Randy with his schoolwork and helped him start taking horseback riding lessons. He served as a mentor to Randy until his death in 1989, and remained the person to whom Randy would attribute much of his success later in life.

As a teenager in the 1980s, Randy often walked through the Dupont Circle neighborhood and observed the many gay clubs in the area. He would often stand in front of them and watch patrons leave, afraid to be seen going to the clubs himself. In 1984, Leland flew Randy to Houston, where the latter took aptitude tests and was diagnosed with dyslexia. This discovery made Randy feel pessimistic about the trouble he was having in school, and he decided to drop out as a result. After he dropped out, Randy started going to gay bars such as the Clubhouse, Tracks, Bachelor’s Mill, and Brass Rail. Around this time he also began engaging in sex work, as well as burglary, to make money. It was during this period that Randy first became acquainted with HIPS, a harm-reduction organization that provides services for sex workers and drug users. Randy recalls HIPS volunteers providing him and other sex workers with condoms, candy, hot chocolate, and clothes.

Randy was diagnosed with HIV on January 28th, 1986, the day of the Challenger space shuttle disaster. He was devastated by the diagnosis, and remembers wishing he were on the space shuttle because he dreaded the thought of his friends and family seeing him waste away. Randy was in the Job Corps at the time, but was asked to move out of his dorm after his diagnosis because doctors there couldn’t help him. He was given the address of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, a D.C. health center that specializes in HIV/AIDS care. Despite the medications he received from the clinic, Randy felt hopeless about his illness, and as a result smoked crack, drank, and wouldn’t take his medication for many years after his diagnosis. He eventually decided to stop taking drugs, start taking his meds regularly, and turn his life around. Randy says that “HIV is the reason [he is] here today” because if not for his diagnosis, he would not have started living a healthier life. Randy lost many friends during the AIDS epidemic; he remembers going to “three funerals a week” and feeling numb to death.

After being in and out of prison for many years, Randy was released in 2011 and decided that he wanted things to be different, and to stick to his plan of going back to school. He took part in Narcotics Anonymous, began attending church and eventually graduated from UDC, where he studied social work with an emphasis on public health. Randy came to HIPS as an HIV activist and advocate, working with HIPS staff member Earline Budd. He then met with HIPS harm reduction service manager Debbie Macmillan, who told him he should apply for the community health worker position, because of his HIV status and his relationship with the community. Randy loves his job, which involves helping make daily life easier for people living with chronic illness, because he feels that HIPS is a safe space in which he can be himself. He also feels that the organization does a good job of welcoming its clients, many of whom are transgender women, because the whole staff is very caring and committed to the work that HIPS does, and because many HIPS workers share experiences that the organization’s clientele also struggle with. He especially appreciates the commitment of administrators Cyndee Clay, Elizabeth MacIntosh, and Sara Knotts. Some services HIPS provides, in addition to the outreach van, which Randy says clients flock to “like ants on a sugar hill,” include a syringe exchange, showers, a clothing closet, a 24/7 hotline, laundry service, legal help, and linking clients to medical care. Randy is also a commissioner on the Ryan White Planning Council, which plans for the allocation of HIV/AIDS services and resources in the D.C. metropolitan area. This position allows him to serve as a voice for people with HIV/AIDS in the D.C. area. Randy feels that although organizations like HIPS and Whitman-Walker have pushed against the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, this stigma is still a major barrier towards seeking care for the infection or disease. Randy is glad that, as a community health worker, he is part of the fight against HIV/AIDS and the stigma associated with it.


Caitlin Firmage


Randy K.


Washington, D.C. (HIPS office, 906 H Street)



Original Format

m4a sound file


“Oral history interview with Randy K., 1967-,” Rainbow History Project Digital Collections, accessed June 24, 2018, http://rainbowhistory.omeka.net/items/show/4939484.