David BarrAlumnus, Class of '86

David Barr has been working on HIV/AIDS issues since 1985. As a member of CUNY Law’s first graduating class, Barr has combined his life experience of activism, and his legal education, to significantly move the needle forward for HIV treatments.

His work at the Fremont Center, in upstate New York, and with so many other organizations, has involved advocacy, development, and evaluation of service delivery for HIV treatment, as well as prevention projects. In fact, the 2013 Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague features Barr and sheds light on the early days of the AIDS crisis, as well as the activism that helped push the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to fast-track approval of HIV drugs to help curb an epidemic.

While Barr learned lawyering skills at CUNY Law, he was most interested in constitutional law and big-picture discussions on policy. “CUNY gave me an opportunity to work on those issues,” he said.

As a 2L, Barr interned at the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project and later the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. He continued work with Lambda, serving as a staff attorney, and working on many of the first legal challenges to HIV discrimination.

Lambda’s fight “was the beginning of the AIDS legal crisis,” said Barr.

In his long career, Barr has often made use of advocacy, which has helped cut, in half, the time it took the FDA to develop and approve a class of powerful HIV drugs.

“When [those drugs were] used in combination with other previously approved drugs, people got off their deathbeds and are alive today because of them,” he said.

Barr also has worked hard to get effective drug combinations to developing countries, while bringing down costs. In a span of just 10 years, from 2003 to 2013, the number of people in developing countries to receive HIV drugs rose from 200,000 to 8 million.

Barr credits CUNY Law for teaching him how to work in a group, and providing a common set of values for law in the public interest.

“I draw on my legal education every day,” he said. “CUNY Law provided me with a useful framework on how to approach problems and grounded me with values.”

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