Metro Weekly

Passion Play

Michael Kaplan brings his drive and dedication to AIDS United

Taking his openness a step further, Kaplan tried to get a tattoo announcing his status. That led to a fight with a Minneapolis tattoo artist – and even greater visibility – when she declined the job on the grounds that the city prohibited giving a tattoo to anyone with an infectious disease. That fight played out in the editorial pages of the local LGBT press. Kaplan would not be deterred and, after moving to D.C. in 1998 to work for the National Youth Advocacy Coalition, finally got his tattoo during a trip to San Francisco.

”It’s a black ‘plus’ with the letters ‘HIV’ in the middle of it, and what looks like a serial number underneath, the date I tested positive,” he explains. ”It’s on my calf, so in the summer when I walk around people might say, ‘Can I ask about your tattoo?’ It promotes conversations.”

Obviously, these are conversations Kaplan welcomes. It’s a good thing he welcomes challenges, too, as he’s aware that taking the reins at AIDS United will include its share. First up is a funding cut as Bristol-Myers Squibb, which has been providing about 25 percent of the AIDS United budget, cuts its annual support of $3.7 million by more than $2 million.

”That’s like a 16 percent cut to our agency,” Kaplan says. ”That will affect some of our grants, some of our staffing. Are there places for streamlining? What can we be doing better with less cost?

”After that initial focus, I have some things that I’m passionate about.”

To that, there is no doubt.

For more information about AIDS United, visit

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.