I remember. It was in the 1980’s that rumors and whispers began swirling before becoming the lead story in television news, newspapers, and magazines. It wasn’t many years before acute antiviral syndrome, known as HIV, or as it is now called Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), became the cause of almost universal fear. It quickly became identified as the “gay” disease providing a rash of invectives against their lifestyle. Gay bashing became an acceptable practice and many saw it as their punishment that was heaven-sent.
Fear became rampant and judgment the daily practice. The disparagement continued without fail, as did the disease, until Ryan White, a thin, hemophiliac middle schooler, was banned from returning to school after being diagnosed with AIDS acquired from a blood transfer. Even the most hardened heart couldn’t help but feel for this child who through no fault of his own was now living a death sentence.
The vile attitude was even further mitigated when the announcement came that Rock Hudson, a beloved, highly regarded actor, had AIDS and although he was known in films as a “ladies’ man”, he was, in fact, gay. The sounds of condemnation toward him were barely voiced before Elizabeth Taylor came forward and soundly refuted any naysayers attempt to deride her friend. She staunchly defended him and all gays to one and all while heading up an effort to stem the tide of AIDS and its devastation. Rock Hudson died on October 2, 1985; Ryan White died April 8, 1990 just short of his high school graduation.
It wasn’t just the well-known personalities who died. Leo and I watched friend after friend die over the years and the world became a sadder place. They were joyful, kind men who succumbed to the scourge of AIDS. As time passed, the “gay” disease slipped from the top headline to a lower and yet lower position before finally disappearing from public notice. AIDS was first identified in 1981 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Since then, millions have died in the United States and other nations.
The CDC believes that there are at least 1.2 million people in the United States living with AIDS currently. They also believe only one of every five know that they are infected. A recent show on AIDS said that the highest concentration of AIDS infected people in the world are actually living in Washington, DC not Africa. Worldwide there are more than thirty-nine million people who live with the disease. AZT was the first drug developed to help those infected with other improved medicines following.
AIDS is still out there and is still the elephant in the room. The financial cost as well as the personal one is still pervasive. We are paying today for those who are infected and still there is no cure.