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Michael Shernoff, Pioneering Gay Psychotherapist Dies

by Steve Weinstein
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jun 19, 2008

Laura Morrison announced the death of her friend Michael Shernoff, on Monday June 17, after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. The noted therapist died at his Manhattan apartment. He is survived by his brothers Jeffrey Shernoff and Jerome Feldherr, his sister Barbara Safchik, and his partner John Goodman.

Shernoff, born in 1951, was a therapist for more than 30 years. His work centered on LGBT populations as well as people living with AIDS. He taught related social work courses for several years, first at Hunter College (1991-2001) and then at Columbia University (2002 to 2006). His teaching and his many publications were highly influential in the fields of mental health and social work.

In addition to being one of the first social workers in the country to respond to the AIDS crisis in his private psychotherapy practice, Shernoff was an early volunteer at Gay Men's Health Crisis. He began to train colleagues in the psycho-social issues of working with people living with AIDS as well as with those close to death.

Shernoff published more than 60 articles dealing with mental health issues pertaining to sexuality, gay men, and people living with HIV and AIDS, notably "When a Friend Has AIDS" (co-author), which was translated into eight languages at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

He also edited seven anthologies, notably "Gay Widowers: Life After the Death of a Partner" (Haworth, 1997), still the only book to address the challenges specific to this population. He is sole author of "Without Condoms: Unprotected Sex, Gay Men and Barebacking," (Routledge, 2006) typical in the frankness and open-mindedness which it engages a volatile subject.

Also at the height of the epidemic, he helped to develop the first-generation AIDS-prevention program called "Hot, Horny & Healthy: Eroticizing Safer Sex." As a result of leading this workshop in cities across the country, Shernoff and his late colleague Luis Palacios-Jimenez were widely dubbed the "Doctors Ruth of Gay Sex" and the "Laverne & Shirley of Safer Sex."

Shernoff was an inveterate world traveler, scuba diver, and environmentalist. He was also an ardent yoga practioner. Those wishing to honor his memory are asked to make contributions to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, 208 West 13th Street, NYC, 10011; The Nature Conservancy, 4245 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203-1606; and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, 120 Wall Street, Suite 1500 10005-3904.

A memorial celebration will be held in September in New York City.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).


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