Law school was always in the back of Thomas DeLorenzo’s mind. His father was an attorney, but he figured maybe acting was more fitting for him. But DeLorenzo’s life changed when his partner, David, lost his battle with AIDS. David told him that he would go on to do big things and while he wanted to achieve those big things, DeLorenzo was devastated. This life-altering event caused DeLorenzo to really look at his life and decide what he wanted. What he got was a span of grief that lasted years.
He continued with his life, took a job in public relations, and was on his way to becoming a successful publicist in the entertainment industry. Rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, DeLorenzo didn’t feel 100 percent fulfilled, still felt the pain of loss, and heard David’s words echoing in his mind. DeLorenzo wanted to make a difference. However in 2001 DeLorenzo was diagnosed with AIDS at 38 years old.
“Most of the men that I knew in college are dead,” he says. “When you can’t call a large portion of people that you can no longer speak to, you start to question that history. When you don’t think you have a past, you don’t know if you have a future.”
DeLorenzo then faced a period of denial when he got sick. After dropping to 130 pounds, he eventually came to terms with his illness but continued to work at a vigorous pace. “I never thought that this was going to do me in,” he says. “I never doubted my ability to survive.”
Finally, DeLorenzo decided it was time to make a change, and this was the “shove” that he needed. It was time to take the opportunity that was always in the back of his mind and go to law school. After applying to several schools across the country, he ran into an unexpected roadblock. As a student, how was he going to get the insurance coverage that he needed while living with AIDS?
“I wasn’t sure where to get health care,” he says. “Some of the insurance out there really only acts as a BAND-AID.” While some schools were extremely helpful and others weren’t, he had no idea that for some this was the first time they had heard of a law student with AIDS.
“I didn’t do this to be a pioneer,” he says. “This all started really like a roller coaster. The worst has already happened when you almost die.”
“So much time has passed from marching in the streets,” he says. “This is not just an African problem. People have not seen what I have seen. They can wrap their head around it but don’t get involved in it emotionally.”
DeLorenzo is looking to the future and sees his experiences so far as a learning process. He is planning on going into health policy law and says it is like “trying to figure out a really great puzzle.” “It is about setting an example,” he says. “We have a lot of power; we’re just not tapping into it yet. He credits Professor David Epstein from the University of Richmond and Professor Alexandra D’Italia of Southwestern Law School with helping him immensely day after day.
DeLorenzo is currently a 2L at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, where he is the CFO of the National Association of Law Students with Disabilities and the cofounder of Southwestern’s Chapter of Law Students for Reproductive Justice. He interns with the Public Policy and Regulation Group at Holland & Knight’s Los Angeles office. He lives with his partner, Todd, also a longtime AIDS survivor, and celebrated his 50th birthday in January.
Thomas after class
Favorite TV Show: Mad Men
Last Book Read for Pleasure: Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin
Favorite Attorney: My father, Thomas E. DeLorenzo
On his Bucket List: Travel to Vietnam, Moscow, and Cuba. To get married.
Favorite City: London
Photo: © Liz Reinhardt/Southwestern Law School