It is twenty-five years ago this week that doctors in Los Angeles first identified among a group a gay men the disease that we now know as AIDS. (In the first year or so it had no name, but was known as “GRID” (gay-related immune deficiency) or the Gay Plague.)
For a period of years from the early 1980s through the early ’90s, tens of thousands died, all the while HIV continued to spread. Ronald Reagan couldn’t bring himself to use the word AIDS until his buddy Rock Hudson died of it. It was a “gay” disease — there are legendary stories of men in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles attending multiple funerals per week of their friends who had died. An entire generation was decimated. We now know that it was not and is not a gay disease — AIDS is now the dominant health issue in Africa and Asia.
In 1984 the then-Secretary of Health, Margaret Heckler, announced that there would be a vaccine “within two years.” Twenty years after 1986, and there is still no vaccine, although there are brilliantly successful drugs that can now be used to control the virus for long periods of time. The success of the anti-viral drugs has led many to be less careful in the sexual encounters than they once were, leading to an again-growing infection rate among young gay men.
AIDS continues to be everyone’s problem.