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Roundup of coverage on 30th anniversary of HIV discovery


By Adam Bink

Credit: Karen Ocamb at
ALC ribbon 30th anniversary

30 years ago, today, the CDC published a report noting the mysterious cases of pneumocystis pneumonia in 5 Los Angeles gay men, and the degree to which their immune systems were depressed. It is commonly considered to be the discovery of the virus that would come to be known as HIV but then known as GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) or more colloquially, gay cancer, which was later known to cause AIDS. Some notes on the 30th anniversary:

  • I had the privilege of seeing Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart last week in New York City. It is a revival on a shortened run, and one of those plays that shakes you to the core when you watch it, and stays with you for days after you see it. Few works of art have done that for me — RENT is one, Schindler’s List another. The play’s main character, brilliantly played by Angels in America’s Joe Mantello, rages against the culture and institutions that have stayed silent or apathetic while the virus raged out of control — Mayor Koch, the NYC health department, NIH, the Reagan Administration, the tendency of gay men to be promiscuous without caring for their own lives or the lives of those with whom they interact, the early leadership of Gay Men’s Health Crisis. As Ben Brantley noted in his NYTimes review, it is an incredible drama of “j’accuse!” that is worth every award it is getting or may receive.

I write about it to say that if you have the chance to see it before it closes on July 10th, do, especially if you are younger and did not have the experience of living through what it was like to have 30 friends simply die in the mere span of months from a disease no one in government, medical institutions, or mainstream culture seemed to care about. Not to mention, a portion of the proceeds goes to fund amfAR, Friends in Deed, and HRC.

  • Another remarkable work worth reading if you are interested in learning more about the period, or if you’re simply into historical epics, is Randy Shilts’ And The Band Played On. A remarkable piece of history woven through story-telling — one of the ten best books I have ever read. I have not had the opportunity to see the film version of it staring Alan Alda, Ian McKellen and Lily Tomlin among others, but I hear it is also good.
  • The MMWR report from the CDC can be found on their archives here. A new report released on June 3, 2011, concerns the testing among MSM, and can be found here.
  • For some reason, the Obama administration has not spotlighted the ongoing work of the National Institutes of Health, funded by taxpayer dollars, to find a cure through a vaccine. It went unmentioned during the last two World AIDS Days, the release of the National Strategy, and last week’s proclamation by the Administration. Despite this, the Chicago Sun-Times spotlights the efforts.

I had the opportunity to participate in an HIV vaccine trial several years ago and it was an extremely rewarding experience to help do what one can. There is more to this disease than prevention through safe sex or pre-exposure prophylaxis, and treatment for those already infected. Prevention through the encouraging efforts to find a vaccine is important, and no major epidemic has ever been eradicated without one. You can find out more through the trials website. NIH and affiliated partners are always looking for trial participants, otherwise the research cannot continue on the heels of the recent breakthrough during the Thai trial recently, and you can participate from locations in 20 states. If anyone is interested in finding out more about what it’s like being a trial participant, please feel free to drop me a line at adam at couragecampaign dot org.

  • P8TT friend Karen Ocamb recalls the unfolding of the AIDS quilt in Washington, DC in 2000, as well as the efforts of the AIDS/LifeCycle, where riders will embark today from San Francisco to ride 545 miles over 7 days across California to raise money and awareness about a disease still raging after 30 years, having killed 30 million people and infected an estimated 32 million who are still living with it. Karen also has a mountain of other coverage on the 30th anniversary at I just donated $30 in honor of the anniversary and Karen’s intrepid coverage as a reporter embedded with the tour.
  • With a tip of the hat to Towleroad, a map of where infections are most prevalent in the United States.
  • A video by the SF AIDS Foundation consisting of images and interviews with Mayors Agnos, Feinstein, Brown, Newsom, and others:

  • ABC News has more coverage here.

What are you reading, and for those of you who lived through the early years of this epidemic, what memories and stories do you have to share with our community?


  • 1. Tony P  |  June 5, 2011 at 6:32 am

    I lost a number of friend to the epidemic, including my best friend. I will never forget what the Reagan administration failed to do. Because to me inaction is as damnable as false action.

  • 2. Manawolf  |  June 5, 2011 at 8:08 am

    I remember doing a "current events" report in my school about HIV/AIDS, around '87. Explaining transmission vectors was rather awkward as a 7-year-old in front of 7-year-olds.

    I've never known if anyone I know has/had HIV/AIDS, but I know my parents lost friends to it. None of them have spoken in detail about it, so I don't know how many or how close they were.

    Also, I remember collecting money for AIDS walks, and walking through Hollywood. It seemed like an interminable trek, but one for a good cause. Mom raised me right. (Apparently many gay men thought I was adorable.)

  • 3. Michguy  |  June 5, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    UPDATE: First man ‘functionally cured’ of HIV

    Timothy Ray Brown suffered from both leukemia and HIV when he received a bone marrow stem cell transplant in Berlin. What happened next has stunned the dozens of scientists who are closely monitoring Brown: His HIV went away.

    Please google the news report from today

  • 4. Michguy  |  June 5, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    UPDATE: First man ‘functionally cured’ of HIV

    Timothy Ray Brown suffered from both leukemia and HIV when he received a bone marrow stem cell transplant in Berlin. What happened next has stunned the dozens of scientists who are closely monitoring Brown: His HIV went away.

  • 5. Bob  |  June 5, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    the other side of the HIV theory,,,, check out for more controversial scientific evidence that HIV alone does not casue aids…

  • 6. AB  |  June 5, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    A bit off topic…

    This vote in New York is really coming down to the wire. If I have not bitten all my nails off by June 20, it will be a miracle!

  • 7. Lynn E  |  June 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    I have many memories of the early days of the crisis. Attending more funerals than I can count, having my best friend tell me the news by showing his KS lesions, hugging him and not wanting to let go as if I could "fix" this, and being one of the only two of his many friends to be there at the end.

    The worst part was that the mainstream press was barely reporting any news on AIDS, and the gay press didn't want to report it because it wasn't just a "gay" disease. Some people actually believed that it was a rumour, just reported to allow the government to shut down the baths.

    We've come a long way in 30 years. Our community is stronger, in part, because we had to rely on ourselves. But it came at a very high cost.

  • 8. peterplumber  |  June 5, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    My earliest memory of AIDS was in the early 80's when a friend told me that Patrick Cowley had died. That was the first I had heard of AIDS, which was still known as GRID at the time.

    I began following news about AIDS because I didn't want to get it. It seemed to be in the big population centers back then, and I was a safe distance away from any reported cases at the time. I lived in Northern Connecticut and hung around in Vermont & New Hampshire. But when cases started popping up nearby, I found a guy I liked a lot and, after we both got tested, we settled down to a life together. So, for me, AIDS forced monogamy and I have not participated in "unsafe sex" with anonymous guys 25 or more years.

    I have lost a few friends to AIDS. The first committed suicide when he really began getting sick. The second was HIV positive for 13 years and stayed in rather good health. Then one day he caught a cold which 2 days later became pneumonia and he died 2 days later. So he went from good health to death in just 4 days. That was very upsetting to me as he was a very close friend. He went downhill so fast there was nothing anyone could do.

  • 9. 415kathleenk  |  June 6, 2011 at 6:59 am

    Living in SF in the 80s was a very strange combination of loss/grieving and, well, a spiritual experience. I don't know what else to call it. I was a Shanti volunteer and took care of several different men as they went through the process. In the recovery community and in the pride volunteer group we lost many many people. I was very proud of being is SF where we took on the disease early and made a huge difference. One thing that appalled me was some ( not many, thank god) lesbians who would question why we should give any energy to the AIDS epidemic because "They brought it on themselves". I am happy to day to know a few HIV survivors- some living with the infection for more than 25 years. Its a miracle they are still here.

  • 10. takemusu  |  June 7, 2011 at 7:30 am

    Right now 2,000 riders and about 500 amazing all volunteer crew are riding the California AIDS Lifecycle ride, a 7 day, 545 mile ride from San Francisco to LA. It still may be the largest fund raiser for AIDS/HIV charities. You can follow the ride and even send a message of thanks from their website.

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