Yale University

CIRA Mourns the Passing of Shawn Lang

The CIRA community mourns the passing of Shawn Lang, a constant voice for LGBTQ rights and people living with HIV and AIDS. Shawn served as a Community Advisory Board member at CIRA for almost 15 years and was the co-PI on several CIRA pilot projects focused on:

  • Connecticut HIV/AIDS services agencies screening for intimate partner violence,
  • supportive housing for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA),
  • stigma towards PLWHA.

Her tenacious demeanor and endearing smile will be incredibly missed.

Memorial: A memorial service for Shawn will take place on Sunday, October 24, 2021, 5:30 pm at the Pond House Café in Elizabeth Park, West Hartford, CT. All are welcome to attend.

Below are statements about Shawn from current and former CIRA leadership, staff and affiliates. We hope they shed some light on the indelible mark she left at CIRA and beyond.

Trace Kershaw (Director, CIRA):

"Shawn was an inspiration to all that worked with her---she was tirelessly devoted to research, advocacy, and practice that improved the lives of those with HIV. She was such an integral member of CIRA and she will be immensely missed."

Paul Cleary (Former Director, CIRA):

"Shawn was an incredible colleague and friend, but more importantly, a passionate and effective advocate for so many vulnerable individuals in Connecticut, including those living with HIV, individuals without adequate housing, and those struggling with opioid use. She was a dedicated member of the CIRA Community Advisory Board who routinely made incisive observations and recommendations that helped keep us focused on activities that would support the most vulnerable in Connecticut. I was always impressed by her ability to express her views with passion and determination while also conveying her love and compassion. The fact that she could do all that with an ever present and wicked sense of humor constantly impressed me. She was one who not only quickly won your respect but also your admiration. Her death is an incalculable loss to us all, but her legacy of advocacy and her example as a compassionate and loving human being will live in perpetuity."

Daniel Davidson (CIRA):

"I always saw Shawn and HIV advocacy in Connecticut as synonymous, but I know her work will live on in the collaborations she built and the people she mentored and inspired. Shawn was the consummate HIV champion, active in policy, service, research, and in search of the synergies among them. She was a legend for good reason."

Valerie Earnshaw (University of Delaware):

"Shawn was an important mentor and role model for me at CIRA. She took a chance on working with me, a new postdoc with no community-engaged research experience, as part of the Community Research Partnership Program. I learned a great deal from her about partnership, leadership, activism, and purpose. I'm grateful for the experience."

Gregg Gonsalves (Yale School of Public Health (YSPH)):

"Shawn was an anchor to the real world for me when I arrived at Yale in 2008 as an undergraduate. She was a fierce AIDS activist, who fought tirelessly for people living with HIV, for LGBTQ people, for those who were homeless, those who use drugs, those who have experienced domestic violence. Shawn had done AIDS work for as long as I can remember and was a national figure. If you wanted to make change in the state of Connecticut, you had to seek her out and find out what she was plotting. I do not think it's an overstatement to say that Shawn did more than anyone else in this state to improve the lives of people living with HIV over the course of her 30+ years fighting for us. She was a legend."

Lauretta Grau (YSPH):

"Shawn Lang was the unwavering champion for all people. The strength of her convictions about justice, harm reduction, public health, and the value of every living being made her a force to contend with. She improved the human condition and made this world a better place by her very presence. I will miss her---her sense of humor, outgoing personality, and wonderful Massachusetts accent. She was my friend and comrade in arms. Rest in peace, Shawnzo."

Nate Hansen (University of Georgia):

"I am sure people are going to talk about Shawn's dedication and passion and great work for marginalized groups. All of that is true--she was amazing! But what I remember most about Shawn was that she was a great friend. She was fun and funny, and playful. While she took her work very seriously, she didn't take herself that seriously, and we often found ourselves goofing around and being silly. I guess that is important to be able to do when your work centers on tough topics like violence and stigma.

Shawn and I also talked about our families a lot. She always wanted to know how my kids were doing, and she talked a lot about hers. It was clear how much she cared about her son.

Shawn was also great with our students. She was always warm and encouraging toward students and took time to mentor them. She was interested in them and what they were up to. We had a lot of students who worked with us on projects focused on trauma and gender-based violence, and Shawn always made sure they were doing okay (for the students own sake, and for the sake of the people we served). I know they all loved Shawn and had a great experience working with her. I had former student reach out to me this morning and tell me how much she had enjoyed working with and learning from Shawn."

Robert Heimer (YSPH):

"Shawn Lang played a singular role in one of the great public health triumphs in Connecticut. Without her indomitable persistence and advocacy over thirty years, the 97% reduction in HIV diagnoses among people who inject drugs -- from 650 per year in the late 1980s to less than 20 per year on average now -- would not have been possible. Shawn helped mobilize the efforts to maintain funding for successful programs that faced cuts because of their success. She knew that the evidence demanded that program including syringe access and supportive housing remain strong. She continued to push efforts to control opioid overdoses that led to the good Samaritan law protecting people who responded to witnessed overdoses and broad community distribution of naloxone to reverse those witnessed overdoses. We disagreed only when it came to baseball, but in recent years as the Red Sox became increasingly successful, she was able to forgive me being a Yankees fan. This encapsulates the unique personality and skills Shawn possessed – persistence and compassion."

Leif Mitchell (Gilead Sciences)

"Trying to write a couple of sentences about Shawn is probably one of the hardest things I have ever done. How does one possibly summarize the tremendous impact one person has had on your life, and the lives of so many people at risk of HIV and living with HIV, the lives of the homeless and those suffering from food insecurity, and people who inject drugs? Her passion and conviction for public health and social justice has had an impact in Connecticut, throughout the United States, and worldwide. We'd often call one another "the other half of my brain" because we were so in sync and on the same page with our HIV advocacy work. I'm heartbroken to not have her with us today. We must remember and celebrate the impact Shawn has had and carry on with the work as there is much work to be had and that's what Shawn would want. As her voicemail always said "Get out there and change the world. Peace." Rest in Power my friend."

Jim Pettinelli (LIberty Community Services):

"So much can and will be said about Shawn, and her extraordinary life and amazing contributions making this world a better place. For me, simply, Shawn was a fierce advocate, incredible leader, passionate mentor, and loyal friend. Whenever you interacted with Shawn - she made you feel like you were the only one on the planet. I’m so grateful to have had her in my life. Go Sox."

Amy Smoyer (Southern Connecticut State University):

"I will remember Shawn for her actions and words and, more than anything else, for her way of being in the world. She had a stunning sense of style and personality. Her presence created both a sense of gravitas and a feeling of joy and possibility. She was a truly charismatic leader who had an amazing capacity to make everyone in the room feel important and valued. She never gave up on the fight to end the individual and structural inequities that perpetuate the HIV epidemic. She lobbied tirelessly to fund supportive housing and confront stigma, always from a place of love and in honor of her cherished memories of friends lost to the virus.

It makes me smile to remember how her short grey hair could be seen just over the podium and microphone at AIDS Awareness Day. I will remember how she greeted me, each and every time, with a warm smile and a million great ideas. So smart and focused, she always centered the experiences and voices of people living with HIV. What an honor to have known her and have worked alongside her."

Published: Wednesday, October 20, 2021