Life On The Frontline of the AIDS Epidemic

Written by David France


As movements go, the one Act Up spearheaded against HIV was unique. The virus made its traumatic appearance at different times across the globe – perhaps as early as 1920 in what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. After sporadic cases through the 1970s, the viral epidemic was first reported in New York City and California.

On 3 July 1981, Centers for Disease Control released a report stating that symptoms now known to be typical Aids-related illnesses had been exhibited by 26 gay men. That same day, the New York Times reported 41 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma – “a rare and often rapidly fatal form of cancer” – affecting 41 gay men in New York and California. Health authorities in the United Kingdom acknowledged the first cases there later that year, and outbreaks reached a handful of European and African nations in 1982. Today, no country has been spared, and 35 million are infected.

But throughout the plague years – when no effective treatment existed, and death was quite nearly guaranteed – New York City remained the epicentre of the disease, and America the main obstacle to research and treatment. It took two years for the city’s mayor, Ed Koch, to acknowledge its existence publicly. President Ronald Reagan waited six. But their words were hollow. Both continued to practise obfuscation, budgetary strangulation, and aggressive apathy even as the number of dead Americans passed 20,000, and 1.5 million more were believed to be infected.

By the end of 1986, the city’s gay ghetto was a tinderbox. Along Christopher Street you could see the dazed look of the doomed, skeletons and their caregivers alike. There was not even a false-hope pill for doctors to prescribe. The estimates we heard were that half the gay men in New York were already infected, and for the rest of us it was simply a matter of time.

Then one morning in December, bus shelters and bank windows in a large part of Manhattan were covered with large, ominous posters, featuring a pink triangle floating against a black background. READ MORE

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Note From The Editor of Stonewall Gazette
David France directed the 2012 American documentary feature, "How to Survive a Plague". This outstanding film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and for Best Documentary at The Independent Spirit Awards. "How to Survive a Plague" won a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary.

You can purchase the film and book on which it is based here

WATCH VIDEO: How To Survive a Plague - Official Trailer




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