David Aronstein: Envisioning Possibilities and Bringing People Together
David Aronstein started his career teaching French to high schoolers, but realized he was “more interested in what was going on in the students’ lives than whether they knew their irregular verbs.” Seeing social work as a better fit, he entered the Smith School for Social Work in 1978. It was the start of a career in which Aronstein consistently broke new ground as an advocate, and, in the words of fellow alum Bruce Thompson, “contributed tremendously to vision for the LGBTQ community.”
In his first weeks at Smith, Aronstein joined the fledgling Lesbian Gay Bisexual Alliance, and spearheaded a successful effort to have sexual orientation added to the School’s non-discrimination policy. As former SSW dean Katherine Gabel observed, their activism had an impact on the entire field, inspiring many other social work schools to change their non-discrimination policies as well. The experience affected Aronstein throughout his career—particularly seeing how activism that changes policies could have an impact well beyond the immediate effort and (with Dean Gabel as a model) seeing the efficacy of leading from behind. It also altered his perspective on gay rights movements. “This wasn’t something about my internal psychology,” he recalled, “but was about demanding my rights and feeling proud to give voice to my identity and that of my community.”
After graduating, Aronstein worked at the North Shore Mental Health Center in Salem, where he started a gay and lesbian counseling program, before joining the newly formed AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts. Over the course of eight years, and in several leadership roles, he helped the organization grow from six to 100 staff members.
On the gay rights movement: "This wasn’t something about my internal psychology but was about demanding my rights and feeling proud to give voice to my identity and that of my community."
Aronstein next founded Stonewall Communities, a nonprofit serving LGBT seniors that significantly helped further the movement toward housing communities for aging LGBTQ people. Most recently, Aronstein was program director of the Boston Alliance for Community Health, working to create policy, systems and environment changes to reduce health inequities for people of color.
Throughout his career, Aronstein remained connected to SSW, teaching a course on LGBTQ issues and, along with Bruce Thompson, co-editing HIV and Social Work: A Practitioner’s Guide, which featured the writing of many SSW associates.
In retirement, Aronstein continues supporting vulnerable people, and he is once again a language teacher, helping immigrants and refugees learn English at the International Institute of New England.
Looking back, Aronstein summed up his accomplishments as: “I see somebody who’s trying to do something and somebody else who has resources but doesn't know what to do with them and I bring them together.” In other words, he quipped, he was a professional yenta. His friend and classmate, Gary Raymond, founder of the SSW LGB Alliance, agreed: “He has envisioned possibilities and brought diverse groups of people together to create needed services, not only in his work with people affected by AIDS and the aging LGBT community, but with every community with which he has worked.”