CHELSEA — A group of AIDS patients and HIV-positive individuals who say they're being discriminated against by the city's largest AIDS service organization has started a petition criticizing the nonprofit for telling them to use a separate entrance to access the organization's office.
The patients claim that Gay Men's Health Crisis' separate entrance — built into a former loading dock at the organization's new home at 446 W. 33rd St. — stigmatizes HIV-positive people by not allowing them to use the main entrance to the building, which also houses the Associated Press and WNET.
The online Change.org petition, started by a group calling itself "The Action Committee For Justice and Transparency at GMHC," had 35 signatures as of Monday morning.
The petition calls the separate entrance "a 'Jim Crow' like situation that stigmatized HIV-positive people" and a "blatant form of discrimination."
GMHC did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The organization previously defended the entrance, saying it leads to a large elevator that can take dozens of people directly to its sixth- and seventh-floor offices, which helps clients get immediate assistance if they're in crisis. The center offers meals, a pharmacy, counseling and other services for people with HIV.
The dedicated entrance, which opened when GMHC moved to the building in 2011, has also drawn criticism from GMHC founder Larry Kramer, who likened it to the Jim Crow laws.
It was not clear whether GMHC came up with the idea of the separate entrance or whether it was mandated by the building's owner, Broadway Partners. The landlord did not immediately comment Monday.
Earlier this month, the GMHC patients who are fighting the separate entrance got a boost when famed civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel picked up their cause. While Siegel could not say if he planned to take legal action against GMHC, he did say he was "troubled" by the separate entrance.
Joseph Sellman, the GMHC member who started the petition, said on Monday that it was "unclear" if the legal action would move forward.