This article was originally published December, 1987.
There may be no one in the insurance business who is more affected by AIDS than Siegfried MacDougal: He is gay and an insurance broker serving a clientele that’s 75 percent gay. And he lives in New York, where the disease’s ravages have been especially severe. MacDougal is not his real name; he prefers not to have that published.
MacDougal has built a practice that until now has been profitable, comfortable and gloriously independent. He works from his sunny, well-furnished apartment in Manhattan. And because he is so well known in the gay community there, he can sit back and let customers come to him; other brokers must hustle for business. As for MacDougal, “I am in the enviable positon of not having to do any of that.”
In a city with a large gay enclave, MacDougal fulfills a need. “For instance,” he relates, “a gay man can call me and say, ‘My lover and I,’ et cetera, et cetera. He cannot and will not do that in front of a straight man. So it’s automatically the business of feeling comfortable with one of your own kind.” Beyond that, of course, gays buy insurance for the same reasons straight people do, MacDougal explains. Life coverage is generally for economic displacement. If two gay men jointly own an apartment and one dies, the insurance buys the surviving companion some time to reorder his financial affairs. AIDS has changed MacDougal’s job enormously, however, and, in all likelihood, permanently. Most insurers now require blood tests for life, health, and disability coverage, and MacDougal must scrutinize applicants as never before. If the twelve companies for which he brokers thought MacDougal was deliberating over signing up AIDS victims, they’d drop him in a New York second. “I now make the client give me permission to call his doctor,” he says. “I not only have to be an agent; I’ve now got to become a medical underwriter and a bit of a psychologist.”
This makes life infinitely more difficult for MacDougal, who now works twice as hard just to see the same amount of money. And the notoriety that for so long worked to his advantage now works against him. He knows those twelve companies watch him closely: “I’ve got to be ‘purer than’ to be sure that what I do will pass the underwriter’s desk.” MacDougal, no longer a young man, wonders what will happen to the comfortable life he has so patiently built and so thoroughly enjoys. “I sit back and I say, ‘Gee, does this mean that in three years I won’t be able to make a living?’ It’s scary.”
There is an irony is all of this human devastation. MacDougal feels useful in a way he never expected to – “Those clients who have AIDS – if I ever wondered, ‘Have I been doing what I was placed on this earth to do?’ I can say I feel comforted in knowing they are walking around getting an income until they die.”