Matthew A. Kleiner ’93, health advocate for people living with HIV, died on Feb. 27 of hepatitis and complications due to an HIV infection he contracted through a blood transfusion he received as a teenager.
“Matt was HIV positive at a time when fear, ignorance, prejudice and discrimination made it difficult for many people to speak about, learn about, or do anything about AIDS,” stated Sharon Dittman, associate director for community relations for Gannett: Cornell University Health Services, in a statement to the Cornell community on March 1.
Many respected Kleiner as a role model and teacher.
As a student, Kleiner influenced other students, staff, faculty and members of the local community through his active involvement in AIDS-related issues on campus.
Dittman, who worked closely with Kleiner through Cornell AIDS Action in the early 90’s said that when she got to know Kleiner, he was a pre-law student, a resident advisor, an employee of the dining service, an active participant in intramural sports and a very popular student.
In his junior year, Kleiner began talking to his friends, teachers, teammates and co-workers about being HIV positive after keeping it a secret for his first two years as a student at Cornell, according to Dittman.
Kleiner conducted over 50 workshops and classes on campus, lecturing about HIV, safe sex and his personal experience as a hemophiliac living with HIV, according to Kelly McKittrick ’92, who worked with Kleiner in his workshops.
She noted his funny, witty and sarcastic attitude that made his workshops memorable.
Dittman stated that “his matter-of-fact approach, comedian’s timing, sex-educator’s frankness, counselor’s sensitivity, insider’s knowledge of Cornell student life and occasional well-placed impatience made him an extraordinary educator.”
Nina Cummings, health educator for Gannett: Cornell University Health Services, said Kleiner was “truly inspirational” and noted his “absolute commitment” to working with people to help them understand the AIDS epidemic on more than just a superficial level.
“He was really public and willing to share his experiences through his programs and workshops, making his experience real for the people he talked to,” said Julie Paige, assistant director for community development.
“His ability to connect with people was just remarkable,” Cummings added.
In addition to training sexual health educators, peer counselors and resident advisors, Kleiner was the teaching assistant for the AIDS and Society Class and the student leader of Cornell AIDS Action, Dittman said.
“He spent endless hours helping to create strategies and policies for addressing AIDS-related issues on campus and [changing] the culture of Cornell,” according to Dittman, who was the coordinator for Cornell AIDS Action at that time.
After graduating from Cornell, Kleiner received his law degree from New York University in 1996. Kleiner returned to Cornell though on numerous occasions and continued to lecture about AIDS awareness and to tell his story.
Kleiner made his last visit in September, returning to Cornell to give a series of lectures entitled “Life Lessons Learned from AIDS.”
During the visit, Kleiner lectured in a medical ethics class on the challenges and dilemmas posed by HIV prevention work and also spoke in a health communications course on the communication issues he faced as a health advocate, according to Cummings.
Kleiner also spoke for Gannett’s continuing education program in a lecture entitled “Living with AIDS” and conducted a two-hour roundtable discussion for resident advisors.
During the roundtable discussion, Kleiner spoke to resident advisors about living and working with people who are HIV positive and about his own experience as a resident advisor, according to Beth O’Neill, student and staff selection and training administrator for community development.
Sara Parr ’03, a resident advisor who attended Kleiner’s workshop in September, said that hearing Kleiner talk about AIDS and sexual health “had a lot more impact” on her than hearing most other speakers talk because Kleiner was HIV positive.
“Even though he’s been through so much hardship, he’s managed to turn his difficulties into a positive message by educating people about AIDS and sexually transmitted infections,” Parr said.
According to Cummings, Kleiner expressed a very optimistic outlook on life and showed a determination to make his experience a positive one that he could share with people.
“He didn’t want people dwelling on the fact that he was HIV positive, instead he was concerned with people examining their own behaviors that that might lead to serious consequences,” according to Cummings.
“Matt woke up every morning knowing that he was different than most other students, and when other students were waking up with a hangover, Matt was waking up with the challenge of living through the days,” she said.
“You couldn’t get depressed about Matt because he wasn’t depressed,” said McKittrick.
“He was incredibly upbeat throughout his life,” she said.
A memorial service was held for Kleiner on March 2 in Manhattan. Kleiner is survived by his wife, Jennifer Butler Kleiner, their triplets, his parents, Sidney and Suzanne, and his brother, Daniel.
Archived article by Janet Liao