Larry Kramer young
August 11, 1981
Larry Kramer Hosts First Meeting to Discuss Pandemic

Acclaimed writer and film producer Larry Kramer holds a meeting of over 80 gay men in his large New York City apartment at 2 Fifth Avenue.

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Invited speaker Dr. Friedman-Kien, a dermatologist alarmed about the spread of Kaposi’s sarcoma among the gay male population of New York, explained that they were witnessing the arrival of a new disease with a mysterious predilection for gay men.

“We listened intently, respectfully, and full of dread as the soft-spoken Dr. Friedman-Kien described the devastation he was seeing in his practice and hearing from other physicians treating gay men,” wrote activist Andy Humm in 2021 for Plus magazine.  “You could have heard a pin drop.”

When Dr. Friedman-Kien asked attendees to contribute money to support his research, Kramer passed a hat around the room and attendees ponied up a total of $6,635.  This would be the only money raised — public or private — to fight the AIDS epidemic in 1981.

“While there were many gay groups in those days, none of us stepped up to coordinate a community-wide response — whether through a sense that health authorities would address it (ha!) as they did with Legionnaire’s Disease in 1976 or fear that a community that had just officially ditched the mental illness label in 1973 would now be linked with a deadly physical malady,” Humm wrote in his Plus opinion piece .  “It took Larry Kramer … to bring us together.”

Kramer’s call to action and other early efforts to raise funds and awareness around the disease that would later be called HIV and AIDS led directly to the creation of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) Committee.  The committee would transition into a corporation in the summer of 1982, and become New York’s primary service organization for HIV/AIDS.

“The August 11, 1981 fundraiser at Kramer’s apartment and the efforts of a handful of volunteers on Labor Day weekend 1981 were intended to raise money, but they succeeded mainly in raising discussion about Kaposi’s sarcoma,” according to David Román in his book Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture and AIDS.

Kramer himself would emerge as an early leader of the effort to raise awareness about the new disease and solicit donations for the new Gay Men’s Health Crisis.  And right away, he would be challenged by members of the gay community who accused him of causing unnecessary panic and villifying gay sex.

Kramer’s crusade would continue for decades.

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How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS by David France (2017, Vintage Press)

Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture and AIDS by David Román (1998, Indiana University Press)

40 Years Ago: Meeting at Larry Kramer’s House as a Pandemic Began” by Andy Humm, Plus magazine, August 11, 2021

Photo courtesy of Larry Kramer Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

December 10, 1981
Bobbi Campbell Starts Publishing ‘Gay Cancer Journal’

Bobbi Campbell, a San Francisco nurse, becomes the first Kaposi’s sarcoma patient to go public — and in print — with his diagnosis.

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Campbell began publishing a series of articles about his KS diagnosis for the San Francisco Sentinel, the first titled “I Will Survive: Nurse’s Own ‘Gay Cancer’ Story.”

Calling himself the “KS Poster Boy,” Campbell continued to share his experiences in the column “Gay Cancer Journal.”  His AIDS activism would go on to include being pictured in San Francisco’s first AIDS poster, organizing the first candlelight vigil to raise AIDS awareness, and eventually becoming one of the first openly gay men to appear on the cover of a major news magazine when he posed for Newsweek with his lover Bobby Hilliard.

Starting with a case of shingles in February 1981, Campbell suffered from a series of unusual illnesses, including Leukopenia later that summer.  After a hike with his boyfriend in September 1981, he noticed KS lesions on his feet.  He was formally diagnosed as having KS by dermatologist Marcus Conant, M.D., in October 1981.  This would be Dr. Conant’s first diagnosis of a patient with what would become known as AIDS.

After joining the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in early 1982, Campbell cowrote the first San Francisco safer sex manual, Play Fair!, using his nun persona, Sister Florence Nightmare RN.  The booklet was among the very first to use plain sex-positive language and humor to give practical advice.

In February 1982, Campbell and Dan Turner, who had just himself been diagnosed with KS, attended what would be the founding meeting of the KS/AIDS Foundation (which later became the San Francisco AIDS Foundation).  Campbell also became involved with the Shanti Project, which moved from its original focus of supporting people with terminal cancer, to providing emotional support to people diagnosed with AIDS.

Campbell also helped start the People with AIDS Self-Empowerment Movement (PWA), arguing that people with AIDS should expect to participate actively in the response to the AIDS crisis. The PWA Movement rejected the term “AIDS victim.”

With others, Campbell drafted the Denver Principles, the defining manifesto of the PWA Movement.  Inspired by the Lavender Menace radical feminists storming the National Organization for Women convention stage in 1970, Campbell and other activists decided to do something similar at the closing session of the Second National AIDS Forum. As each of the 11 men read out one of the 11 statements of Denver Principles, they did so with a banner stating “Fighting for Our Lives.”  These words became the slogan of the PWA Movement.

Campbell gave one of his last speeches at the National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights, occuring while the 1984 Democratic National Convention was in San Francisco.  Campbell told the crowd that he had hugged his boyfriend on the cover of Newsweek, and then kissed Hilliard on stage “to show Middle America that gay love is beautiful.”

In a powerful speech, Campbell denounced the Christian right for their practice of using scripture to justify their homophobia, and he slammed the Reagan administration for its lack of action.  He held 15 seconds of silence for “the 2,000 who had died of AIDS at that point and for those who will die before this is over.”

Two weeks later, Campbell appeared on CBS Evening News in a live interview with Dan Rather.  While the rumors and fear of AIDS had reached the general public, the facts had not, so Campbell was placed in a glass booth, and technicians refused to come near him to wire up his microphone for the interview.

Soon after his TV appearance, he was admitted to a hospital and placed on life support.  With Hillard and his parents by his side, Campbell died on August 15, 1984, exactly a month after his DNC speech.  He was 32 years old.

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San Francisco Sentinel, “I Will Survive!” by Bobbi Campbell, R.N.

Newsweek magazine, cover photo of Bobbi Campbell and Bobby Hilliard, August 8, 1983

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Inc., “Sistory”

Bobbi Campbell Speech, 1984 National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights (YouTube)

CBS News Dan Rather Interview with Bobbi Campbell, June 12, 1982 (YouTube)

January 4, 1982
Gay Men’s Health Crisis Opens in NYC

Gay Men’s Health Crisis becomes the first community-based AIDS service provider in the U.S.

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The informal meeting that Larry Kramer held in his NYC apartment in 1981 to address the “gay cancer” was credited with being the genesis of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC).

Nathan Fain, Larry Kramer, Larry Mass, Paul Popham, Paul Rapoport, and Edmund White officially established GMHC in early 1982.  It began with creating simple lines of communication for the community and medical personnel:  an AIDS hotline, a newsletter, a space to meet, and the landmark Buddy program to assist PWAs (People with AIDS) with their day-to-day needs.

Later in the same year, GMHC would open its first office on West 22nd Street in Manhattan.

GMHC would become New York’s leading AIDS service organization, serving approximately 10,000 people each year living with and affected by HIV/AIDS in the five boroughs of New York City.  GMHC would continuously provide HIV and STI testing, food and nutrition programs, housing support, workforce development, legal assistance, advocacy for benefits and health insurance, mental health and emotional support, substance use counseling, and more.

Today, over 60% of GMHC clients are people of color, nearly 75% identify as LGBTQ+, and over 80% are people living at or below the Federal Poverty Line.

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Gay Men’s Health Crisis, “History” and “At A Glance”

April 8, 1982
GMHC Holds First Major AIDS Fundraiser, Others Follow

A fundraising event hosted by the newly formed organization Gay Men’s Health Crisis draws over 2,000 attendees to the Paradise Garage in New York City and raises more than $30,000.

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“Showers: A Benefit to Aid Gay Men with Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Other Gay Related Immunodeficiencies” was considered a major success as both a fundraiser for people in need and as a way to address the gay community about the health crisis.

The mega-dance party featured live performances by Evelyn “Champagne” King, the Ritchie Family, and the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.  It also included a promise from GMHC President Paul Popham that his fledgling organization could be relied upon to be a clearinghouse for the latest information on the “medical emergency” facing the community.

During his address to attendees, Popham announced that more than 150 people had already died of Kaposi’s sarcoma and other immunodeficiency diseases, and “about that many more are very ill and may leave us, too.”

At the time, federal funding was not yet available for reserach or disseminating information about the new fatal illnesses slowly spreading among members of the gay community.  The GMHC was among the first organizations to begin soliciting donations from its own community to put into place research funding streams, compassionate care programs, and awareness/information campaigns.

Not only did the event provide GMHC with seed money for its service programs, it also attracted “a flood of new volunteers,” according to David France in his book How to Survive a Plague.

“The multiple successes of the fundraiser dramatically shifted the AIDS consciousness of gay New Yorkers,” wrote David Román in his book Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture and AIDS.  “It boosted the morale of a city under siege, and put into motion a series of smaller, more localized fundraisers throughout Manhattan.”

Among those fundraising events in 1982 were Maneuvers’ “tea dance benefit” for the St. Mark’s Clinic, a benefit performance by the cast of the Broadway show Dreamgirls, and various events at Don’t Tell Mama.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco community was busy planning its own large-scale fundraiser.  On June 13, 1982, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and Hollywood star Shirley MacLaine hosted the Dog Show and Parade event, which benefitted the Kaposi’s Sarcoma Clinic at the University of San Francisco Medical Center.

In Chicago, performance benefits at venues like the Riverside Club and Park West helped to provide the funding needed to launch the Action AIDS program at the Howard Brown Memorial Clinic.

While the federal government and the White House seemed to be stymied by this new disease spreading in the country’s largest cities, local LGBTQ communities were spinging into action.  The age of the big-city AIDS benefit had begun.

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How to Survive a Plague by David France (Penguin Random House, 2017)

Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture and AIDS by David Roman (Indiana University Presss, 1998)

May 1982
LA Activist Ivy Bottini Creates Informational Network

Lesbian feminist Ivy Bottini, upset by the AIDS-related death of her friend Ken Schnorr, starts asking questions of the medical community and founds the AIDS Informational Network in Los Angeles.

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Bottini called the CDC to ask about the black and blue bruises that covered Schnorr’s body.  The CDC refered Bottini to Dr. Michael Gottlieb at the University of California Los Angeles, who co-authored the CDC’s first report on HIV/AIDS.

Bottini and Dr. Gottlieb became friends and met every Friday at Crest Coffee shop on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake to discuss AIDS.  Fueled with trustworthy information, Bottini formed what would become to be known as the AIDS Informational Network, an informal group of leaders who discussed the crisis.

She organized a community town hall at Fiesta Hall in West Hollywood with Dr. Joel Weisman, Schnorr’s physician.  More than 300 gay men attended (Bottini and her friend Dottie Wine are the only women in the packed hall), and for years afterward, Bottini heard from men who claim that this event saved their life.

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The Liberation of Ivy Bottini by Judith V. Branzburg (Bink Books, 2018)

Watermark“Tribute to ‘Give ’em Hell’ Lesbian Feminist Pioneer Ivy Bottini” by Karen Ocamb, March 3, 2021

May 9, 1982
Genesis for San Francisco AIDS Foundation is Launched

Bay Area dermatologist Dr. Marcus Conant and gay activist Cleve Jones found the Kaposi’s Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation, which later becomes the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

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The foundation’s goal was to provide information on Kaposi’s Sarcoma to local gay men.  Frank Jacobson, Richard Keller, Bob Ross, and Dr. Paul Volberding were also organization founders.

In the first year, the organization existed in a very small office on Castro and 18th Street, seeing a limited number of clients and operating a single-telephone information and referral Hhotline. The organization was operated entirely by volunteers.

It wasn’t long before the organization gained recognition locally and nationally as a trusted source of information.  As the epidemic grew, the organization expanded with funding from local and state sources and grassroots community fundraising. They were able to hire paid staff.

In 1983, the organization split into national and local chapters, and in 1984 the local chapter renamed itself the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and officially separated its affiliation from the National Kaposi’s Sarcoma Research & Education Foundation.

Still active today, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation continues to promote health, wellness, and social justice for communities most impacted by HIV, through sexual health and substance use services, advocacy, and community partnerships.  SFAF currently serves more than 25,000 a year.

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San Francisco AIDS Foundation, “Our 40 Years of History: From 1982 to 2022”

Play Fair
June 27, 1982
Play Fair! First to Advocate for Safe Sex Practices

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence creates Play Fair! — the first “safer sex” pamphlet to address the growing AIDS epidemic.

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The Sisters distributed 16,000 copies of Play Fair! during the San Francisco Gay & Lesbian parade in June 1982.

Written by Sister Florence Nightmare and Sister Roz Erection, who outside the Order were known as registered nurses Bobbi Campbell and Baruch Golden, Play Fair! was among the first guides promoting safe sex and raising awareness around sexually transmitted diseases.

The Sisters originated in 1979 with three gay men who wanted to combine radical politics, street theater, and high camp, according to Will Kohler.  Having obtained nuns’ habits from a community theater production of The Sound of Music, these men (a.k.a., Sister Vicious Power Hungry Bitch, Sister Missionary Position, and Sister Roz Erection ) turned heads as they strolled Castro Street on Easter Sunday.

By 1982, the Sisterhood had many members and promoted a lively campaign around sex-positivity through a combination of fundraising, community outreach and events.  With growing anxiety and concern around the spread of Kaposi’s sarcoma and other immune disorders among gay men, it was inevitable that the Sisters would incorporate AIDS awareness into its mission.

For over 40 years, the order of queer and trans nuns has been spreading its ministry across San Francisco, the U.S., and the world.  Each professed nun takes a religious name (usually irreverent and hilarious).  For example, cities, events and venues have been ministered to by Sisters Psychedelia, Hellen Wheels, Innocenta, Rhoda Kill, Lotti Da, and Hysterectoria.

Although originally founded as an “Order of Gay Male Nuns,” the group now includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, and transgendered men and women. Many of their rituals are influenced by Eastern religious practices and beliefs, as well as by Roman Catholicism. Their doctrine stresses universal joy and the expiation of guilt.

Members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who have died are referred by the Sisters as “Nuns of the Above.”

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The Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence“Sistory”

The Abbey of St Joan“Play Fair”

Back2Stonewall, “Gay History – April 15, 1979: San Francisco’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Founded,” April 16, 2022

The Culture Trip, “Meet the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, San Francisco’s Order of Queer Nuns” by Deanna Morgado, July 3, 2019

GLBTQ Archive, “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” by Robert Kellerman, 2002

July 1982
Activists Launch Hotline at Center in Los Angeles

After activists Nancy Cole Sawaya, Max Drew, Matt Redman, and Ervin Munro attend a community meeting featuring a speaker from the Kaposi Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation, they create a hotline to serve the panicked LA community.

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The emergency meeting with the representative from San Francisco was held at the LA Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center (now called the Los Angeles LGBT Center).  The four activists decided to set up the telephone hotline in the only space available to them: a closet at the Center.

Sawaya, Drew, Redman and Munro, along with eight additional volunteers, would undergo training by Dr. Joel Weisman and then take turns answering the telephone and reading information from a carefully prepared fact sheet.  Word quickly got out about the hotline, which would start to receive more than 20 calls a day.

In December 1982, the Los Angeles chapter of the Kaposi Sarcoma Foundation would host “Christmas Present,” a $25 event at a private home in Bel-Air to raise money for the hotline.  Music is provided by Mother Lode DJ Stewart Barkal, and refreshments are donated by local restaurants, coordinated by Truffles owner Steve Wilson.

Sawaya, Drew, Redman and Munro would go on to found AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), which would become the oldest and largest organization in Southern California providing educational and support services for people living with HIV/AIDS.

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AIDS Project Los Angeles, “History”

October 1982
California AIDS Hotline is Launched in San Francisco

In a collaboration between the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF) and the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the California AIDS Hotline begins taking calls in an effort to provide information and dispel rumors.

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Staffed by SFAF volunteers, the hotline quickly gained recognition locally and nationally as a trusted source of information.  The hotline operators received intensive training that included 16 hours of classroom sessions, practice calls, and resource-finding techniques.

Training topics included immunology, virology, epidemiology, risk reduction, harm reduction theory, risk assessment, injection drug use, testing, information access, media reporting and theories, crisis and suicide calls, sex roles and power, role playing and practice calls, according to SFAF.  The training also instructed volunteers on communication skills and cultural competency.

The hotline developed an “Encyclopedia” which was an accumulation of articles, brochures and memos arranged by subject.  Hotline workers would consult the Encyclopedia for the latest information on topics like oral sex, opportunistic infections, alternative treatments, community resources and AIDS research.

In the first few years of the hotline’s operation, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF) was still known as Kaposi’s Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation, which was founded in April 1982 (the organization would rename itself SFAF in 1984).

Mark Leger began volunteering at the AIDS Hotline in the mid-1980s, so he could stay updated on AIDS research, treatment, education and politics.

“I do it because I think education is the best way to stop the spread of the disease,” Leger told the San Francisco magazine Processed World in December 1986.

Most people called the hotline to find out where they could get anonymously tested for HIV, according to Leger.  Questions around safer sex techniques and IV drug use were also common.

“At my last shift, I fielded more than 20 calls during a three-hour shift. By the end, I felt like an overworked Bell operator, checking myself from being too snappy, not always succeeding,” Leger said. “My life was a lot less busy when I started working at the hotline. I should stop. But I’m still answering calls.”

January 7, 1983
APLA Elects Founding Board of Directors

AIDS Project Los Angeles elects its first board of directors, which include Dr. Michael Gottlieb and political organizer Peter Scott.  Dr. Joel Weisman and attorney Diane Abbitt serve as the organization’s first co-chairs.

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APLA moves into a converted motel built in 1955, located at 937 Cole Street in Hollywood.

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AIDS Project Los Angeles, “History”

NWAF pamphlet
February 8, 1983
Northwest AIDS Foundation Founded in Seattle

A group of Seattle-area health and business professionals launches the Northwest AIDS Foundation to help provide financial and educational resources to people impacted by AIDS.

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Under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Marsella, NWAF began raising money for public education programs for the Seattle area and setting up volunteer-run support services for persons with AIDS.  One of the first projects was the production and distribution of the AIDS awareness pamphlet “Can We Talk?”

Also instrumental in the foundation’s early days was Dr. Robert Wood, a New York-born internist who moved to Seattle in 1975 to finish his medical training and remained to provide care for people living with AIDS.  Dr. Wood, who served as the foundation’s second president, was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1985. He would go on to become King County’s first AIDS control officer.

In 1986, NWAF opened its first office in Pioneer Square at 619 Third Avenue, and hired a full-time executive director.  In the first year the office was open, a Seattle plumbing company refused to send plumbers to unclog the foundation’s sink, stating that the plumber would be in danger of contracting HIV.

“What did they think they were going to do, have sex with the sink?” responded then-president Robert Rohan, according to historylink.tours.

In 1987, NWAF held its first AIDS Walkathon fundraiser, which attracted more than 2,000 participants and raised about $335,000.  Speaking at the event was Congressman Mike Lowry, who criticized the Reagan administration for viewing AIDS as a moral issue.

“It’s not a moral issue, but the most important health issue in the history of the world,” Rep. Lowry said. “Today we’re going to vote with our feet to get the money the federal government should be providing. And we’ll keep voting until we get the money.”

When HIV infections in the Seattle area spiked in 1990, NWAF launched a new public education campaign called “Keep It Up, Seattle!” to remind gay and bisexual men to adhere to safer sex practices.  In 1991, the foundation turned its focus to at-risk women with a series of skills-building workshops.  NWAF also began training businesses on how to humanely address HIV in the workplace.

The 1991 AIDS Walk raised a record $1.5 million. The next year, the foundation expanded its outreach program, placing volunteers in bathhouses, public parks, bars, clubs, and other late-night venues.

In 2001, the Northwest AIDS Foundation would merge with another Seattle AIDS service organization, the Chicken Soup Brigade, to form the Lifelong AIDS Alliance (now known simply as Lifelong).

– – – – – – –

  HistoryLink.org (an online encyclopedia of Washington state history)

  HistoryLink.tours – https://historylink.tours/stop/northwest-aids-foundation/

February 11, 1983
MECLA Briefing on AIDS Delivers Troubling News

An AIDS briefing hosted by the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles (MECLA) draws hundreds of attendees eager for more information on the epidemic.

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Speakers include Rep. Henry Waxman, who tells attendees, “I believe that much of the lack of federal research on AIDS has arisen from discrimination intent and self-righteous neglect.”

Held at the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel, the MECLA breakfast event also features presentations by Dr. Joel Weisman (APLA Co-Chair), Dr. Michael Roth of UCLA’s Department of Allergy and Immunology, Assemblymember Burt Margolin, and Mark Feldman, founder of the “Phooey on AIDS” emergency healthcare fund, according to a report from Pat Rocco.

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1112 a
March 14, 1983
Larry Kramer Publishes ‘1,112 and Counting’

Readers of the New York Native take notice of “1,112 and Counting,” AIDS activist Larry Kramer’s urgent plea for the NY Gay Community to get angry at the lack of government support and scientific advances in the fight against AIDS.

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Published in the New York Native, Kramer provides a blistering assessment of the impact of AIDS on the gay community, the quickly rising numbers of sick and dying gay men and the slow pace of scientific progress in finding a cause for AIDS.

Kramer’s historic essay opens with:
“If this article doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If this article doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, gay men may have no future on this earth. Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get.”

This essay was just the beginning for Kramer, in what would become a lifetime of activism and advocacy.  He would go on to write The Normal Heart, the first serious artistic examination of the AIDS crisis, and he would found ACT UP, a protest organization widely credited with having changed public health policy and the public’s awareness of HIV and AIDS.

“There is no question in my mind that Larry helped change medicine in this country. And he helped change it for the better. In American medicine there are two eras. Before Larry and after Larry,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci.

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New Yorker Magazine, “Larry Kramer, Public Nuisance,” by Michael Specter, May 5, 2002

The Bilerico Project on LGBTQ Nation, “Larry Kramer’s Historic Essay: AIDS At 30,” June 14, 2011

1112 b
March 30, 1983
Frontiers Magazine Re-prints ‘1,112 and Counting’ on Cover

Los Angeles publisher Bob Craig publishes activist Larry Kramer’s essay “1,112 and Counting” in Frontiers magazine.  Many of the gay bars where the free community magazine is distributed throw it out.

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First pubished in the March 14-27, 1983 edition of New York Native, Kramer’s long, comprehensive essay expresses frustration, anger and despairA newcomer to the gay press, the bi-weekly news-magazine Frontiers gave the essay prominent placement on its cover.

After listing the names of 20 friends who had died of the disease (“and one more, who will be dead by the time these words appear in print”), Kramer closed with a plea: “Volunteers Needed for Civil Disobedience.”

By the end of 1983, 2,807 cases of (and 2,118 deaths from) HIV/AIDS had been reported in the U.S.

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Los Angeles Blade, “March 27, 1983: 1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, May 27, 2020

LGBT History Archives, “AIDS: 1,112 and Counting …” by Larry Kramer

April 30, 1983
Circus Event Collects $250,000 for AIDS Organization

Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus holds a special one-night event to benefit the Gay Men’s Health  Crisis, raising $250,000.

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Considered a political milestone for the HIV/AIDS community, the event drew about 18,000 attendees and was remarkable for the galvanizing effect it had on the  LGBTQ and expanding AIDS communities.

Held at Madison Square Garden, the show featured Leonard Bernstein conducting the circus orchestra and opera diva Shirley Verrett singing The Star Spangled Banner.

“Leonard Bernstein walking across the length of the Madison Square Garden in his white dinner jacket to conduct the circus orchestra in the national anthem, while 18,000 gay men and their friends and families cheered, was one of the most moving moments I have ever experienced,” recalled activist and organizer Larry Kramer in his 1989 book Reports from the Holocaust.

Proceeds raised by the event would go a long way to support programs at the Gay Men’s Health  Crisis, which had already distributed 250,000 copies of its safe sex brochure and coordinated hundreds of volunteers providing household assistance and compassionate care to men stricken with AIDS.

But the event was much more than a money generator, according to David Roman in his book Acts of Intervention.

“Gathering over 17.000 supporters of AIDS consciousness and intervention in 1983, and at the circus no less, was and could only be a political landmark,” writes Roman.

About a month after attending the circus event, Andrew Holleran would write of his experience in an essay for The New York Native:

“We sang the words of Francis Scott Key amidst the spotlights, in the great cavernous space filled with hearts dedicated to the same goal, and not a few moist eyes — I felt two identities which are most often separated in time and place, merge: homosexual and American.”

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Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist by Larry Kramer (St. Martin’s Press, 1989)

Acts of Intervention by David Roman (Indiana University Press, 1998)

1983 May 2 vigil in New York
May 2, 1983
Candlelight Vigils Held in San Francisco & NYC

The Kaposi’s Sarcoma Foundation organizes the first AIDS Candlelight Vigils in New York and San Francisco, creating the first public demonstration with people living with AIDS and bringing global awareness to the epidemic.

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Photos of the event are circulated around the world, revealing for many the growing health crisis.  It is the first time that people with AIDS come together in a public demonstration.

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San Francisco AIDS Foundation, “SFAF History in Pictures”

San Francisco Examiner, “Candlelight Memorial” by Carol Ness, May 13, 1998

May 3, 1983
5,000 Attend Candlelight March at Federal Building in Los Angeles

APLA sponsors a Candlelight March in Westwood attended by 5,000 people.  Activists from the Los Angeles area do their part to bring awareness about AIDS to the community and the nation.

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Tens of thousands of people also turn out in marches in New York, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and Houston.  In San Francisco, 10,000 activists walk for hours from the Castro to City Hall behind a banner reading “Fighting For Our Lives.”

Organizers Bobbi Campbell, Bobby Reynolds, Dan Turner and Mark Feldman succeed in their goal of putting “a face on the disease.”

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APLA Health, “35 Years: A Collective Voice of Advocacy”

The Body, “AIDS Project Los Angeles | Public Policy and Communication”

May 1983
Daniel P. Warner Launches LA Shanti, Promotes Death with Dignity

Daniel P. Warner co-founds the non-profit LA Shanti Foundation, the first organization in Southern California to provide direct services for people with AIDS that also promotes death with dignity.

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Located on La Brea Avenue, L.A. Shanti became a leader in quality volunteer-driven programs that provided information and emotional support using the Shanti model of compassionate presence.

Warner served as the organization’s first Executive Director.

“I have committed myself to helping the fight against the misconceptions and prejudices, which can overwhelm a person with this infection, by working as a health educator for the city of West Hollywood,” Warner would write to the Los Angeles Times in 1988.

Warner, who was HIV-positive, would receive Shanti’s first Commitment to Service Award in 1991. The same year, he would receive Los Angeles County’s Community Service Award and a certificate of recognition from the state Senate.* * * * * *

Los Angeles Times“Daniel P. Warner; AIDS Activist, Shanti Foundation Co-Founder,” June 15, 1993

Ken Ramsauer
May 23, 1983
Ken Ramsauer – First Person with AIDS on TV – Memorialized in Central Park

Ken Ramsauer, a businessman who was featured in reporter Geraldo Rivera’s investigative report for ABC’s 20/20, dies of AIDS-related illness in New York City.  He was 29 years old.

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Ramsauer was a freelance lighting designer and hardware store manager who became the first person with AIDS to be the subject of a national television program when he was interviewed by Geraldo Rivera on 20/20.

His final televised wish was that people might gather in Central Park to remember those who had died of AIDS.  The following month on June 13, more than 1,500 would gather in Central Park for  a candlelight vigil to commemorate Ramsauer and others who died of AIDS.  The event featured a eulogy by Rivera, a speech by New York Mayor Ed Koch, and a reading of the names of the 600 people known to have died from AIDS by that time.

”Kenny Ramsauer wanted the people of New York and of this country to learn about the disease,” Rivera told the people gathered at the park’s Naumberg Bandshell on that early summer evening. ”He wanted society to know the discrimination and negative publicity that has allowed this disease a mortal head start.”

The vigil was considered the first large gathering acknowledging the existence of the epidemic.

David France, author of How to Survive a Plague, attended the vigil with a friend and later wrote:

“The plaza was crowded with 1,500 mourners cupping candles against the darkening sky.  As our eyes landed on one young man after another, it became obvious that many of them were seriously ill.  A dozen men were in wheelchairs, so wasted they looked like caricatures of starvation.  I watched one young man twist in pain that wsa caused, apparently, by the barest gusts of wind around us.”

Frances goes on to write that 722 cases of AIDS were reported in New York at the time, but judging from the scene around him, the numbers were likely considerably higher.

“We had found the plague,” he wrote.

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The New York Times, “1,500 Attend Central Park Memorial Service for AIDS Victim” by Lindsey Gruson, June 14, 1983

How to Survive a Plague by David France (MacMillan, 2017)

May 27, 1983
3,000 Marchers in LA Demand AIDS Research

A Candlelight March in Los Angeles brings 3,000 activists into the streets, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Learn More.

The event’s organizer and emcee, Matt Redman of AIDS Project Los Angeles, told the crowd, “Let’s put the screws to the Reagan administration.”

Redman blasted Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Edward Brandt for asserting that AIDS funding was adequate. “That’s bullshit!” he declared.

As reported cases in Los Angeles County jump from 19 in April 1982 to 81 in May 1983, activists mobilize to demand more AIDS research.

* * * * * * *

Tell Me David“Candles in the Wind” by David Hunt, February 6, 2016

How to Have Sex in an Epidemic
June 1983
‘How to Have Sex in an Epidemic’ Hits the Streets of NYC

Richard Berkowitz and Michael Callen publish How to Have Sex in an Empidemic: One Approach.

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Written by Berkowitz and Callen, both New Yorkers living with AIDS, the pamphlet was groundbreaking by being among the first to promote safer sex practices, offering pointed advice on condom use and promoting self-empowerment for those diagnosed with AIDS.

As one of the first publications to recommend the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of STDs in men having sex with men, the pamphlet is considered one of the foundational publications in the advent of modern safe sex.

Sex in an Epidemic was widely read by gay men living in New York City.  In the melee of all the confusion and desperation about AIDS, a comprehensive guide appeared to help gay men navigate the risk of developing the seemingly fatal syndrome while also enjoying a sex life.

In 2017 — 34 years later — David France would write about Berkowitz and Callen’s efforts to educate their community about AIDS in his book How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS.

According to France’s account, Sex in an Epidemic originally started as an article proposed by Berkowitz with medical guidance from his openly gay doctor, Joseph Sonnabend, M.D., that proposed a new “sexual ethic” for men who had sex with men.

Berkowitz couldn’t find a publication willing to publish the article, largely due to his reputation of being “sex-negative,” which he and Callen unfairly acquired after they wrote an article about “the consequences of sexual overconsumption” for the gay publication the New York Native.

“Deep down, we know who we are and why we are sick,” they wrote for the November 8, 1982 edition of the Native.  After publication, the article drew a torrent of angry criticism from readers of the Native, as well as from gay periodicals across North America, including the Toronto newspaper Body Politic, which accused Berkowitz and Callen of creating unnecessary panic in the community.

Even so, Berkowitz, who was open about his history as a sex worker, was more determined than ever to find ways to save lives.  In the new writing project, he decided to take a different approach than the one he and Callen put forth in their Native article.

This time, Berkowitz was focused on a sex-positive message.  He wanted to share information about the kinds of intimacy gay men could engage in safely, rather than what gay men shouldn’t do.  When gay publications rejected the article Berkowitz proposed, Dr. Sonnabend recommended that they format the information as a pamphlet “in the model of left-wing and feminist political tracts,” according to France.

At that point, Callen got involved in the project.  He and Berkowtiz would meet to work on Sex in an Epidemic at Dr. Sonnabend’s office or at Callen’s loft in Tribeca.  Callen’s partner, Richard Dworkin, also assisted in assembling the editorial content.  Their process involved revisiting the painful mistakes of their approach to their Native article and applying lessons learned from Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and other guides to influencing people.

“Their self-assigned mission was outsized, almost radical,” wrote France.  “In order for safe sex to staunch an epidemic, it had to be embraced by the entire community of gay men — a fundamental and universal change in behavior … This was how they invented what they called ‘safe sex.'”

Callen and Berkowitz took care to ensure all their advice was sex-positive and affirming.  They used frank and playful language in their risk assessment of various acts of sexual intimacy.  And, in a groundbreaking move, they promoted the use of condoms — something that very few gay men used at the time — as a way to avoid the AIDS virus as well as other sexually transmitted diseases.  They even included a passage on love.

“Men loving men was the basis of gay male liberation,” they wrote, “but we have now created ‘cultural institutions’ in which love and even affection can be totally avoided.”

They went on to advise that if readers love the subjects of their sexual intimacy — even those of the briefest of liaisons — then they will not want to make them sick.

The initial 5,000-copy printing of the 46-page Sex in an Epidemic cost about $1,000, donated by Callen and other patients of Dr. Sonnabend.  Berkowitz, Callen and Sonnabend distributed copies throughout New York City, primarily in shops and bars frequented by gay men.

Within weeks, the post-office box they included in the pamphlet began to receive letters.  They expected a response similar to the Native article, hate mail with accusations branding them traitors to the gay liberation movement.  But they were surprised to instead receive letters of appreciation for the work they produced and with requests to send copies to various locations around the U.S.  They immediately printed more copies to meet the demand that grew each week.

Then, on August 18, Jonathan Leiberson reviewed Sex in an Epidemic for the New York Review of Books.  Soon afterward, Sex in an Epidemic received attention from the Greenwich Village bookstore B. Dalton, which had created a window display around the 46-page guide.

Word was getting out.  Best of all, gay men began to use condoms.

“One night on Christopher Street, I watched a team of lesbians on a flatbed truck lovingly hurl the things into the air like rose petals over the heads of their gay brothers,” wrote France in How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS.

Condom manufacturers responded to the consumer demand in the largely gay communities by developing new products in a range of sizes, textures and colors that appealed to the market.  Transmission rates for all sexually transmitted diseases began to slow as a result.

* * * * * *

POZ magazine, “How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: 30th Anniversary” by Joseph Sonnabend, M.D., May 17, 2013

www.RichardBerkowitz.com, “How to Have Sex in an Epidemic” (full text)

New York Review of Books, “Anatomy of an Epidemic” by Jonathan Lieberson, August 18, 1983

Denver principles 2
June 12, 1983
Denver Principles Adopted after AIDS Forum Take-over

The Denver Principles are adopted after 11 gay men living with AIDS crash the stage at the National AIDS Forum and demand attention.

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At the National AIDS Forum in Denver, about 400 gay and lesbian healthcare workers had gathered to share information about the new disease creeping across various populations in the U.S.  Also in attendance were AIDS activists from New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Kansas City and Denver.

It was the first time activists from different U.S. cities convened in one place for the first time for the purpose of taking action.  They found they had significant differences in their approaches to the AIDS crisis.  In particular, the contingents from New York, led by Michael Callen, and San Francisco, led by Bobbi Campbell, dominated the discussion between the activists, lobbying for their different agendas.

“The West Coast cadre saw the epidemic in starkly political terms,” wrote France in his book How to Survive a Plague. “They rejected the phrases ‘AIDS patient’ and ‘AIDS victim’ as being reductive.”

In comparison, the NYC contingent was focused on the theory that widespread auto-immune disorders in the gay population had been caused by promiscuity and sexually transmitted disease.  They were more concerned about getting this message out to the community and less concerned about how people outside the community viewed them.

The one area they could all agree on, according to France, was that “it was time for the sick to assert themselves.”

Led by Campbell, the activists crafted a statement on the rights of people living with AIDS which included the demands to be at the table when policy is made, to be treated with dignity, and to be called “people with AIDS,” and not “AIDS victims.”

After making copies of their statement, they attended the closing session of the conference and eleven of them siezed the stage, unfurling a banner that read Fighting for Our Lives.

“One by one, each of the eleven men declaimed one of the eleven points until the whote list of recommendations and responsibilities had been publicly uttered for the first time,” wrote France in How to Survive a Plague.  “The last line was Callen’s to deliver.  Looking from the dias, he saw that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  For many of the assembled delegates, representing parts of the country not yet touched by AIDS, seeing those doomed young men in that line was devastating.”

The statement became known as The Denver Principles, and it serves as the charter for the founding of the National Association of People with AIDS.

* * * * * *

UN AIDS, “The Denver Principles” (1983)

How to Survive a Plague by David France (Penguin Random House, 2017)

June 14, 1983
First Legal Services Provider for PWAs Launched

The AIDS Legal Referral Panel of San Francisco becomes the first legal services provider in the nation dedicated to meeting the needs of people with HIV/AIDS.

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The AIDS Legal Referral Panel was founded in 1983 by attorneys Frederick Hertz, Steven Richter, Mark Senick, and Gary James Wood.  It was originally a committee of the LGBT organization Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF), but its founders recognized the group’s potential as a stand-alone non-profit organization.

Concerned that gay men in the Bay Area were near death from complications of AIDS, Hertz, Richter, Senick and Wood sought to create a legal resource that included the creation of wills and setting of durable powers of attorney.  Drafting legal documents such as these allowed individuals to die with dignity and fulfill their wishes about healthcare and disposition of assets.

The four began by publicizing a phone number where people with AIDS could call to receive legal help and by recruiting other attorneys to join them.  Soon, the legal community was leveraging its skills and resources through ALRP to respond to the AIDS crisis by providing those dying with AIDS the right to die with peace of mind.

As Hertz recounts, “[Preparing emergency wills] was wrenching.  But if people asked me how I kept my sanity, it was through using my legal skills in a way that really helped people.  I was doing something productive and meaningful and focused my grief on making a difference in people’s lives.”

Four founders and ten original Panel members sustained the organization for several years without any other infrastructure.  First led by BALIF co-chair Steve Richter with a list of telephone numbers, then by Gary James Wood when Richter developed AIDS in 1983, the organization operated solely as a volunteer-staffed organization until 1986, at which time ALRP hired attorney Clint Hockenberry.

With Hockenberry at the helm, ALRP grew from a grassroots community of concerned attorneys to an established lawyer referral service. Fundraising efforts excelled and extensive recruitment, training, and supervision of ALRP’s pro bono attorneys began. ALRP also partnered with the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Volunteer Legal Services Program, which increased the legitimacy and visibility of the organization.

Hockenberry expanded outreach to better serve people of color, children, women, injection drug users, non-native English speakers, and the homeless. During his tenure, ALRP hosted the first national AIDS Law Conference and published the first AIDS Law Manual, extended outreach to other counties, garnered Ryan White CARE Act funds, and founded ALRP’s Public Policy Project. ALRP became an independent organization in 1990, separate from BALIF, with a formal Board of Directors.

In March 1992, Clint Hockenberry passed away from AIDS, but under his leadership ALRP had grown from an organization that formed in reaction to a crisis to an agency creatively and proactively responding to and anticipating the ever-changing needs of the HIV/AIDS community. As those with HIV/AIDS began living longer, Kristin Chambers, ALRP’s second Executive Director, and her successor, Irwin Keller, continued Hockenberry’s model of dynamic client services.

Under Chambers’ and Keller’s tenures, the 1990s saw an expansion of services and public policy efforts and an improved client referral system that better served the legal needs of the HIV/AIDS community. Full-time housing attorneys were hired when rising real estate prices left many in the HIV/AIDS community confronting homelessness.

In addition, “Working in the Cycle of HIV,” an educational manual published in conjunction with AIDS Benefits Counselors (now Positive Resource Center) and the Employment Law Center, was created to respond to the large numbers of people with HIV/AIDS who wanted to return to the workplace after experiencing positive outcomes from new treatments. On the public policy front, ALRP advocated for national health care reform, continued and improved HIV privacy and confidentiality protections, and Social Security reform to provide expanded, fair, and adequate access to benefits.

By 2000, when Bill Hirsh became ALRP’s fourth Executive Director, ALRP had grown from solely serving patients at San Francisco General Hospital to serving clients in seven Bay Area counties. From preparing emergency wills and powers of attorney, ALRP now provided legal assistance to clients in all areas of civil law. Instead of a simple lawyer referral service, ALRP was now an organization that provided both direct legal representation and personalized attorney/client referrals.

ALRP is the first organized legal outreach effort for those with HIV/AIDS in the United States, and many original Panelists from 1983 remain active in the organization to this day. Initially formed to draft emergency wills and other necessary documents for terminally ill clients, ALRP has shifted its focus to issues illustrative of the fact that those with HIV/AIDS are living longer lives than ever before and facing more complex legal needs.

What started in 1983 as a small circle of attorney friends has grown to a full-time staff of fifteen and a Panel of over 700 volunteer attorneys donating over $1 million each year in pro bono legal services. Since its inception, ALRP has handled over 76,000 legal matters for people living with HIV/AIDS.

* * * * * *

AIDS Legal Referral Panel, “ALRP Milestones” and “History”

University of California Libraries, “AIDS Legal Referral Panel Records”

Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom

June 1983
Genesis of AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin is Launched

The Brady East STD Clinic responds to the emergence of HIV in other states by re-focusing its services and education programs around HIV and AIDS.

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Some of the volunteers at the Brady East STD Clinic (BESTD Clinic) formed the Milwaukee AIDS Project (MAP) as a committee of the clinic and began preparing for the inevitable spread of HIV to the city.

When in 1985 concerns about the new disease were growing, BESTD Clinic President Nova Clite, MAP Director Sue Dietz, local business leader Marc Haupert, and community leader Don Schwamb decided to form a new organization, to be spun off from BESTD.  The new organization was the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW), and Sue Dietz became its Executive Director.

ARCW’s first home was an old residence near what was then St. Anthony Hospital, and later moved to a location at 315 W. Court St., just west of the old Schlitz Brewery complex (the same building that would years later house the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center).

During the early years of the epidemic, one of the most pressing needs was housing.  One of the first major fundraisers was for the rent and renovation of a house in the Sherman Park neighborhood, near Sherman and Hadley, to provide a residence for people with AIDS who had no other place to live.

In 1993, ARCW would merge with an AIDS service organization located in the northern city of Eau Claire, which helped to establish a statewide presence.   In 1996, ARCW would also merge with the Center Project in Green Bay and Appleton, Wisconsin.  By 2007, ARCW would become the largest provider of medical care to people with HIV in Wisconsin.

The first AIDS case in Wisconsin was reported in 1983, and the number of cases reached 100 in 1986.  By 1991, the number of cases exceeded 1,000.  In 1995, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Wisconsin would peak with the cumulative number of HIV cases exceeding 3,000 and cumulative deaths exceeding 2,000.

Thanks largely to the quick response of BESTD Clinic volunteers, along with the state’s largely rural populations, the spread of HIV was more effectively controlled in Wisconsin than in most states.

  BESTD Sexual Health Clinic
History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Wisconsin, ARCW – AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin

June 23, 1983
Stars Align for KS Benefit in San Francisco

Movie actresses Debbie Reynolds and Shirley MacLaine head the lineup for the annual benefit for the Kaposi Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation, founded by Cleve Jones, Marcus Conant, Frank Jacobson, and Richard Keller.

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“An evening with Debbie Reynolds and Friends” was the largest and most successful of the early San Francisco fundraisers, according to David Roman, author of Acts of Intervention.  The event raised $43,000 for the newly formed Kaposi Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation.

In his book And The Band Played On about the early years of the AIDS crisis, Randy Shilts would write:

“The fundraiser for the National KS/AIDS foundation had all the raciness of a true San Francisco event. When host Debbie Reynolds introduced the surprise guest — actress Shirley MacLaine — with the comment that MacLaine had great legs, MacLaine responded by pulling down the top of her long strapless gown, demonstrating that she had other equipment to match. The crowd cheered enthusiastically: ‘We love you, Shirley!’  Not to be outdone, Reynolds lifted the rear of her slitted gown to reveal her brief black underwear.”

Reynolds would go on to appear in another benefit for the organization at the Hollywood Bowl.

“Reynolds was known to always be available, without perks, to lend her name and talent to fighting the AIDS epidemic,” writes journalist Karen Ocamb.  “And her fondness for the gays never disappeared either, landing the role as Kevin Kline’s mother in the satirical 1997 film In & Out, and playing her Emmy-nominated role as Deborah Messing’s eccentric mother in NBC’s Will & Grace.”

Reynolds’ last role would be Liberace’s mother in the 2013 HBO movie Behind the Candelabra.

In 1984, Kaposi Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation would be renam, ed the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

* * * * * *

Acts of Intervention by David Roman (Indiana University Press, 1998)

And The Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts (MacMillan, 1987)

The Pride LA, “Debbie Reynolds, Early Hollywood AIDS Activist” by Karen Ocamb, December 29, 2016

AIDS Quilt - Mark Feldman
June 1983
Mark Feldman of ‘Phooey on AIDS Fund’ Dies

Mark Feldman, a board member of the synagogue Congregation Sha’ar Zahav who founded the “Phooey on AIDS” emergency fund, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 31.

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An emerging leader in the Bay Area Jewish and gay communities, Feldman was director of admissions at New College and co-director of publicity for Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, a largely gay and lesbian San Francisco synagogue.

After he was diagnosed with AIDS and learned of others in the community who were also ill, Feldman asked the congregation’s Bikkur Cholim (outreach to the ill) Committee to start a “Phooey on AIDS” fund to support the financial needs of members and the community. This fund made annual gifts to the organizations providing direct care including Shanti, Project Open Hand, the San Francisco General Hospital Ward 86, and the Food Bank of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, according to Paul Cohen in My Jewish Learning.

After gay men were prohibited from donating blood, the women of Sha’ar Zahav organized a blood drive.  Feldman gave every woman who donated blood a rose in appreciation, according to Rabbi Leslie Bergson.

Feldman was the first Sha’ar Zahav congregant to die of AIDS.

“Sadly, he was not the last,” writes Dan Pine in The Jewish News of Northern California.  “The names of nearly 80 other congregants felled by the virus adorn the synagogue’s memorial wall today.”

During the first years of the AIDS epidemic, Rabbi Allen Bennett served as Sha’ar Zahav’s spiritual leader.

“You were on call 24/7,” Rabbi Bennett told The Jewish News of Northern California  “There was no easing up. Every day there were more casualties and, as things progressed, more fatalities. Until things started to taper off, I and an awful lot of my friends were losing, on average, a friend or acquaintance once a week for probably five years.”

“I remember the devastation of hearing the names on the Kaddish list of young people,” says Rabbi Eric Weiss, a Sha’ar Zahav member and executive director of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center (the Institute on Aging). “During the service, everyone stands, links arms and sings ‘Hinei Mah Tov.’ I remember the utter sadness when there were people we couldn’t put our arms around anymore.”

* * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

The Jewish News of Northern California, “How AIDS Battered One SF Synagogue” by Dan Pine, June 9, 2006

My Jewish Learning“Remembering on World AIDS Day” by Paul Cohen, December 1, 2015.

Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, “40th Anniversary Shabbat,” drash by Rabbi Leslie Bergson, February 23, 2018

June 1983
Employer Puts AIDS Activist on Medical Leave Without Pay

Employed as a legal clerk, Michael Callen found himself put on medical leave without pay when his employer, a law firm, learned he was diagnosed with AIDS.

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Callen, who earlier that month was open about his condition in a New York magazine article, was not even allowed to return to his desk at work to collect his personal belongings.

“Too many of his colleagues had expressed fear about working with him,” wrote David France in his book How to Survive a Plague.

* * * * * *

Debbie Reynolds
August 28, 1983
Debbie Reynolds & Rip Taylor Perform at AIDS Benefit at Hollywood Bowl

Film star Debbie Reynolds appears with comic performer Rip Taylor at the first public AIDS benefit in Los Angeles, which takes place at the Hollywood Bowl.

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The benefit for the Kaposi Sarcoma Foundation is technically the “second annual” fundraiser in Los Angeles, but it is the first to be held in a public venue.

As the featured star of the event, Reynolds is already an arden AIDS activist — long before Elizabeth Taylor becomes an advocate, journalist Karen Ocamb writes in The Pride LA.

Along with comedian Joan Rivers, singer-actress Rita Moreno, and actor Robert Guillaume, Reynolds is among the first Hollywood celebrities to appear in AIDS fundraisers at a time when HIV/AIDS is still a topic shunned by many.

* * * * * *

September 1983
Health Crisis Network Opens in Miami

Health Crisis Network (HCN) is formed to provide a response to the Miami area’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.

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A group of volunteers created HCN to provide an organized response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale LGBT Chamber of Commerce.  HCN created the first programs in South Florida for HIV/AIDS crisis intervention, social support and education.

In 1998, HCN would merge with another HIV/AIDS service provider, Community Research Initiative, which was founded in 1989.  The new organization would be called Care Resource, and is considered South Florida’s oldest and largest HIV/AIDS service organization.

AIDS VIgil DC 1983
October 1983
Nationwide Vigil Draws Attention to Federal Inaction

At the first National AIDS Vigil in Washington, D.C., speaker Bobbi Campbell urges President Ronald Reagan to appoint a federal task force on AIDS that includes people living with AIDS and start addressing the “national health emergency.”

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“Let no one call us victims. We are citizens and some of us are dying,” Bobbi Campbell, 31, spoke to the crowd, who numbered about 1,500.  Campbell told The Washington Post that he has not worked since physicians told him two years ago that he had AIDS.

“We need the government to recognize our legitimate rights to exist,” Campbell told the crowd. “We are dying to be free.”

The demonstration, which was organized with support of the National AIDS Vigil Commission, ended with a candlelight rally around the reflecting pool at the foot of Capitol Hill.  Organizers said the march and vigil were “in memory of the approximately 1,000 people who have died of AIDS and the 1,500 who now have the disease.”

The commission that sponsored the event included Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.), D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, and San Francisco Mayor Diane Feinstein.

The next day, the Associated Press would report that memorial marches and services were held in cities across America, including Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Tampa and Denver.

“Thousands of homosexuals, their families and friends joined candlelight parades for whom they said were cast aside by an insensitive public scared of catching the deadly disease,” the AP would report.

* * * * * *

October 13, 1983
3-year-old Sammy Kushnick Dies in Los Angeles

Samuel Jared Kushnick becomes the fourth premature baby in an eight-month period to die of AIDS-related illness in Los Angeles. He was 3 years old.

Learn More.

The infant, called “Sammy” by his family members, contracted the virus through a blood transfusion he received as a premature baby.

His parents, Helen and Jerry Kushnick, who ran an entertainment agency in West Hollywood, would become AIDS activists and found the Samuel Jared Kushnick Pediatric Immunology Research Center at Chaim-Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Israel, according to the Los Angeles Times.

As the parents of one of the first babies living with AIDS, the Kushnicks had to navigate a difficult and treacherous path, first in the struggle to find treatment for Sammy and ultimately in the effort to give him a proper burial.

When officials at the mortuary learned Sammy had died of AIDS, they refused to dress the infant for burial, Helen Kushnick told the LA Times.  Later, the Kushnicks were hit with $94,000 in medical bills, which their insurance company refused to cover (the Kushnicks would fight and win in court).

From the start, the Kishnicks decided to go public with their story.

“It was clear to us then that AIDS was not a homosexual disease, but a virus,” Helen Kushnick told the LA Times.  “That mislabeling caused years of apathy on the part of the government and the public in the struggle against this deadly killer. We were killing in the name of morality.”

Kushnick, who said she received calls from mothers around the country who had babies with AIDS, was convinced that other infants received transfusions, perhaps from AIDS-infected donors, without knowing it.

Sammy was not diagnosed correctly until two months before his death.  The Kushnicks said they had never been told that their son had received 20 blood donations from 13 individuals during his first seven weeks of his life.

Helen Kushnick would go on to testify before Congress, advocating for the reform of policies and procedures governing the nation’s blood supply.
November 14, 1983
Stephen Lamb, Profiled in New York Times, Dies

Stephen Lamb, a man living with AIDS who was profiled in a widely-read New York Times article, dies of AIDS-related illness at New York University Medical Center.  He was 40.

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In NYT article published in the December 5 issue on Page 1 of Section B, celebrated reporter Maureen Dowd chronicled Lamb’s final months.

Lamb, his body overwhelmed with cryptococcal meningitis, tuberculosis of the bone marrow, and an intestinal infection, had until recently lived on the upper east side of Manhattan and worked as a travel consultant.

One of the few visitors at Lamb’s hospital bed was William Carroll, a volunteer from the Gay Men’s Health Crisis who two months before had been assigned to be Lamb’s “buddy.”  According to the NYT article, Lamb and Carroll found that they shared a love of literature, and in Lamb’s final weeks, Carroll often read to him from books of poetry by John Keats and Andrew Marvell.

“Bill and I have grown to like each other,” Lamb told the reporter four days before he died.  “I just needed some companionship.”

Lamb’s death was the 514th AIDS-related fatality recorded by the City of New York.  At the time, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis had provided services to 420 people with AIDS, and was facing a surge in their caseload, according to Dowd’s article.

The organization had been receiving about 50 new cases every month, but in November, they noticed a dramatic increase in the number of people with AIDS (PWAs) who needed help.  Some were gay men, but there were also intravenous drug users who were heterosexual as well as people who had received tainted blood transfusions.

The GMHC was running 20 therapy groups, organizing its volunteer-run “buddy” program, and operating a 24-hour hotline which received an average of 1,200 calls every week, according to the article.

The organization’s volunteers, which then numbered about 200, did whatever was needed, from taking orange juice to homebound PWAs to serving as intermediaries with the city’s social-service agencies.

“They clean apartments, do laundry, make dinner, pick up prescriptions, mail rent checks, walk dogs, take their patients to doctor’s appointments, and simply keep them company,” Dowd reported.

Many of the volunteers, she wrote, had horror stories about the terrible treatment of PWAs.

“They tell of government clerks who neglect AIDS cases, because they are afraid to be in the same room to fill out forms. They tell of nurses and orderlies in hospitals who are so loath to enter the rooms of AIDS patients that they let the food trays pile up outside the door, leave trash baskets overflowing, or neglect patients lying in their own urine or excrement,” wrote Dowd.

One volunteer, Diego Lopez, told the reporter that he went to visit a dying patient in the hospital, and discovered him with blood seeping from his nose and mouth. When he asked a doctor to help the patient, the doctor handed him some gauze and told him to take care of it himself.

“I was shocked, but I did it,” Lopez said.  “Afterward, I looked at my hands and there was blood all over them. I realized I had to start being more careful. But when you see a person dying, you don’t think about finding some gloves to wear.”

Dowd closed her article with a conversation she had with Larry Kramer, co-founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis.  Kramer told Dowd of how the AIDS crisis had deeply affected him.  Already, 37 of his friends in New York were dead from the disease.

“I heard about Vinny on Saturday,” Kramer said. “Ron is a Black actor I know. Paul, a pianist. Gayle went to Yale with me. Ron Doud, the designer of Studio 54. Mark, I was involved with a long time ago. Peter, an architect.”

“Can’t something be done?” he asked, clenching a small green notebook he used to record the names of his dead friends. “The rest of the city, my straight friends, go on with life as usual — and I’m in the middle of an epidemic.”

Morris Kight
December 1983
Activist Morris Kight Starts Aid for AIDS in Los Angeles

Gay activist Morris Kight and a small group of friends create Aid for AIDS  to help those devastated by AIDS who have been evicted, fired or unable to pay for food, rent or  utility bills.

Learn More.

As AFA’s Director in the early years, Knight set ambitious goals, ensuring assistance was allocated to those who needed it most.

In the 1980s, most people who developed full-blown AIDS would die within a short time, and AFA prioritized the need for people to die with dignity in their own homes.  In the coming years, AFA would go on to help more than 16,000 men, women, and children.

Chicken Soup Brigade
April 8, 1984
Chicken Soup Brigade Starts Caring for PWAs in Seattle

Tim Burak, an employee of the Seattle-King County Health Department, founds the Chicken Soup Brigade to help people living with AIDS.

Learn More.

Brigade members transported people with AIDS to doctor appointments, brought meals, cleaned apartments, helped care for pets, and provided companionship.  Burak and his friend Josh Joshua received referrals from physicians, clinics, and patients, and were assisted by volunteers Tom Speer and Will Jones.

In early 1987, Carol Sterling joined the Brigade as its first paid staff member, and quickly grew the organization’s volunteer pool to 80 people and its budget to $35,000.  AIDS cases were growing rapidly in the Seattle metro area, and CSB expanded to meet the need in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

A self-described “loud-mouthed lesbian,” Sterling continued to bring in new volunteers, nearly 50% of them women.  According to Washingtonian Nick Rousso of historylink.org, AIDS had claimed 727 lives in King County by 1990, and thousands more were living with HIV. Eventually, AIDS would claim more than 8,000 lives in Washington state..

In 2001, the CSB would merge with another AIDS service organization, the Northwest AIDS Foundation, to form the Lifelong AIDS Alliance (now known simply as Lifelong).

– – – – – – –
Source:  HistoryLink.org (an online encyclopedia of Washington state history)

Gloria Lockett
May 1984
CAL-PEP Founded to Provide HIV/AIDS Services for Bay Area Sex Workers

Gloria Lockett founds California Prostitutes Education Project (Cal-PEP) and begins pioneering HIV/AIDS prevention strategies and testing outreach for sex workers in the San Francisco Bay area.

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As a Black woman who had been supporting her family as a sex worker for more than 10 years, Lockett was uniquely experienced and positioned to create an effective program that sex workers would respond to.  She was motivated by her awareness of how the public commonly scapegoated gay men for transmitting HIV and the fear that the next group to be villified would be sex workers.

Without shame or evasion, Lockett announced that her organization would focus “on prostitutes and their sexual partners including transgender individuals” — making it one of the first organizations in the country to provide HIV education, prevention and street outreach.

Housed in a tiny office in Oakland, Cal-PEP survived its first year with a $30,000 state health department grant.  With these funds, Lockett developed HIV education materials feedback on the new AIDS crisis appropriate for sex workers with input from community members.  As she conducted outreach, she collected data while protecting the privacy of her clients and used the data to receive additional funding from the city and state.

Under Lockett’s leadership, Cal-PEP would go onto provide health education, disease prevention, risk reduction, treatment, and support services to people at high risk for or currently living with HIV/AIDS — using cultural relevance, humility and grace as her guiding principles.  The organization would grow to reach clients in East and West Oakland, and other communities throughout Alamedia and San Francisco counties.

Over the years, Cal-PEP would grow to a team of 20, and the organization’s annyal budget would increase to $2.2 million.  The organization’s mission would expland as follows: “To provide tailored health education, disease prevention, risk reduction and support services to people at highest risk for HIV/AIDS in a language that they understand.”

After 35 years as CAL-PEP’s executive director, Lockett would retire in 2019.  On the occasion of her retirement, POZ magazine recognized Lockett’s achievements.

“What if Lockett had not decided in 1984 to respond as she did?” AIDS United asked POZ readers.Of the Cal-PEP recipients now, 20% are sex workers, 83% are African American, 8% are Latinx and 1% are Asian -Pacific Islander.  For 35 years, they have known that Cal-PEP speaks their languages and can help them. Some people inspire us by living for their cause.”

June 4, 1984
Early AIDS Activist Tony Ferrara Dies

Anthony “Tony” Ferrara, who came forward with two other Persons With AIDS in 1983 to testify before Congress at a special hearing, dies at the National Institutes for Health in Bethesda at the age of 30.

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Ferrara twice testified before Congress to urge the federal government to increase funding for AIDS research and social services for people with AIDS.

The focus of Ferrara’s activism was often targeted at the critical need for financial support for those needing medical treatment.

“I think part of the problem is the drugs involved are so extremely expensive, the experimental drugs,” Ferrara told Congress in 1983.  “If any of them work, what my fear is is that, one, it is going to be too expensive to be widely disseminated, and two, the experimental status of the drugs may cause insurance companies to avoid paying for them.”

He returned to testify again before a Congressional hearing on AIDS in April 1984, just several weeks before he died.  And again, he stressed the need for the government to make healthcare and medication affordable.

“I implore you to remember the needs of these people beyond adequate funds for research,” Ferrara said.  “Unless you have looked into the tortured face of a person with AIDS and seen the terror, not only at the thought of dying, but at the thought of being tossed out of their home because they haven’t the money to pay their rent, or of having their phone service, electricity, or heat terminated because they cannot work … you cannot fully appreciate the tremendous need that exists with regard to this aspect of the disease.”

Ferrara was being treated by the NIH and volunteered to be the first person to undergo massive doses of Alpha Interferon as part of his treatment, according to his partner Michael Farrell.

So dedicated was he to help the NIH in its research into AIDS treatment, Ferrara also underwent a month-long experimental protocol of plasmapheresis, an exchange of blood plasma that takes five hours per session, and was one of the first recipients  of Gamma Interferon and natural Interluken II.

Ferrara’s memorial mass was held at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church on Capitol Hill, where hundreds gathered to mourn and pay their respects.

Bobbi Campbell 1
August 15, 1984
Early AIDS/KS Activist Bobbi Campbell Dies

AIDS activist Bobbi Campbell dies of AIDS-related illness in San Francisco at the age of 32.

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Just one month earlier, Campbell spoke at the National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.

Campbell told the crowd that he had hugged his boyfriend on the cover of Newsweek, “to show Middle America that gay love is beautiful.”  He held 15 seconds of silence for the 2,000 who had died of AIDS at that point “and [for] those who will die before this is over.”

He then laid-out a series of concerns for politicians to address — including increased funding for both research and support services and a warning of the potential for discrimination with the advent of a test for HTLV-3 (now known as HIV) — and appealing to all candidates in the upcoming elections to meet with people with AIDS.

Two weeks after his DNC speech, Campbell appeared on CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. While the rumors and fear of AIDS had reached a mainstream audience, the facts had not, so Campbell was placed in a glass booth, with technicians refusing to come near him to wire up microphones for the interview.

At noon on August 15, 1984, exactly a month after his DNC speech and after 2 days on life support in intensive care, Bobbi Campbell died at San Francisco General Hospital.   His parents and his partner Bobby Hilliard were by his side.  Bobbi Campbell was 32 years old and had lived for over 3½ years with what was by then called AIDS.

His partner Bobby Hilliard would succumb to the deadly disease not long afterwards.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Leather PRide flag
September 23, 1984
Vulnerable Leather Community Defends SoMa Territory with Street Fair

In a San Francisco neighborhood known as “South of Market” (or SoMa), people from different parts of the community band together to create a street fair to celebrate the distinct flavor of the locale.  The event is the first of what would become to be widely known as the Folsom Street Fair.

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“Dianne Feinstein was mayor, Mondale’s Democratic Convention had just blown through town, and the ‘gay cancer’ that had stirred genuine fears of a government conspiracy against the LGBT population had recently been dubbed AIDS and connected to sexual activity,” wrote Joe Kukura in SFist.  “It was against this backdrop that Feinstein — who had just refused to march in the Pride parade — was waging an ‘urban renewal’ campaign intended to evict a large number of SoMa’s bathhouses and gay bars and replace them with high-rises, on the claim that SoMa was a mess of urban blight.”

The street fair was created by local activists Kathleen Connell and Michael Valerio to create a counter-narrative and demonstrate that the neighborhood was thriving, noteworthy and rich in culture and counter-culture.  While the street fair did not start off as a leather community-focused event — that would come a few years later — it was from the start a celebration of all things South of Market, including the area’s leather and BDSM culture.

Event co-founder Michael Valerio was a SoMa “leatherman” whose day job was as an affordable housing coordinator at the still-existing nonprofit TODCO.  His event partner, Kathleen Connell, also worked at TODCO, but they met at a meeting of the South of Market Alliance, a community advocacy group contesting the decisions being made by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA) and the city’s Board of Supervisors.  Inspired by the Castro Street Fair, Valerio and Connell worked with Harry Britt, Harvey Milk’s replacement on the Board of Supervisors, to arrange for SoMa streets to be closed from 12th Street to 7th Street between Howard and Harrison, with Folsom at the center.

On the day of the street fair, dubbed “Megahood,” some attendeees wore leather and other free-spirited outfits, while others wore more typical festival clothing.

Valerio and Connell smartly designed the event to promote the neighborhood’s small businesses and unique culture.  But they also built in another goal: helping to fight for the survival of the LGBT communities as the AIDS epidemic devasted many of its members.

“The fair was to be a healing, celebratory response,” Kathleen Connell and Paul Gabriel wrote in their article The Origin and Evolution of the Folsom Street Fair.

The leather communities in major cities were hit particularly hard by HIV, and none hit harder than San Francisco’s SoMa leather community.  In HIV in the Leather Community: Rates and Risk-Related Behaviors (2011), a study showed that Leathermen were 61% more likely to be HIV-positive than non-Leathermen, and that decreased condom use found in HIV-positive Leathermen (relative to HIV-positive non-Leathermen) was a potential factor contributing to heightened HIV rates.

Among its 37 booths were those from the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Shanti Project, conducting community outreach to fairgoers.   In recent years, the number of booths at the Folsom Street Fair has grown to 200 and the number of attendees to over 400,000, making it the third largest street event in California.

Roger Lyon
November 4, 1984
Early AIDS Activist Roger Lyon Dies

Roger Gail Lyon, famous for being among the first three Persons With AIDS to testify before Congress about the epidemic, dies of AIDS-related illness in Los Angeles at the age of 36.

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Lyon travelled from the Bay Area to the nation’s capital to speak before a Congressional hearing on the government’s largely non-existent response to the AIDS crisis.  Accompanying him on the panel were activists Michael Callen of New York and Anthony Ferrara of Washington.

“I came here today with the hope that this administration would do everything possible, make every resource available — there is no reason this disease cannot be conquered,” said Lyon in 1983 in his testimony.  “We do not need in-fighting; this is not a political issue.  This is a health issue.  This is not a gay issue.  This is a human issue.”

Lyon was born in 1948 in Houston, later moved to Chicago and then San Francisco.  He was a branch manager for the San Francisco Maritime Shipping Company when he was diagnosed with AIDS in early 1983.

Little more is known about Lyon, because his health began to decline in the year following his moment in the political spotlight.  However, his early contribution to the fight against AIDS survives at the National Museum of American History.  In 1990, the museum added his section of the AIDS Quilt to its collections.

Lyon’s ashes were scattered, along with the ashes of many others who died of AIDS, on the White House lawn during an ACT UP protest in 1996.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

June 22, 1985
David Goodstein, Publisher of The Advocate, Dies

David Goodstein, former publisher of The Advocate who missed the chance to turn his national publication into a much-needed resource during the early years of the AIDS crisis, dies at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego of colon cancer.  He was 53.

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Goodstein published The Advocate from 1975 to 1978 and again from 1982 until 1985. He was the owner of Liberation Publications, the parent company of The Advocate that also distributed other magazines.

Because Goodstein was slow to understand the seriousness of the threat posed by AIDS, he missed an opportunity to use his popular national magazine as a clearinghouse of information for a population starved for information about HIV and AIDS, according to the LGBT Archives.

In a letter to his readers in 1983, Goodstein wrote: “So far, no one knows with certainty what causes the fatal ‘new’ diseases. Heterosexuals, one person in a monogamous relationship and not the other, even infants have succumbed. Yet many cases are centered in the gay men’s community, especially in New York City. Most of us who know a lot of gay men also know one or more who have died. Living with this situation feels a bit like it must have felt to be alive when the plague was decimating the population of Europe.”

Born in 1932 into a wealthy Denver family, Goodstein was afflicted with scoliosis and was subjected to a lonely childhood.  He received his undergraduate education at Cornell University and then earned a law degree from Columbia University.  He practiced law as a criminal defense attorney for several years in New York City.

In 1970, he moved to California, and in 1975 he bought The Advocate, which was then a small publication that served the Los Angeles gay and lesbian community. He moved the magazine to San Mateo, near San Francisco, and under his ownership, transformed The Advocate into the most widely-read LGBT news magazine in the country.

Goodstein’s tenure as publisher began with the firing of the entire editorial staff, according to Lionel Biron in the literary magazine Gay Sunshine (1976).  Among those who Goodstein fired was columnist Arthur Evans, one of the founders of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) in New York.  The GAA would become a frequent critic of The Advocate over the years, accusing Goodstein of making the magazine “a show place of white, middle-class gay America.

Goodstein forbid the mention of certain LGBT activists and organizations that he believed had undermined him in some way.  When in 1978, Los Angeles-based activist Morris Kight challenged Goodstein’s control of the Committee for Sexual Law Reform, Goodstein assigned Randy Shilts to do an exposé on him, according to the LGBT Archives.  Realizing that there was nothing to warrant a negative story on Kight, Shilts decided to resign from The Advocate, and famously went on to become the first openly gay reporter for the San Francisco Chronical.

Goodstein also leveraged his power in positive, constructive ways.  In 1977, he was among the founders of Concerned Voters of California, an organization formed to oppose the Briggs Initiative.  Named after California State Senator John V. Briggs, the Briggs Initiative sought to bar gay men and lesbians from teaching in public schools. In a major victory for the gay rights movement, the Briggs Initiative was defeated in November 1978, thanks largely to the campaign coordination by the Concerned Voters of California.

Also, shortly after Anita Bryant’s successful 1977 campaign to repeal the gay rights law in Florida’s Dade County, Goodstein met Werner Erhard, founder of Erhard Seminars Training (better known as “est”).

“The meeting convinced Goodstein that the real problem facing the gay movement was not political but emotional,” wrote John Gallagher in The Advocate in 2001. “Goodstein complained that there was ‘an awful lot of a syndrome I have defined as toilet mentality — that is, a willingness to accept second-rate status as human beings, expecting to lose rather than win, and a constant involvement in petty right-wrong games.'”

In March 1978, Goodstein launched “The Advocate Experience” with about 100 people at the Jack Tar Hotel in San Francisco.  With  psychologist and author Rob Eichberg, Goodstein articulated a vision that by the year 2000, homosexuality would be accepted by everyone in society, and this would happen by raising the self-esteem of gays and lesbians. . Over the next 23 years, about 50,000 people participated in Experience workshops; the program was discontinued in February 2001.

The Advocate remains a leading national source of LGBTQ+ news.  Goodstein’s legacy also includes the 1988 founding of Cornell University’s Human Sexuality Collection, which was funded by a generous gift from Goodstein.  The collection includes Goodstein’s personal papers and memorabilia.

August 1985
‘From the Pines with Love’ Raises $200k for AIDS Medical Foundation

Singer Peter Allen, comedienne Anne Meara, Broadway’s Dorothy Loudon, singer Ellen Foley and musical group Gotham provide the entertainment at “From the Pines with Love,” the first major Fire Island event to raise money for AIDS healthcare.

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Hosted by Gloria and Larry Demann at their Bayfront home, the sold-out event raised more than $200,000 for the AIDS Medical Foundation, the first private organization dedicated to supporting research on AIDS.  AMF, which would become the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), was founded by New York doctors Mathilde Krim  and Joseph Sonnabend.

Dr. Krim would appear at “From the Pines with Love,” telling attendees that the funds raised that night would go toward creating a facility in New York solely devoted to the treatment of AIDS, according to the Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society.

Ryan White barred 2
August 27, 1985
Ryan White Refused Entry to School

Ryan White, an Indiana teenager who contracted AIDS through contaminated blood products used to treat his hemophilia, is refused entry to his middle school.

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James Smith, the school district superintendent issued a statement saying that 13-year-old Ryan White would not be allowed to join his seventh-grade class because he had AIDS, according to the Kokomo Tribune.  Smith’s decision conflicted with a recently released set of guidelines from the state Board of Health that recommended that school-age AIDS patients who felt well enough should be able to attend class.

A state health official confirmed to the Tribune that it was White’s case that prompted the state to issue the guidelines.  The boy’s mother, Jeanne E. White, accused the school administration of “running around a problem they thought they wouldn’t have to deal with.”

The White family’s protracted legal battles to protect a student’s right to attend public school brought nationwide attention to the issue of AIDS and public schools.  In the years that ensued, the teenager became an AIDS activist, speaking out publicly on the need for AIDS awareness among education officials and employees.

Chicago House
September 9, 1985
Chicago House Formed to Provide Shelter to PWAs

Chicago House is founded as a nonprofit organization to provide housing for Chicagoans living with AIDS.

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Long before there was a solid understanding of HIV/AIDS, an effective form of treatment, or widespread social service support for individuals living with AIDS, Chicago House formed to fulfill a fundamental need: a place to live and die with dignity, according to Chicago House’s website.

Earlier in 1985, nearly 100 community activists gathered at the Baton Show Lounge to address the need for housing for people with AIDS.  The AIDS crisis had begun to hit Chicago hard, and individuals diagnosed with AIDS lost much more than their health.  They commonly found themselves without a home, a job, or the support of loved ones as symptoms progressed, often rapidly.

“The one thing we all had was that we had one thing in mind. We had friends who were dying, and to see their families and their lovers turn away from them — it was like they had the plague, and of course they didn’t. It was shattering,” said Arlene Halko, a Chicago House founder who was among the group gathered at the Baton Lounge.

While the services and mission at Chicago House have expanded considerably since 1985, the organization continues to focus on housing the most vulnerable.

Charles Lee Morris
January 6, 1986
AIDS Hospice Founder & Publisher Charles Lee Morris Dies

Charles “Chuck” Lee Morris, former owner and publisher of the San Francisco Sentinel, dies of AIDS-related illness in Denver at the age of 42.  Morris is also the co-founder of two AIDS hospice programs in California.

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Believed to be one of the longest-living victims of AIDS, Morris reportedly had been seriously ill since April 1978, but he wasn’t diagnosed with AIDS until 1982

Morris was a confidant of Dianne Feinstein, often advising the then-Mayor of San Francisco on issues affecting the city’s gay community.  Elected officials such as Senator Edward M. Kennedy, President Jimmy Carter, and Vice President Walter F. Mondale sought out Morris’ political endorsements.

In the early 1980s, Morris helped found two hospice programs in California for those dying of AIDS.

Morris and his partner moved to Denver in the spring of 1984.  Dr. Charles Kirkpatrick, Morris’ physician and an AIDS researcher at National Jewish Hospital, said Morris survived four to five times longer than most AIDS patients. He said at the time that the average survival time of someone with full-blown AIDS was 12-18 months.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

January 18, 1986
Dionne Warwick ‘and Friends’ Sing for amFAR

“That’s What Friends Are For” — recorded by Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Gladys Knight — becomes #1 on the Billboard charts, eventually raising about $3 million for the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

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How Warwick was able to get three superstars to join her in the recording studio was the result of having a collection of creative geniuses for friends, the audacity to just ask, and serendipity.

When Warwick first heard “That’s What Friends Are For,” she envisioned singing it as a duet with Stevie Wonder, according to Song Facts.  The song’s composers, Burt Bacharach and his then-wife, Carole Bayer Sager, agreed to produce the recording, happy to see their song have another chance to reach an audience.  They originally wrote the song for the 1982 movie Night Shift, where it was recorded by Rod Stewart and played over the closing credits.

Warwick put down her tracks, and then invited Wonder to do his part.  On the day Wonder was scheduled to record, Elizabeth Taylor and Neil Simon came to the studio to hear him sing. Knowing of Taylor’s commitment to AIDS research, Bayer Sager suggested to Warwick that they arrange for the song royalties to benefit HIV/AIDS research.  Everyone agreed it was a great idea, Warwick told People magazine in 2019.

They decided there was room for another singer, so Gladys Knight was invited.  But then Warwick ran into Elton John in the grocery store.

“I said, ‘I’m recording tomorrow and I need you.’ That’s how simple it was,” Warwick told People.

The group became a quartet, aka “Dionne Warwick and Friends.”

The next day, Warwick, Knight and John arrived at the recording studio, and were joined by Bacharach and Bayer Sager — and Elizabeth Taylor, who was determined to see the project through.

Knight and John each recorded their parts, and Bacharach and Bayer Sager then went to work to assemble the four vocal tracks into a final recording, according to Song Facts. Later, the singers would perform together for a music video of “That’s What Friends Are For.”

“It was a very emotional evening in which a lot of tears were shed,” Bayer Sager told The New York Times.

In January 1986, “That’s What Friends Are For” rose to number one on the Billboard charts and remained there for four weeks.  The song would win a Grammy Award for “Best Pop Performance by A Duo Or Group With Vocal” and another for “Song Of The Year.”  It was Warwick’s fifth Grammy Award, and Elton John’s first, according to Song Facts.

In February 2011, Warwick, Wonder, Knight and John would reunite at amfAR’s kickoff event for New York Fashion Week and give a live performance of “That’s What Friends Are For.”

Chicago House 1
February 23, 1986
Chicago House Opens Its First Residence for PWAs

Chicago House welcomes the first residents to its new two-flat housing facility in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago.

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Two months later, the facility would reach capacity with all eight places filled. Residents were provided with access to volunteers trained in providing emotional support.

Chicago House continued to plan for additional facilities and support services to meet the growing need.  Later in 1986, the agency acquired administrative office space and began to transition from volunteer support to paid program staff.

Black Community
July 18, 1986
Black Community Mobilizes for Action

At the National Conference on AIDS in the Black Community, minority leaders meet with U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop to discuss concerns about HIV/AIDS in communities of color.

National Minority AIDS Council is founded at the conference.

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The conference was organized by the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, with co-sponsors the National Minority AIDS Council, and the National Conference of Black Mayors, and was funded by a U.S. Public Health Service grant.

Other conference topics include:

  • the disproportionate impact of HIV and AIDS on African Americans,
  • the role of IV drug use and heterosexual transmission in the AIDS epidemic within black communities,
  • the need for culturally competent AIDS education for black communities,
  • the lack of representation in gay and black media outlets of the epidemic among African Americans, and
  • a plea to black churches to respond to the epidemic.

Frederick Garnett, a black man living with AIDS, addresses the conference, bringing public awareness to the racial disparities in how the AIDS epidemic is addressed in Washington, DC, where he lives.

A staff psychologist at St. Elizabeths Hospital and the founder of a support group for Persons Living With AIDS, Garnett says that although African Americans make up half of the people with AIDS in Washington, DC, they are largely absent from clinics and support groups.

Born in Chicago and a graduate of Northwestern University, Garnett had studied for a doctorate in psychology at Adelphi University, completing all but his dissertation before moving to Washington in 1983.

Fifteen months after the 1986 National Conference on AIDS in the Black Community, Garnett would die at the Hospice of Northern Virginia on Oct. 22, 1987, of complications resulting from AIDS, at the age of 32.

Three weeks before his death, Garnett would receive an “American Who Cares” award from the National AIDS Network for his dedication to AIDS education in minority communities.  Garnett served as a board member of the National Association of People With AIDS, the National Minority AIDS Council, and the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington.


Nancy Cole Sawaya
October 6, 1986
APLA Founder Nancy Cole Sawaya Dies

Nancy Cole Sawaya, co-founder of AIDS Project Los Angeles, dies in Sherman Oaks Community Hospital from AIDS-related illness at the age of 40.

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Two months before, on August 4, Sawaya publicly disclosed that she had contracted AIDS, apparently from sexual encounters with men prior to her marriage, at least one of whom later died of AIDS complications.

“I just wish people would realize that it could happen to anybody,” Sawaya would tell the Los Angeles Times.  “I do this couple support group on Monday nights, and all these people are a group of well-educated, down-to-earth, loving, successful people.  It’s not the image like when you see on TV — they immediately shoot to Santa Monica Boulevard, somebody in leather, groping the other person, and it’s not like that.”

Sawaya began her HIV/AIDS advocacy work in 1982, when she helped to create the first hotline in Los Angeles to share verified medical information about the disease.  In December 1982, she hosted a Christmas party to raise $8,000 for a new organization — AIDS Project Los Angeles.  In early 1983, APLA would open its doors on Cole Avenue, with herself, Max Drew, Matt Redman, and Ervin Munro as Founders.

In the beginning, APLA had five clients, which would grow to 100 by the end of the year, and by the middle of 1984, APLA would serve 200 clients — and the numbers kept growing.  Sawaya was the first to manage APLA’s client services operation, often working 60 hours a week.

Sawaya would leave behind her husband Louis and a daughter.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Prop 64
November 4, 1986
Activists Defeat California Prop 64, Attempt to Expose PWAs

LGBT activists organize voters to overwhelmingly defeat Prop 64, a Lyndon LaRouch-backed initiative on the California ballot requiring “carriers of the AIDS virus” to be reported to government authorities.

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Proposition 64 would have declared that HIV/AIDS and the “condition of being a carrier” of the virus  are communicable diseases and, therefore, subject to the reporting requirement to the State Department of Health Services.

Proposition 64’s supporters, led by the LaRouchian group PANIC (Prevent AIDS NOW Initiative Committee), say it would require any individual who carries the AIDS virus, even without the disease’s symptoms, to be reported to state authorities and barred from schools or jobs in restaurants.  State officials could quarantine such carriers, they contended.

LGBT activists in California argue that the initiative would lend an air of legitimacy to job discrimination against homosexuals, and public health authorities say it would deter people with HIV/AIDS from seeking treatment if there were a requirement to report them.  This, they say, would further the spread of the disease undetected.

Proposition 64 is opposed by the 34,000-member California Medical Association and most statewide elected officials, including members of both political parties.  Nearly every major newspaper has recommended a “no” vote.

Torie Osborn, the southern California coordinator of the No On 64/Stop LaRouche campaign, told the Washington Post that campaign leaders had considered focusing on LaRouche’s bizarre politics — based on conspiracy theories, economic doom, anti-Semitism, homophobia and racism.

But polling data suggested that to many voters, “it really doesn’t matter who is behind the initiative,” Osborn said.

LaRouche’s PANIC team operated their campaign out of a Los Feliz headquarters, which became besieged by death threats and vandalism.

December 1986
Starcross Monastery Begins to Adopt AIDS Babies

Starcross Monastery in Sonoma County becomes guardian to Michelle, a five-month-old baby born with the AIDS virus who was abandoned at a hospital.  Many other infants and children would follow Michelle to Starcross and be cared for by Catholic monks.

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Brother Tolbert “Toby” McCarroll, Sister Marti Aggeler and Sister Julie DeRossi used the proceeds of the 1976 sale of a building near San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury to buy a ramshackle farmhouse on 115 acres of meadows and forest, where they opened the Starcross Monastic Community.

Their idea was to grow and sell Christmas trees, provide a wholesome country home for children in the foster care system, and pursue a monastic lifestyle in a secluded part of northern California, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Then the AIDS crisis hit, and the monks began to reach out to nearby hospitals who were housing orphaned infants and children infected with the virus.  They found that many did not need to be hospitalized, but there was no one else for them to go.

Starcross began to assume guardianship of infants and young children with HIV, and provided them with a home and medical care.  The monks developed a home care program that resembled a family farm more than a hospice.

“We had no medical training, but we did know how to take care of kids, having raised
many foster children over the years,” states Starcross’ paper on the history on the monastery’s work during the AIDS crisis.  “At the time, medicine had nothing to offer. The local AIDS doctor encouraged us saying that these little children whose mothers were too sick to care for them, needed to be in regular homes, not hospitals. We joyfully welcomed six HIV positive babies into our family.”

Before long, word spread and Starcross received a generous donation from Frank Sinatra. Then Parents magazine named Brother Toby, a celibate monk from an unheard-of town in California, its Parent of the Month.  In his 1994 book Last Watch of the Night, author Paul Monette — famous for publicly tearing up a photo of the Pope — cited Brother Toby as one of the few men of the cloth he admired.

In 1988-89, San Francisco filmmaker Bob Elfstrom followed the Starcross Monastic Community for two years and produced the documentary Christmas at Starcross, which premiered in 1990 on PBS station WGBH in Boston.

The media exposure also brought negative attention to the monastery.  Some of Starcross’ country neighbors recoiled at the news that the AIDS virus was among them. Shortly before Christmas 1997, one of the Starcross children, an HIV-infected baby named Aaron, had difficulty breathing.  The monks phoned for help, but the volunteer Annapolis firefighters would not respond to the call.

Some of the first residents, like Aaron, Michelle and Josh, died at the farmhouse within years of their arrival.  But as HIV treatment options grew, children began to survive.  Nicole, who arrived at Starcross as an HIV-positive infant with a variety of special medical needs, would grow up to enjoy learning at the local schools, according to a 2001 article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Starcross remains today, and so do the homes for AIDS orphans that Starcross created in Uganda and Romania. Both now operate independently of Starcross and Brother Toby told the LA Times that he expects that will continue indefinitely, as they must because the global AIDS crisis shows no signs of going away.

AIDS Quilt 1 - Marvin Feldman
February 1987
Cleve Jones Creates First Panel for AIDS Memorial Quilt

AIDS activist Cleve Jones creates the first panel of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in honor of his friend Marvin Feldman, who died on October 10, 1986 of AIDS at the age of 33.

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The quilt panel measured three feet wide by six feet long — the size and shape of a grave plot.

The idea of the quilt came to Jones in November 1985 while he planned the annual candlelight march honoring the 1978 assassinations of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

Jones learned that over 1,000 San Franciscans had been lost already to AIDS-related illnesses.  For the candlelight march, he asked each of his fellow marchers to write on placards the names of loved ones who had died of AIDS, and at the end of the march, Jones and others stood on ladders and taped the placards to the walls of the San Francisco Federal Building.  The wall of names reminded Jones of a patchwork quilt, and an idea was born.

Fight Back Fight AIDS
March 12, 1987
Activist Larry Kramer Founds ACT UP

Activist Larry Kramer founds the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP ) at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York City.

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Kramer’s goal is to create a political direct-action group that will force governments, elected officials, public health agencies, the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, and religious institutions to act to protect those at risk of HIV, and those who are sick with AIDS.  The organization was founded in response to the U.S. government’s lack of action on the growing number of deaths from HIV infection and AIDS.

ACT UP quickly made its name with tactics that were unapologetically confrontational, says David France, the author of a history of AIDS activism called How to Survive a Plague, as well as a 2012 documentary by the same name.

Time magazine calls ACT UP “the most effective health activist [group] in history ” for “pressuring drug companies, government agencies and other powers that stood in their way to find better treatments for people with AIDS — and, in the process, improving the way drugs are tested and approved in the U.S.”

AIDS Protestors Arrested 03 1987
March 24, 1987
ACT UP Holds Its First ‘Zap’ on Wall Street

The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) stages its first protest on Wall Street, bringing widespread attention to the AIDS epidemic.

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ACT UP’s first-ever demonstration takes place at the busy intersection of Wall Street and Broadway, near Trinity Church, a location selected with the goal of disrupting the morning rush hour.

Formed in New York City in early 1987, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (more commonly known as ACT UP) brought widespread attention to the AIDS epidemic and helped make significant advances in AIDS research.

ACT UP’s first demonstration in 1987 targeted pharmaceutical companies that were profiteering from the epidemic (especially Burroughs Wellcome, manufacturer of AZT).  ACT UP also accused the industry of not conducting research to find a cure or better treatments for HIV/AIDS.

Some 250 protestors, many of whom laid down in the street and/or held signs, called for corporate and government action to end the AIDS crisis.  The protest targeted pharmaceutical companies that were profiting from the epidemic and specifically called out Burroughs Wellcome, the company manufacturing the high-priced treatment of AZT.

Demonstrators chanted “We are angry! We want action!” and “Release those drugs!”  Seventeen people were arrested that day.

A flyer announcing the protest listed several immediate demands, including:

  • the release by the FDA of new experimental drugs to treat HIV/AIDS,
  • the availability of drugs at affordable prices,
  • a program to educate the public to combat the spread of AIDS, and
  • policies to end AIDS-related discrimination in the workplace, housing, insurance, and medical treatment.

Soon after the demonstration, the FDA announced it would shorten its nine-year drug approval process by two years.  Meanwhile, other chapters of ACT UP began to spring up in other cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago.

Dissatisfied with the response from the FDA and pharmaceutical companies, the New York chapter of ACT UP would stage numerous demonstrations — including three more on Wall Street — in the next several years, drawing national attention to the AIDS crisis.

Ann Northrop, a former journalist who became an organizer with ACT UP New York, told The New Yorker that they intentionally created public spectacles to draw in the media and capture public attention.


GMHC Founders
May 7, 1987
GMHC President Paul Popham Dies

Paul Popham, founder and first president of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City, dies at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of AIDS-related illness at the age of 45.

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Popham was a Bronze Star Medal-winning Vietnam veteran who had a successful career as a Wall Street banker.  He was politically inactive until 1981, when he first read about the disease that later became known as AIDS.

In January 1982, Popham, along with Larry Kramer, Lawrence Mass, Nathan Fain, Paul Rapoport, and Edmund White, founded Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), and Popham became the organization’s first president.

At the time of its founding, GMHC was the largest volunteer AIDS organization in the world.

Popham’s leadership style was infused with charm and diplomacy, which some found to be an ideal approach in the new fight against AIDS.  However, others thought Popham should have lead the organization with more urgency and ferocity.  The latter camp included Larry Kramer, who thought Popham’s approach was overly accommodating and ineffective.

Tensions between Kramer and Popham led to Kramer leaving GMHC in 1983 and, later, their contentious relationship would be portrayed in Kramer’s play The Normal Heart, one of the first plays to address the AIDS crisis.  Popham was the basis for the character of Bruce Niles.

In the program notes for one of GMHC’s earliest benefits, Paul Popham wrote, “I think the most impressive thing I’ve seen over the last year and a half is how affectionate men have grown. We are finding out who we are, what we can do under pressure.  Although we’re paying a terrible price, we’re finding in ourselves much greater strength than we dreamed we had.”

Popham also helped found the AIDS Action Council, a lobbying organization in Washington, and was chairman of the group.

Popham was diagnosed with AIDS in February 1985.  He remained active with GMHC until his illness became too severe.

In July 1986, Popham testified before Congress about allowing AIDS patients to receive drugs that were still undergoing clinical trials. This was less than a year before his death and he was clearly ill. However, he still spoke in his usual calm and resolute manner.

“As a person with AIDS, I am luckier than many in that I know resources that I can use,” he told members of Congress.  “But there are many people who have AIDS that don’t have the advantage of coming with the knowledge that I have of where to go to get the resources they need.  There is no place to go that is providing up-to-date information about the drug trials going on and how to get into these trials.”

Houston pride logo 1987 color
June 27, 1987
‘Persons Living With AIDS’ are Named Grand Marshal of Houston Pride

Houston Pride honors persons living with AIDS as the Grand Marshal for the Pride Parade.

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With the theme “Come Out and Celebrate Pride,” the parade organizers encouraged everyone to take to the streets during the event.  Organizers also told community members to donate money to HIV/AIDS organizations rather to the making of parade floats, according to Hannah DeRousselle in Houston History magazine.

By then, the Pride Parade, which was founded in 1979, was drawing smaller crowds, reflecting the devastation of the community by the spread of HIV and the effects of a growing hostility toward gay people in general due to the AIDS Crisis.


Love Your Asian Body
July 1987
Group Launches to Help API People Living with HIV/AIDS

Five members of the Los Angeles-based Asian Pacific Lesbian and Gays (APLG) start a new group within their organization to address healthcare, education and social support needs of members in their community affected by HIV.

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The launch of the APLG AIDS Intervention Team was a response by Dean Goishi, Douglas Chin, Tak Yamamoto, Roy Kawasaki, and Herb Dreiwitz after they started to see friends struggle with HIV at a time when no government funding existed to address the crisis within their community.

In 1989, APLG AIT would become the first LGBTQ+ organization to join the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and would help the council establish its HIV/AIDS committee.

The same year, APLG AIT would receive a California Community Foundation grant to develop HIV education materials in seven API languages.  The committee’s first education campaign, “Love Your Asian Body,” would be launched in  and it broke through the stigma and shame associated with HIV and AIDS to promote HIV testing as a form of self-care.

Due to the demand in the API community for HIV education, the committee would break off and form its own organization called the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team (APAIT) in 1991.  With Goishi as the Founding Director, APAIT fought against ignorance, racism, and homophobia to break the silence about HIV/AIDS in the Asian community.

“It was a role that … if I didn’t step up, nobody else would, and we would have been left out and we would have been left behind in services, funds and so forth,” said Goishi in 2023 for Okaeri Voices, an oral history project featuring LGBTQ+ Japanese Americans.

September 27, 1987
Seattle Holds its First AIDS Walk-a-thon

In an event organized by the Northwest AIDS Foundation. more than 2,000 people march 6.2 miles in Seattle to raise money for AIDS treatment and research.

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The inaugural Seattle walkathon raised more than $335,000.  Walking with other volunteers was Michael Otto, an AIDS patient who was released from the city’s Swedish Hospital so he could participate in the event.  According to historylink.org, Otto walked part of the route and rode the rest in a van. He died two months later at the age of 33.

HIV surfaced in Washington state in late July 1982, when a Seattle man was diagnosed with AIDS.  Later that year, another man was diagnosed with the AIDS-related conditions of neumocystis pneumonia and a bacterial infection.

AIDS Quilt 1987 display 3
October 11, 1987
AIDS Memorial Quilt Displayed on National Mall in DC

The AIDS Memorial Quilt goes on display for the first time on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The display features almost 2,000 panels measuring 3’ x 6’.

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Starting at sunrise, six teams of eight volunteers ceremonially unfolded the quilt sections as celebrities, politicians, families, lovers and friends read aloud the 1,920 names of the people who died of AIDS.  The quilt display covered a space larger than a football field.

Half a million people gathered on the National Mall during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, and listened to the reading of each name represented by a panel.

The overwhelming response to the quilt’s display in the nation’s capital led to a four-month, 20-city, national tour for the quilt the following year, according to the National AIDS Memorial, the permanent caretaker and steward of the quilt.

As the quilt moved from city to city, hundreds of panels were added in each location until the quilt returned to San Francisco at triple its original size, with more than 6,000 panels.  More than 9,000 volunteers across the country assisted the seven-person traveling crew for the quilt exhibition.  The tour raised nearly $500,000 for hundreds of AIDS service organizations.

AIDS Quilt - Frederick Garnett
October 22, 1987
Advocate & Educator Frederick Garnett Dies

National Minority AIDS Council co-founder and board member Frederick Garnett dies at the age of 32 of complications resulting from AIDS, at the Hospice of Northern Virginia.

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Three weeks before his death, Garnett would receive an “American Who Cares” award from the National AIDS Network for his dedication to AIDS education in minority communities.  Garnett also served as a board member of the National Association of People With AIDS and the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington.

Born in Chicago and a graduate of Northwestern University, Garnett studied for a doctorate in psychology at Adelphi University, completing all but his dissertation before moving to Washington in 1983.

Fifteen months before his death, in July 1986, Garrett addressed the National Conference on AIDS in the Black Community, bringing public awareness to the racial disparities in how the AIDS epidemic is addressed in his adopted hometown of Washington, DC.

A staff psychologist at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and the founder of a support group for Persons Living With AIDS, Garnett expressed his concerns to conference members that although African Americans made up roughly 50% of people living with AIDS in Washington, DC, they were largely absent from clinics and support groups.

The conference was organized by the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, with co-sponsoring organizations National Minority AIDS Council and National Conference of Black Mayors.

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Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Debra Fraser-Howze 2
November 1987
National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS is Founded

Debra Fraser-Howze , director of teenage services at the Urban League of New York, founds the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS .

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The organization works to educate, mobilize, and empower black leaders to meet the challenge of fighting HIV/AIDS and other health disparities in their local communities.

Fraser-Howze would lead the NBLCA for 21 years as President and CEO.  She would also become advisor to two U.S. Presidents (Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) while serving on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS from 1995-2001.

As the nation’s oldest nonprofit organization of its kind, dedicated to educating, mobilizing and empowering Black leaders to meet the challenge of fighting HIV/AIDS, the NBLCA would evolve to become a comprehensive advocacy, policy and action organization that addresses multiple health disparities affecting Blacks/African Americans.

In 2019, the organization would change its name to National Black Leadership Commission on Health (Black Health), with an expanded focus that includes not only HIV/AIDS, but also Hepatitis C, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, sickle cell, diabetes and mental health.

November 1987
AIDS Hotline Expands Reach to Spanish Speakers

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF) initiates efforts to reach the Latino community through a Spanish-language AIDS Hotline.

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Promoted as “Linea de Informacion Sobre el SIDA,” the hotline was operated by Spanish-speaking volunteers who were trained to provide the latest information about resources regarding HIV and AIDS.  The San Francisco AIDS Foundation had been operating the California AIDS Hotline since fall of 1982.

Jorge Zepeda started at SFAF as a volunteer for the Spanish-language hotline shortly after it was launched.  Seeing friends and acquaintances in the Latinx community become sick and die inspired him to get involved in SFAF’s work.

“Much of what we needed to do, was to make information only available in English about HIV and AIDS accessible to Spanish-speaking communities,” Zepeda shared in 2021 on SFAF’s website.  “This effort has turned into a mission that I continue to do to this day, as the director of Latinx Health at SFAF.”

AIDS Quilt - Lyle Loder 2
December 3, 1987
Hollywood UMC Member Lyle Loder Dies

Lyle Loder, member of the congregation of the Hollywood United Methodist Church, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 37.

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Loder was a key leader in development of an LGBT witness among United Methodists in southern California during the early 1980s, recalls his friend Morris Floyd.

Feeling called to the United Methodist ministry, Loder studied philosophy and religion and served as a student pastorate while at Kansas Wesleyan University in the early 1970s, according to Floyd.  However, Loder chose to not hide his identity, and by the time of his graduation from KWU, the denomination had incorporated into its Discipline the language describing same-sex relationships as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

“Lyle’s dream of serving as a United Methodist clergyman was never realized,” writes Floyd in the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network.

Instead, Loder would go on to help build a local congregation that would welcome lesbian and gay United Methodists in the Hollywood area.  By 1986, Loder would be an active member of HUMC and he would share with the congregation that he was living with AIDS.

In October 1987, the Health and Welfare Ministries Division of the Board of Global Ministries hosted a consultation conference on AIDS at a hotel near the San Francisco airport.  Loder was invited to help plan the conference and participate in a panel discussion about the needs of people living with AIDS.

“Lyle’s participation on a panel, sharing his story, and in the midst of it, despite everything, his love for God and his refusal to give up on the United Methodist Church,” recalls Floyd.  “He was frail and only a few weeks from death, though he did not know it at the time.  If ever God’s Spirit was present anywhere, it shone in Lyle in those hours.”

On November 29, 1987, the day before his birthday, Loder was admitted to the hospital, where he was visited by his brother.  When Loder died a few days later, many friends came to his hospital room, spread rose petals on his bed, and sang hymns

Memorial services were held at HUMC and again at Loder’s home church in Kansas.  Loder was the first of the HUMC family to die of complications of HIV/AIDS, but he wouldn’t be the last.

A memorial plaque inside the church narthex carries the names of Loder and 34 additional members of the congregation who died in the early years of the pandemic. On World AIDS Day in 1993, members of HUMC fashioned two giant red ribbons and attached them to the tower of the church.  In 1996, more permanent ribbons replaced them and remain today.

Loder’s life is also memorialized by three panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, one of them made by church and community worker Donna Kay Campbell.

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Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

December 4, 1987
ACT UP Chapter Launches in Los Angeles

AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power/Los Angeles (ACT UP/LA) meets for the first time in West Hollywood.

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Inspired by ACT UP/New York and energized by the 1987 March on Washington, about 400 activists packed Fiesta Hall in Plummer Park to form a local chapter of ACT UP.  Drawing many members of the Lavender Left, ACT UP/LA decided to follow New York’s model of utilizing non-violent direct action as a means to draw media attention and challenge the status quo.

At the first meeting of the chapter, the membership voted to hold a demonstration against the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for its policies restricting the movement of persons living with HIV.

In the months ahead, the chapter would train its members in civil disobedience techniques and form support teams to track confrontations and arrests.

According to member David Lacaillade, “Hundreds of demonstrations later, ACT UP/LA has had a major impact on AIDS care in Los Angeles County and Southern California. At its peak, ACT UP/LA operated a public office, published a newsletter, had a mailing list of approximately 2,200 names, and met weekly in the city of West Hollywood.”

Sheldon Andelson
December 29, 1987
LGBTQ Political Leader Shelley Andelson Dies

Sheldon “Shelley” Andelson, a leader in the gay community and a fundraiser for politicians such as Senator Edward Kennedy and presidential candidate Walter Mondale, dies of AIDS-related illness in Los Angeles at the age of 56.

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The founder of the Bank of Los Angeles and a successful lawyer, Andelson raised large sums for liberal politicians at parties in his Bel-Air home and at his restaurant, Trumps.  He served as a Founding Board Member for the Kaposi’s Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation, which later became the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Born in Boyle Heights, Andelson was the first openly gay University of California Regent.  His nomination by Gov. Jerry Brown to the UC Board of Regents was met with a nasty confirmation battle but he ultimately served as a Regent from 1980 to 1986.

The Los Angeles Times called him a “Democratic Party heavyweight, once regarded as the nation’s most influential gay political figure.”  Andelson was instrumental in the 1980 appointment of one of the first openly gay judges in California, Rand Schrader.

Additionally, Andelson was a member of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, a founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art, director of the ACLU Foundation, and a member of a committee of the 1984 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles.

The Andelson Collection at the UC Santa Barbara Library supports the teaching curriculum and research interests of faculty and students in LGBTQ+ studies across the disciplines.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Women dont get AIDS
January 15, 1988
ACT UP Protests Cosmopolitan Magazine

After Cosmopolitan Magazine publishes an article by a psychiatrist claiming that women with “healthy vaginas” did not have to worry about contracting HIV, 300 activists gather outside the magazine’s New York headquarters to express their outrage.

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The demonstration was organized by the women members from the largest radical AIDS organization in the US, AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).  On a cold winter day, hundreds of activists distributed 5,000 fact sheets and called for a boycott of the magazine.

Two two months later, Cosmopolitan published its first article on safer sex practices for women .

This was ACT UP’s first protest that specifically targeted the issue of women and AIDS.  But there was more to come.

The discovery of HIV in 1984 led to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to broaden slightly the definition of AIDS in 1985.  However, the definition largely excluded women because it failed to reference the opportunistic infections most commonly experienced by women with AIDS. infections.

This resulted in women being excluded from most HIV/AIDS clinical trials and also perpetuated the falsehood that only very promiscuous women or women who used IV drugs could get HIV.

Activists began demanding that the CDC broaden its AIDS definition again, so that it could include women, first through attempts to talk with CDC leaders and then through letter-writing campaigns.  Tired of having demands ignored, ACT UP organized two massive demonstrations in 1989 and 1990 in Atlanta, at the headquarters of the CDC.

Hundreds of activists were arrested carrying banners reading “Women don’t get AIDS, they just die from it.”

Activist pressure to study the disease among populations other than gay men finally led the CDC to announce in 1991 a new study that would include women—the Spectrum of Disease Study. Representatives of ACT UP were allowed to participate in the design of the study and the organization provided 60% of the female participants, according to Gilbert Elbaz, author of Women, AIDS, and Activism Fighting Invisibility.

– – – – – – –
Sources: Gilbert Elbaz, author of Women, AIDS, and Activism Fighting Invisibility.

ACT UP san francisco
January 15, 1988
ACT UP Chapter Forms in San Francisco after Crushing LaRouche Initiative

Already a fertile breeding ground for LGBT activism, San Francisco becomes the latest city to start its own chapter of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).

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After AIDS activists joined together in 1986 to fight the discriminatory AIDS initiatives proposed by Lyndon LaRouche, it was only a matter of time before ACT UP chapters began to pop up in major California cities.

In San Francisco, LGBTQ activists were particularly ready to join the ACT UP network.  A group had formed to recruit activists (via the “AIDS Action Pledge”) to engage in civil disobedience if the LaRouche initiative passed.  To put the pledge into action, an affinity group called Citizens for Medical Justice (CMJ) was created.

After California voters shut down LaRouche’s Proposition 64, which mandated at all “carriers” of the AIDS virus to be reported to public health officials, the CMJ renamed itself ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, and joined ACT NOW (the AIDS Coalition to Network, Organize and Win).

According to archival ACT UP documents,  1988 would be a busy and productive year for ACT UP/San Francisco.

Almost immediately after establishing itself as an ACT UP chapter, the San Francisco activists shut down the west coasts office of Burroughs-Wellcome in Burlingame.  Police arrested 19 members in that action.

In February, the group organized a demonstration outside the San Francisco hearings of the findings of the President’s Commission on the HIV Epidemic.  Formed the previous year under President Ronald Reagan, the commission was widely regarded as conservative-leaning, unqualified, and out of touch.  Commissioners included Cardinal John O’Connor; John J. Creedon, the CEO of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company; Penny Pullen, a state legislator who would go on to found the anti-gay group Illinois Family Institute; and Dr. Theresa L. Crenshaw, an opponent of condoms as an HIV-prevention method.

In March 1988, ACT UP/San Francisco protested Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) for their AIDS and lesbian/gay exclusionary policies.

In October, they organized a protest of AIDS-phobic episode of NBC’S television series Midnight Caller. They also joined activists from around the country to shut down the main headquarters of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In December, when the Midnight Caller episode runs, the chapter organizes a protest at San Francisco NBC affiliate KRON, where 20 activists were arrested. They also staged a sit-in at San Francisco General Hospital to protest the hospital’s refusal to treat patients with Foscarnet, a drug caught in FDA red tape.

ACT UP/San Francisco would remain active into the mid-1990s.

January 27, 1988
Ian McKellen Comes Out on U.K. Radio to Oppose Section 28

As news of Section 28 — a new law that prohibits the acceptance of homosexuality in schools and local governmental entities — spreads through the LGBTQ+ community, actor Ian McKellen decides to come out on live BBC radio to demonstrate his personal stake in his opposition to the law.

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Broadcast live on this date in 1988, McKellen was interviewed along with Section 28 supporter Peregrine Worsthorne.  Early in the broadcast, the interviewer asked McKellen, “So you would just like to see Clause 28 disappear altogether?”

McKellen responded, “Oh, yes.  I certainly would.  Yes.  I think it’s offensive to anyone who is, like myself, homosexual, apart from the whole business of what can or cannot be taught to children.”

When Section 28 supporter Worsthorne said the law would not have “any very serious effect on the Arts,” McKellen countered with an example of how homophobia was already impacting the country’s theater landscape.

“You are familiar with the play The Normal Heart, an American play about AIDS in the early days of AIDS in America, which had a huge impact on people’s knowledge of that disease, not just in America but when it was recently seen here in England, at the Royal Court Theatre and in the West End,” McKellen said.

“The Devonshire County Council has recently removed £10,000 from the grant to its local arts center, because it proposes to do that play,” McKellen argued.  “And it’s in the light of that sort of, we call it, censorship, we call it restriction, we call it too strong expression of opinion, I would have thought, which makes us fear what the effect of this Clause, if it ever happened.”

March 1988
Ron Woodroof Founds Dallas Buyers Club

Ron Woodroof founds what would become known as the Dallas Buyers Club and begins distributing AIDS medication through an illegal underground network.

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Woodroof’s Dallas Buyers Club was among the first of several AIDS buyers clubs that sprang up in the U.S. at a time when effective HIV treatment was not available, according to Biography / A&E Television network.

AZT was the only drug on the U.S. market to treat the disease, and accounts vary as to whether Woodroof was unable to take AZT due to the debilitating side effects or that he was denied AZT because “he was too far gone.”

Diagnosed with AIDS in 1986 and given just weeks to live, Woodroof researched various medicines being used in different parts of the world to counteract AIDS’ effects, spending hours in libraries researching experimental and other drugs.

“I am my own physician,” he was known to say.

Woodroof determined that he would have the best chance of survival if he treated himself with a combination of dextran sulfate, Procaine PVP and other medications — antivirals that were available in other countries but not in the U.S.  That didn’t stop him from acquiring these medications and using them.

Woodroof, who made his living as an electrician, found that he could legally purchase many of the medications he wanted just over the Texas border in Mexico.  When other AIDS patients came looking for these same medications, Woodroof’s doctor and a fellow patient sent them to Woodroof for help, and the Dallas Buyers Club was born.

He began buying large quantities of the AIDS medications and distributed them out of his Oak Lawn, Texas apartment. Within months, his club became a huge network of buyers and sellers, all of whom attempted to fly under the radar of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Woodroof’s club served not only local people with AIDS but people around the world who learned about the medications the Texan was making available.

Woodroof’s story would become the basis for the 2013 film The Dallas Buyers Club, and actor Matthew McConaughey would play Woodroof and win Best Actor honors at both the 2014 Academy Awards and Golden Globes.

To prepare for his role, McConaughy listened to audio tapes of interviews with Woodroof and read Woodroof’s diaries provided by the family.

“At the beginning of this journey he’s a two-bit cowboy, and by the end of it, he’s a damn scientist,” said McConaughy upon the release of the film.  “He did have an engineering mind, which he’d put to good use to make something of a living as an electrician …  Once he grasped that he had HIV, he gains purpose, he had this one clear thing to do — stay alive. Everything else followed from that.”

In spite of crackdowns by the FDA and other federal regulators, the Dallas Buyers Club would flourish.  Woodroof would charge club participants a fee for membership and sell the medications to them at cost.  Unable to continue work as an electrician, he embraced the Buyers Club as his full-time job.

“The FDA largely turned a blind eye when it came to the Dallas Buyers Club’s operations, but there were times when it had no choice but to intervene in the importation of illegal drugs,” writes Bogar Alonso for Biography.  “One drug in particular was blocked by the FDA upon delivery, though Woodroof had come to rely on it for his health. Though he wasn’t allowed to sell it on the market, the FDA would eventually let Woodroof keep his own personal stash.”

Woodroof would die of AIDS-related illness on September 12, 1992.

“His fight brought added awareness to the disease, and the awareness in turn helped countless victims find Woodroof and attain a level of help otherwise unavailable,” states Biography.

March 1988
Gay Activist Group — GUTS — Shames Dallas City Council

Members of the Gay Urban Truth Squad (GUTS) take over an empty lot and transform it into a “potters field” to put a spotlight on the Dallas City Council’s inadequate funding of HIV/AIDS programs.


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Thirty-five activists from GUTS, an offshoot of the Dallas Gay Alliance, brought to the abandoned construction site about 500 hand-painted white crosses bearing the names of Dallas County residents who had succumbed to AIDS and hammered them into the dirt in the early hours of the morning.

Led by activists William Waybourn, Bill Hunt, Bill Nelson and John Thomas, GUTS was known for staging protests to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in such a way that “streets were never blocked, no one was arrested,” wrote Kimberly Goad for D magazine in 1996.

The spectacle they created at the intersection of Lemmon and Cole avenues in Dallas remained in place for weeks, drawing attention to the issue of HIV/AIDS funding, and the lack of it, in the city, according to the Dallas Observer,

The lot had been abandoned by a developer that had already dug a large hole into the property, according to former GUTS member Bill Monroe, and it was receiving media attention as a notorious eyesore in the community.  Responding to the unwanted community attention, the Dallas City Council voted to allocate $500,000 to fill the hole.

GUTS was appalled that the City Council could throw this kind of money at an empty lot when, earlier the same year, the council members designated just $55,000 toward AIDS programs at a time when local residents were sick and dying of AIDS.

So, once the hole was filled and started growing grass again, GUTS converged on the location to  construct a potters field with over 500 white crosses to represent the number of HIV cases in Dallas at the time.  Some of the crosses bore the names of people that the activists personally knew.

They also posted two large banners on the site that read “The City of Dallas Spent $500,000 Filling This Hole” and “The City of Dallas Spent $55,000 on AIDS.”

The theatrical demonstration worked.  Media swarmed the makeshift potter’s field and it was featured on the evening news.

Waybourn, one of the organizers, told The Dallas Observer that the city was so embarrassed by the demonstration, council members increased funding for HIV/AIDS programs to $552,000 the following year.

Leonard Matlovich
June 22, 1988
Gay Vietnam Veteran Leonard Matlovich Dies

Leonard “Mat” Matlovich — an activist who famously said “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one” — dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 44.

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Matlovich was featured on the cover Time magazine in September 1975, under the headline “I Am a Homosexual.”  He was wearing his Air Force service uniform, with his nameplate attached on one side and his medals on the other.

Matlovich challenged the military ban on gay service members by coming out in a letter to his commanding officer and simultaneously in an interview with Time magazine.  The Air Force responded by issuing Matlovich a general discharge.  He decided to fight it and got it changed to an honorable discharge. He then tried to get the Air Force to take him back, but was unsuccessful.

“He … was the epitome of a perfect soldier, one of those people that stuck his neck out, and he was proud to be the person to challenge that law,” said Jeff Dupre, a longtime friend of Matlovich who spoke with NPR in 2015.

Matlovich, who followed in his father’s footsteps by enlisting in the Air Force, served three tours of duty in Vietnam, where he received a Bronze Star for heroism under fire, and a Purple Heart for being seriously wounded in a land mine explosion, according to The Legacy Project.

He went on to teach Air Force “race relations” courses, where he realized that prejudice and discrimination against gays were similar to that against Black people.  He reached out to Frank Kameny, an Army veteran who co-founded a chapter of the Mattachine Society in Washington DC.  Kameny was intent on challenging institutions whose policies forced people to remain closeted, and he was looking for a test case to challenge the military ban on homosexuals.  Matlovich stepped forward.

Kameny worked with Matlovich to orchestrate the latter’s public coming out — simultaneously to the Air Force and the readers of Time magazine.  Matlovich’s discharge in 1975 was followed by a five-year legal battle and eventually an order from the U.S. District Court to reinstate him. The court, however, declined to give a ruling on the ban itself.

Convinced that the Air Force would find some other reason to discharge him if he reentered the service, Matlovich accepted the Air Force’s offer of a financial settlement and devoted the remainder of his life to championing the fight against anti-gay discrimination.

In the late 1970s, Matlovich spoke out against Anita Bryant’s anti-gay crusade in Florida and California Proposition 6, which sought to ban gay and lesbian teachers from public schools.  In 1978, Matlovich’s story was made into a film titled Sergeant Matlovich vs. the U.S. Air Force.

On May 19, 1987, Matlovich appeared on Good Morning America and disclosed that he had contracted the AIDS virus.  He delivered his final public speech on May 7, 1988 in front of the California State Capitol during the March on Sacramento for Gay and Lesbian Rights.  He died just weeks later.

Matlovich’s body was buried with full military honors in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., according to Making Gay History.

His headstone reads “A Gay Vietnam Veteran” and is inscribed with the words he made famous: “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

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Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

August 9, 1988
Needle-Exchange Program Begins in Tacoma

On a sidewalk in Tacoma, Washington, drug counselor David Purchase sets up the nation’s first needle-exchange program to combat the spread of HIV .

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Although secures support from the Tacoma mayor and police chief for his one-man effort, Purchase must pay out-of-pocket for the needles.

Within five months, he would exchange 13,000 clean needles for contaminated ones.

Purchase would go on to form the North American Syringe Exchange Network, and become known as the “Godfather of Needle Exchange.”

August 23, 1988
Researchers Voice Opposition to Proposal for Mandatory HIV Reporting

Leading AIDS researchers condemn Proposition 102, the latest California AIDS ballot measure, saying it is a dangerous intrusion into their efforts to address the epidemic.

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Proposition 102, a ballot initiative sponsored by political extremists, proposed to require healthcare professionals and others to report anyone they have ”reasonable cause to believe” is infected with HIV.

The signature campaign to put the measure on the 1988 November ballot in California was sponsored by Paul Gann, an anti-taxation crusader who contracted AIDS after receiving a blood transfusion, and U.S. Rep. William E. Dannemeyer, a Republican from Orange County.

“This single piece of legislation will have more to do with prolonging the epidemic than anything I can imagine,” Dr. Mervyn Silverman, president of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, told the Los Angeles Times.

Dr. Silverman was part of a group of top AIDS researchers who gathered in San Francisco to voice their opposition to Prop 102, which would be listed on the California ballot in November.

With him were two colleagues from San Francisco General Hospital: Dr. Paul Volberding and Dr. Andrew Moss.

Dr. Moss said that people come forward for testing and counseling, “because they trust us not to put their names on government lists.”

Dr. Volberding, who was editor-in-chief of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes and head of AIDS programs at San Francisco General, said that a mandatory reporting law would “scare away research subjects and drive the epidemic underground.”

“Clinical research in California could come to a grinding halt,” added Volberding, who at the time was conducting trials of new treatments.

In 1988, state law already mandated the reporting of the names of people with clear symptoms of AIDS.  But Prop 102 sought to go further, and require doctors to report everyone they “reasonably believed” to be infected with HIV, regardless of whether they exhibited any symptoms.

“It’s Orwellian, to say the least,” Dr. Silverman said.

Just two years before — in 1986 — activists had successfully defeated Prop 64, a 1986 ballot initiative promoted by political extremist Lyndon LaRouche that would have required all persons with HIV to report their condition to the state Department of Health, regardless of whether  they had HIV-related symptoms.  For the 1988 ballot, the new target for HIV/AIDS advocates was Prop 102.



Federal officials say as many as 1.5 million Americans may be infected with the virus and more than 73,000 have the disease, one-fifth of them in California. AIDS is spread through exchange of bodily fluids, as in sexual intercourse or the sharing of hypodermic needles, and may be contracted from mother to unborn child. ‘Protective Gear’ for Workers

August 27, 1988
‘Father of West Hollywood’ Ron Stone Dies

Ronald L. Stone, the major architect of the incorporation campaign that made a city out of the community of West Hollywood in 1984, dies at his home of AIDS-related illness at the age of 40.

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Stone was instrumental in turning the 1.9-square-mile wedge of unincorporated Los Angeles County into the first American city to be governed by a gay majority.

“Without him it wouldn’t have happened,” said John Heilman, then-Councilmember of the new city.

Compelled by a vision of open, local government, Stone saw cityhood as the means by which West Hollywood’s 36,000 residents — most of them renters, many of them gay or elderly — could shape key community issues such as zoning, rent control and anti-discrimination laws.

“He was really concerned about having local control over zoning and planning,” Heilman told the Los Angeles Times.

In his 2014 article about the founding of West Hollywood, former WeHoville editor Henry E. Scott,  wrote:  “It was the construction of a hotel in his neighborhood in 1983, and a county decision to limit the hours at the pool at West Hollywood Park, that prompted Ron Stone, then 37, to take a look at the impact of development and the county’s governance on the area.”

Early on, Stone won the support of an influential renters rights activist, Larry Gross of the Coalition for Economic Survival. A major goal of CES was strengthening renter rights so that people could access and keep affordable housing.

In 1983, Gross was assessing the aftermath of CES’s losing campaign to introduce a rent control ordinance in Los Angeles County.  The ballot measure failed to capture the majority of votes, most likely because many of the county’s residents were homeowners, landlords and developers.  In West Hollywood, however, the ballot measure passed by a five-to-one majority.

Through its work on the county rent control initiative, CES had assembled a large base of supporters in West Hollywood.  Gross and Stone organized canvassers to circulate petitions proposing that West Hollywood become its own city – and one out of every four registered voters signed on.  With that petition and economic data, the newly formed West Hollywood Incorporation Committee won the approval of the Local Agency Formation Commission, which assessed the feasibility of West Hollywood as its own city.

Stone also secured the support of the Stonewall Democratic Club and the Harvey Milk Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club, both of which created excitement about the prospect of a city run by LGBTQ officials.  But what ultimately united individuals and groups from a variety of backgrounds — seniors on limited incomes, renters, and gay and lesbian residents concerned about discrimination — was the city’s soaring rents and the lack of any effective way to regulate them.

The Board of Supervisors, which at that time consisted of conversative officials, agreed to put cityhood on the Novemer 1984 ballot.  Immediately, 44 people announced their candidacy for five seats on the West Hollywood City Council.  While 19 of the candidates were gay or lesbian, all of the candidates stated they supported gay rights and rent control of some sort.

Meanwhile, local landlords and developers began to mobilize in opposition of cityhood.  One early opponent was Francis J. Montgomery, a local landowner whose family still manages the Sunset Plaza in West Hollywood.  Montgomery funded a campaign to try to convince the area’s seniors that cityhood would give LGBT people undue influence.  That strategy failed.

Then Montgomery and other landlords and developers formed the West Hollywood Concerned Citizens coalition, and appealed to LA County officials to create a special rent control district for the West Hollywood area.  The coalition hoped that the conservative-leaning officials would create rent-control policies that would be weaker than those a new City Council might adopt.  That effort also failed.

In the November 1984 election, a majority of residents voted to make their unincorporated area the 84th city in Los Angeles County.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the new city was “heralded worldwide as creating ‘A Gay Camelot’ — the first openly gay-run city in the nation.”

Almost immediately, the city’s newly elected officials and newly hired staff launched programs for a wide range of services for its residents.  Among the new programs were services providing hot meals, healthcare, low-cost housing, taxi coupons for senior citizens, early childhood education, and even pet care for people with AIDS.  The Metropolitan Community Church, a gay and lesbian faith organization with a worldwide membership of 42,000, moved its headquarters from Culver City to West Hollywood to “be part of this community.”

After the cityhood victory, Ron Stone ran twice for City Council and lost both times.  But he remained active in civic affairs, offering advice behind the scenes, attending council meetings and serving on committees.

In 1987, just as the city was beginning to thrive, Stone’s health began to decline.  After his death, he would be publicly lauded as “the father of West Hollywood.”

September 3, 1988
“Hooray for Hollywood’ Benefit on Fire Island Supports God’s Love We Deliver

Gloria DeMann and her husband Larry host an extravagant benefit at their bayfront home on Fire Island to raise money for the AIDS service provider God’s Love We Deliver.

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The event, titled “Hooray for Hollywood, was one of the most famous benefits in Pines history at one of the most historic party houses on Fire Island, according to the Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society.  Showman Peter Allen and comedian Joan Rivers performed, as well as Chippendale Dancers and the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes.

Gloria DeMann, owner of the Manhattan restaurant Café Pacifico, often opened the doors of her home for big parties, and she went all-out for this one.  Proceeds for the benefit went to God’s Love We Deliver, a three-year-old organization that provided free, nutrious meals for people with AIDS.

God’s Love was founded in 1985 by hospice volunteer Ganga Stone, who began cooking and delivering meals (by bicycle) to one of her clients, Richard Sale, a 32-year-old New York actor who was dying of AIDS.  Stone soon recruited her roommate, Jane Ellent Best, and other friends to help her, and an organization was born.

Sale was born in Texas in 1952, graduated from Denton High School in 1970, and attended the University of Michigan.  He acted in New York stage productions, but then died of AIDS-related illness on August 29, 1985 at the age of 33.

Stone, who was told by a minister that “you’re not just delivering food, You’re delivering God’s love,” would lead her organization of a handful of volunteers into a world-class service provider with a budget of $23 million.  In 2021, the year Stone died at the age of 79, God’s Love would distribute 2.5 million meals to 10,000 people homebound in the New York metropolitan area.

October 11, 1988
ACT UP Shuts Down FDA Headquarters in Rockville, MD

Over 1,000 members and supporters of the activist group ACT UP engage in a massive sit-in that shuts down the Rockville, MD offices of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA is targeted for refusing to release HIV/AIDS medications until tests prove them to be safe and effective.

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Arguing that the FDA’s approval process is too slow and that patients dying of AIDS have little to lose by trying experimental medications, ACT UP brings hundreds of its members to the Washington, D.C. area to demonstrate.  They manage to stop business as usual for the day, with ACT UP graphics and banners covering the building’s facade.

“Our takeover of the FDA was unquestionably the most significant demonstration of the AIDS activist movement’s first two years,” organizer Douglas Crimp writes in The Atlantic.

In advance of the event, ACT UP groups across the country conduct teach-ins to provide members with knowledge of complicated issues related to HIV/AIDS treatment.

ACT UP then shares this information, along with their demands to the FDA, with the press in the days leading up to the demonstration.

“The FDA action was ‘sold’ in advance to the media almost like a Hollywood movie,” Crimp writes, “with a carefully prepared and presented press kit, hundreds of phone calls to members of the press, and activists’ appearances scheduled on television and radio talk shows around the country.”

On the day of the FDA demonstration, the media shows up in force to get the story and, due to the advance preparation by ACT UP, reporters are able to report it with a degree of accuracy and sympathy.

ACT UP groups from around the country engage all day in skirmishes with the Rockville police, who apparently are ordered to keep the number of arrests low to minimize media drama.

Protesters push at police lines outside the 20-story building, shouting, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and “No more deaths!” as curious workers stare down from windows.

When protesters attempt to enter the building, they are forcibly restrained but not arrested.  Even so, police ultimately arrest 176 protestors, most on loitering charges

Eight days later, the FDA announces new regulations to speed up the process.  In addition, government agencies addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic, particularly the FDA and NIH, began to listen to activist leaders and ask for their input.

October 1988
For Black Activist Robert Arrington, Life Begins with HIV Diagnosis

After being diagnosed at the age of 28 with HIV, Robert Arrington returns to his hometown of Durham, North Carolina to live out the rest of his days close to family. But instead of dying young, he finds himself embarking on a new path of activism and spiritual leadership.

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Arrington traveled around North America to speak at AIDS conferences and, along the way, decided to somehow — as an openly gay man with HIV — become a minister in the Baptist Church.

Born in February 1960 in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, Arrington grew up as one of three siblings with a strict father and a religious mother, according to a 2021 interview Arrington gave with Outwords. As a child, Arrington was a child with special needs. He was prescribed glasses when still an infant and was required to wear special medical shoes.

Arrington told Outwords that he remembered his grandfather called him “twisted.” In elementary school, he was misdiagnosed with “mental retardation” and placed in special education classes. He realized he was gay when he was six years old. At eight, Robert found sanctuary in his family’s church, a place that he said saved him from suicidal thoughts.

When Arrington was 14, his father was killed and his family left New York to stay with his maternal grandparents’ home in North Carolina.  During those years, he felt invisible and unmoored, he told Outwords.

He eventually found his way to the care of his Aunt Shirley, who often took in the family’s rejected children.  With her encouragement and nurturing, Arrington graduated from high school and enrolled in college.  His goal was to enter the ministry, and a cousin advised him to get married to demonstrate that the “gay demon was no longer inside him.”  So he married a woman, and when the marriage failed, he spiraled into alcoholism.  According to Arrington, it was likely during this difficult time in his life, when he regularly engaged in reckless and self-destructive behavior, that he contracted HIV.

In the fall of 1988, he suffered a near-fatal bout with pneumonia and a collapsed lung.  His doctor informed him that he had HIV and a life expectancy of five years.

Arrington returned to North Carolina, expecting his health to quickly deteriorate.  But when he recovered from his respiratory illness and began to feel healthy, he started traveling to HIV/AIDS conferences in the U.S. and Canada for a series of speaking engagements.

He realized he still wanted to be a minister, and began a six-year battle to become an ordained pastor at his family’s conservative Baptist church.  Unfortunately, church leaders refused to fully accept him and would only ordain him as a “non-practicing homosexual.”

So he found a church that would accept him as he was.  In 2003, he became ordained in the LGBTQ-affirming Unity Fellowship Church (UFC) Movement.

With the help of his aunt, Pastor Arrington founded an HIV care team at his family’s Baptist church. In his 40s, he returned to college and earned his Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies from the University of North Carolina. When he was 49, Pastor Arrington was commissioned by the UFC Archbishop to open the first UFC church in South Carolina – the Unity Fellowship Church of Charleston.

In the first few years of leading the new church, Pastor Arrington held memorials for two young men who lost their lives to AIDS-related illness, both tested too late for medical treatment to prolong their lives.

In 2014, Pastor Arrington told The Post and Courier that he would always be available to offer a shoulder, a prayer, and an empathetic ear to other Black people struggling with their sexuality and HIV infection.

His church holds HIV testing days, but the turnout can be thin, because people fear being seen at them.

“They’ve been so hurt by the churches here,” he told The Post and Courier. “You have pastors preaching that they are going to hell or that this is a punishment from God.”

Pastor Arrington said that he and his church is different.  Instead of judgment, he offers acceptance and help.

In 2021, Pastor Arrington said, “I got health problems, but I’m determined to do this until my Big Boss takes me out of this body and I return back to spirit, which I came from.”

In a recent Facebook post, Pastor Arrington wrote:

“I want to remind somebody. You are a Survivor. Let that sink in today. Just remember the last battle or war that you survive. The sickness you survive. As the things that people took you through. And you survived it. Now pat yourself on your back … and remember you are a SURVIVOR. We are ready for whatever comes, because we are a SURVIVOR.
Baby I know I Am a SURVIVOR”
No on 102
November 7, 1988
California Governor’s Endorsement of Prop 102 Backfires

Following Gov. George Deukmejian’s surprise endorsement of Proposition 102, which seeks to compel all people testing positive for the AIDS virus to be reported to the state, the campaign led by the opposition seems to be winning over more voters.

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The result of Gov. Deukmejian’s endorsement was to galvanize the opposition to the measure, according to a report by The New York Times.

The governor was served with letters of resignation from three members of his AIDS advisory committee, including Dr. Michael Gottlieb of Los Angeles, co-discoverer of the first AIDS cases in 1981.

”I could not give tacit approval by continuing to serve his administration,” Dr. Gottlieb told the Times.

Dr. Marcus Conant, chairman of the Governor’s AIDS Leadership Committee, and Dr. Laurens P. White, president of the California Medical Association, also publicly spoke out against Gov. Deukmejian’s endorsement.

Even the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop, criticized the measure’s main components in media interviews, saying mandatory reporting would serve little purpose since there was no viable treatment for AIDS.  Koop expressed concern that forcing doctors to report HIV cases would cause trouble for those seeking treatment.

In addition, four major California universities called for the measure’s defeat and even corporate leaders had their say, with Levi Strauss Associates Inc. and Pacific Telesis Group siding with the opposition.

Meanwhile, Californians Against Proposition 102 and the Life AIDS Lobby intensified their opposition campaign to convince voters to vote No on the ballot measure, organizing rallies against the governor in major California cities.

If passed, Proposition 102 would effectively end confidential HIV testing in California. It would also require those infected to disclose sexual contacts to health authorities within seven days, and would repeal the prohibition on the AIDS virus test for employment and insurance.

The measure was sponsored by Paul Gann, the anti-taxation crusader who contracted AIDS after receiving a blood transfusion, and U.S. Rep. William E. Dannemeyer, a conservative Republican from Orange County.

Photo by Ted Sahl from the San Jose State University's Ted Sahl Archives
November 8, 1988
Ballot Measure to Reduce HIV Rights is Defeated in California

In a resounding win for AIDS activists, California Proposition 102 is defeated.  However, Proposition 96 — a measure on the same ballot that also impacts the rights of people living with HIV —  passes.

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California voters overwhelmingly rejected a controversial ballot measure that proposed to force doctors and other health professionals to report HIV+ people and trace everyone they might have infected.  Proposition 102 was sponsored by Congressman William Dannemeyer, a socially conservative Republican from Orange County who was gaining notoriety nationwide for his anti-gay legislative proposals and homophobic rhetoric.

AIDS activists, scientists and doctors, and HIV service providers throughout California celebrated the defeat of Prop 102.

“I think the voters have rejected the introduction of politics into public health in California,” Dr. Michael Gottlieb, the first researcher to report AIDS cases in the U.S., told Associated Press.

Others said that Prop 102’s defeat in California should give leverage to Congress and incoming president George Bush when they are confronted by religious leaders regarding the country’s approach to addressing the epidemic.

“This was a clear message from the electorate of a state that is regarded as a trend setter,” Dr. Burton J. Lee III of Memorial-Sloan Cancer Center in New York told the Los Angeles Times.  Dr. Lee was a member of President Reagan’s AIDS Commission and an adviser to Bush on AIDS.

Finding himself on the wrong side of California’s battle was Gov. George Deukmejian, who surprised many by endorsing Prop 102 just days before Election Day.

“Gov. Deukmejian, you are a scandal and a disgrace,” Benjamin Schatz, the director of the AIDS Civil Rights Project of National Gay Rights Advocates, told a crowd at an election night rally in the Bay Area. “Don’t even think of coming to San Francisco.”

Following the governor’s endorsement, LGBTQ groups and medical professionals doubled down on their efforts to defeat the measure — and their work paid off.  Just months ago, polls showed that likely voters were ready to pass Prop 102, but many minds were changed over the next few months by an intensive voter education campaign led by groups like Californians Against Proposition 102 and Life AIDS Lobby.

The opposition campaign warned voters that, if passed, the measure would destroy efforts to contain and cure the illness by driving HIV+ people away from the health-care system, where they receive counseling on how to avoid spreading the illness.  Prop 102 would also scare away potential research subjects, opponents said.

When state leaders (with the exception of Deukmejian), medical groups, and U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop publicly joined the opposition to the measure, its fate was sealed.  Much like the 1986 LaRouche initiative to quarantine people living with AIDS, Prop 102 was seen by most voters as a danger to the existing healthcare and research systems in place for addressing HIV and AIDS — and an infringement on human rights.

“Once again, the voters of California have said no to an initiative that was mean-spirited and ill-advised, and have given the California Medical Association and AIDS researchers their vote of confidence,” said Susan Jester, an activist who organized the opposition campaign in southern California.

The loss didn’t appear to slow down Rep. Dannemeyer, who told the LA Times that he planned to introduce Prop 102’s provisions to Congress.  He also said he would pressure the California Medical Association to bring in leadership more aligned with his views.

“It’s a disappointment, certainly, but the war goes on,” Rep. Dannemeyer said.

Amidst the celebratory mood in activist gatherings on election night was also the somber acknowledgement that another, less impactful but still important measure — Prop 96 — was passed by voters.

Staring on January 1, 1989, the measure will allow courts to order HIV tests in sex crimes.  Compulsory tests can also be ordered on behalf of police officers, firefighters and other first responders who are assaulted.

“Ninety-six was passed by the California voters, because they weren’t informed about the initiative,” Rodney Scott, a spokesman for the opposition campaign in southern California, told the Associated Press.

Proponents of Prop 96 promoted it as a victim’s rights measure.

“It’s not,” Scott said.

Benjamin Schatz agreed, saying the success of Prop 96 was “less a statement of voter sentiment about AIDS than a statement about crime.”
_ _ _ _ _

Photo by Ted Sahl, from the San Jose State University’s Ted Sahl Archives, shows activists (left-to-right, unidentified man, Ken Yeager and Paul Wysocki) celebrating the defeat of Proposition 102.  They are cutting a cake that reads “Thank you Volunteers.”

November 28, 1988
Elizabeth Glaser Launches Pediatric AIDS Foundation

Elizabeth Glaser, an HIV-positive mother of two HIV-positive children, forms the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

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The Foundation funds cutting-edge research that leads to improved treatments for children living with HIV/AIDS and helps to establish protocols to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Elizabeth Glaser contracted HIV in a blood transfusion in 1981 while giving birth to her daughter, Ariel. She and her husband, Paul Glaser (who starred in the 1970s television series, Starsky & Hutch), later learned that Elizabeth had unknowingly passed the virus on to Ariel through breast milk and that their son, Jake, had contracted the virus in utero.

The Glasers discovered that the only HIV treatment drugs on the market were for adults; nothing had been developed for children.

After Ariel lost her life to AIDS in 1988, Elizabeth approached her friends Susie Zeegen and Susan DeLaurentis for help in creating the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

Elizabeth would die of AIDS-related illness in 1994, and and to honor her legacy, the Pediatric AIDS Foundation would be renamed the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Under this name, the Foundation would become the leading global nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing pediatric HIV infection and eliminating pediatric AIDS through research, advocacy, and prevention and treatment programs.

Elizabeth’s legacy would live on with the Foundation and in her son, Jake, who is a healthy adult and  pediatric AIDS advocate.


December 12, 1988
Gay GOP Activist Duke Armstrong Dies

Duke Armstrong, a lawyer, leather man and Republican Party activist in the Bay Area, dies of AIDS-related illness at Davies Medical Center at the age of 39.

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Armstrong was president of the Concerned Republicans for Individual Rights (which later became the Log Cabin Republicans) and worked to bridge differences between the GOP and San Francisco’s gay community.

As someone known for prioritizing gay rights above party politics, Armstrong was a well-liked activist even in a locale known as a Democratic Party stronghold.  In 1986, Armstrong was elected “Mr. CMC Carnaval” at the Folsom neighborhood street fair.  He was a member of the local leather scene, as was his partner Jerry Roberts.

When the City of San Francisco began to take actions toward closing bathhouses, Armstrong teamed with Thomas H. Steel, a prominent civil rights lawyer, to represent San Francisco bathhouse owners who organized against regulation in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.  Steel would die on July 18, 1998 of AIDS-related illness at the age of 48.

Earlier in 1988, Armstrong was presented with a Certificate of Honor from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  He had also been honored by the Golden Gate Business Association and had received several Cable Car Awards for his community service.

Waybourn William violet
December 16, 1988
Gay Rights Leader to Texas Judge: ‘We Will Remember’

William Waybourn, president of the Dallas Gay Alliance, tells the Los Angeles Times that outraged voters will be sure to remember on Election Day the judge who lightened the sentence of a murderer because his two victims were gay.

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Waybourn said he hopes the light sentence imposed by Texas Judge Jack Hampton will prompt the public to vote against him when he comes up for reelection in two years.

“Judge Hampton said it himself: No one will remember this in 1990. But we will remember,” Waybourn told the LA Times. “I’m sorry for the families of the men who were killed. They don’t deserve this. And Hampton doesn’t deserve to be a judge.”

As early as November 1986, the New York Times began reporting that violent attacks on gay men had increased sharply as the LGBTQ community was becoming more visible because of publicity surrounding the spread of AIDS.

One late night in May 1988, Richard Lee Bednarski joined a group of friends on a drive to the Oak Lawn section of Dallas “to pester the homosexuals.” Bednarski got into a car with two gay men and drove to a park, where he drew out a handgun and “executed” Tommy Lee Trimble, 34, and John Lloyd Griffin, 27.

After a guilty  verdit was announced in November 1988, Judge Hampton imposed on Bednarski a 30-year sentence for the murders rather than life in prison.  Hampton, a district court judge for eight years, said the sexual identities of Trimble and Griffin influenced his decision to give Bednarski a lighter sentence.

“These two guys that got killed wouldn’t have been killed if they hadn’t been cruising the streets picking up teenage boys,” Hampton told the Dallas Times Herald.

Hampton expressed no reservations about his statements, the newspaper reported.

“Just spell my name right,” Hampton said. “If it makes anybody mad, they’ll forget it by 1990.”

Robert Flowers, executive director of the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, declined to comment to the LA Times on Hampton’s statements and said the 11-member commission would investigate if a complaint were filed.

“A judge’s discretion is his or her own,” Flowers said. “And generally, we haven’t had too many occasions where the judge has spoken about what his thought process has been (in sentencing).”

Hampton would be voted out of office, but not until 1992.  Waybourn of the Dallas Gay Alliance would move in 1991 to Washington, D.C. to launch the Victory Fund, an influential national organization dedicated to electing openly LGBTQ people to all levels of government.

[Photo of William Weybourn from his days with the Dallas Gay Alliance, circa 1985]

AIDS Quilt - Sylvester
December 16, 1988
Singer-Performer Sylvester Dies

Singer Sylvester dies of AIDS-related illness at age 41.  Born Sylvester James, Jr., the black performer is known internationally as “the Queen of Disco.”

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Famous for his song “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” Sylvester is the lead singer and co-creator of one of the all-time top LGBTQ anthems.

Born in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, Sylvester had been a member of the ’60s group the Disquotays — which was “somewhere between a street gang and a sorority house,” as one former member puts it.

He moved to San Francisco in 1970 at the age of 22 and joined the Cockettes, a “cross-dressing hippy performance art troupe,” and sang blues and jazz standards in his gospel-trained voice in solo segments of the show, writes Alexis Petrides in The Guardian.  In the early 70s, he made a bid for mainstream success fronting the Hot Band.

“But the U.S. wasn’t ready for an androgynous black man doing covers of Neil Young songs and A Whiter Shade of Pale,” Petrides writes.  “Band members were threatened with violence when they toured in southern states.”

Sylvester’s career was beginning to take hold in 1978, when “Mighty Real” is released on his second solo album and then later as a single.  When the song catches fire, he would travel to London to perform to packed clubs and be mobbed by fans.  Sylvester would release another 12 albums, many of them featuring top hits and nightclub mainstays.  An album containing Sylvester’s final studio recordings, titled Immortal, woud be posthumously released.

Devastated when his partner, Rick Cranmer, died of AIDS-related illness in September 1987, Sylvester suspected then that he was HIV-positive but declined to be tested.

As a persistent cough begins to develop into more serious symptoms, Sylvester is unable to tour but continues performing for fans in the Bay Area.  Eventually diagnosed with AIDS, he is hospitalized in May 1988 with pneumocystis pneumonia.

Later in the year, Sylvester attends the Castro’s 1988 Gay Freedom Parade in a wheelchair, joining those marching with the “People With AIDS” banner.  Passing crowds along Market Street, Sylvester could hear his name shouted out again and again.  He continues to give interviews to the media, seeking to raise awareness about the pandemic’s impact on the black community.

A month later, Sylvester would die in his home at the age of 41.  He had planned his own funeral down to the details of how he would be dressed (in a red kimono), how his body would be displayed (in an open coffin), and where the service would be held (in his church, the Love Center, with a sermon by the Reverend Walter Hawkins).

Sylvester’s legacy is such that in 2018, the prestigious University of Sussex in England would host an interdisciplinary academic conference on disco and Sylvester’s contribution to the genre.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Chris Brownlie hospice
December 26, 1988
Chris Brownlie Hospice Opens in Los Angeles

The first AIDS hospice in California opens in Elysian Park in Los Angeles, down the street from Dodger Stadium.

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Furnished with 25 beds, the AIDS Hospice Foundation (which was renamed Chris Brownlie Hospice) opened its doors the day after Christmas to provide 24-hour medical and palliative care to people living through the final stages of AIDS.

From 1988 to 1996, thousands of people suffering through the final stages of AIDS were cared for with dignity and compassion at Chris Brownlie Hospice.  The facility was founded on the idea that, if people were going to pass away as a result of AIDS, they should at least have the opportunity for their lives to end as painlessly and with as much dignity as humanly possible.

Located in a former nursing quarters, the hospice was the brainchild of the Los Angeles AIDS Hospice Committee, founded in 1987 by activists Chris Brownlie and Michael Weinstein as well as Sharon Raphael, PhD, and Mina Meyer, MA, two nationally-recognized women’s and gay & lesbian advocates.

A front-door sign reads, “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Straight, Women, Men, Black, Brown, White, Yellow, Red, Young and Old.  All Are Welcome Here.”

On Saturday, January 26, 1996, the organization would return the property to the City of Los Angeles with a sunset memorial ceremony celebrating the years of hope and help the hospice gave to thousands of brave people battling AIDS.  By 1996, the world of AIDS would be changed; new antiretroviral treatment would mean an HIV-positive diagnosis signified a change in one’s life, not the end of it.

During the ceremony, the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus performed in memory of the hundreds who died there, including 140 chorus members.  As the sun set, seven balloons — one for each year the hospice was in operation — were released.

AIDS Quilt - Joseph Beam
December 27, 1988
Activist-Author Joseph Beam Dies

Joseph Beam — best known for editing In the Life, the first collection of writings by gay Black men — dies of AIDS-related illness three days before his 34th birthday.

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Today, In the Life is widely regarded as a literary and cultural milestone in gay literature.

A native of Philadelphia, Beam attended Franklin College in Indiana, where he studied journalism and was an active member of the black student union and the Black Power movement.

After earning a his master’s degree in communications, Beam returned to Philadelphia in 1979, and explored literature on gay figures and institutions while working at the LGBT bookstore Giovanni’s Room.  Discouraged by the lack of community for Black gay men and lesbians, Beam began writing articles and short stories for gay publications.

In 1984, he received an award for outstanding achievement by a minority journalist from The Lesbian and Gay Press Association.  In 1985, he became the first editor of Black/Out, a journal produced by the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays.

Beam continued to collect materials about being Black and gay, and find ways to increase their reach. In 1986, he produced the first collection written by Black gay men, called In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology.

When Beam died, he was in the process of compiling the sequel, “Brother to Brother.”  His mother, Dorothy Beam, and poet Essex Hemphill would go on to complete the work and publish it in 1991.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

January 3, 1989
APLA Adopts Austerity Program

Three months after the head of AIDS Project Los Angeles quits amid a cash shortage and staff revolt, the organization adopts an austerity program that appears to be working.

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Internal conflicts  continue as increasing numbers of people from locations countywide ask the organization for help.  At base of the conflict is its mission, which started as a compassionate care program funded by and for white gay men in the Hollywood area.  In recent years, APLA finds itself besieged with requests of help from county residents outside the area, including many people of color and heterosexuals.

“We can no longer be all things to all people,” says APLA’s interim Chief Executive Frank Paradise.

Torie Osborn, Executive Director of the LA Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center (now the Los Angeles LGBT Center), says that APLA’s early success led its leaders to believe they could take on anything.

“They set themselves apart,” Osborn tells the LA Times.  “Their attitude was ‘we’re the biggest and we’re the best.’  They grew isolated from the community from which they sprang.”

APLA was founded in 1982 and emerged as a pioneer in providing services to people with AIDS at a time when the government provided no support.  What began as four volunteers in a living room grew into an organization with a food bank, dental clinic, a 14-bed shelter (“Our House”), a transportation program, a hotline, an educational program and a system of case management.

With a budget of $8.2 million, APLA continues to operate as a volunteer-based organization with paid leadership.  The organization is still adjusting from recent moves to replace several of its key paid positions and search for a new executive director.

January 4, 1989
LA Center Resurrects HIV Testing Program

The LA Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center (now the Los Angeles LGBT Center) finds an insurance carrier willing to cover HIV testing and other AIDS-related services at its Edelman Health Center.

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The clinic was forced to shut down in December 1988 when Boston-based Lexington Insurance Co. pulled its coverage.

January 21, 1989
Protesters Hold Weeklong Vigil at LA County Medical Center

About 150 protesters hold a weeklong vigil in front of Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, which hospitalizes an average of 50-60 persons with AIDS at any given time and has a reported caseload of 6,240 PWAs.

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Demontrators blast the facility’s inadequate care and treatment of PWAs, including misdiagnosis, miscalculated prescriptions, and insufficent capacity.

Demanding that the center create a 50-bed AIDS ward within six months, the activists stage a mock AIDS ward with cots and a soup kitchen, and then hold candlelight vigils at sunset.

In response, an aide to LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich tells the Los Angeles Times that the County does not have enough money for expanded AIDS services.

On the seventh day of the protest, LA County Supervisor Ed Edelman, who represents West Hollywood and the Westside’s Third District, would come to the event and demand that the County begin to provide “necessary care” for people with AIDS.

Calling the revelation that LA County has more than $8 million of unspent AIDS funding “intolerable,” Supervisor Edelman promises to meet with ACT UP/LA and county officials.

“We can’t afford to keep the status quo,” he says.

But when he’s jeered by some in the crowd, he says, “It’s not just up to me,” and abruptly leaves.

January 1989
Activist Michael Callen Defends Accusations with Proof

AIDS activist Michael Callen publishes in the People With AIDS Coalition Newsline a letter from his physician, Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, and his pathology report of his Kaposi’s sarcoma diagnosis.

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“There are easier ways to meet Liz Taylor then by pretending you have the most stigmatized disease of this century,” Callen would tell the Los Angeles Times in a month later.

In an attempt to counter accusations of “faking AIDS” because he appears healthy almost seven years after he was diagnosed with AIDS, Callen puts the rumors to rest by publishing the pathology report of  his Kaposi’s sarcoma diagnosis.

The LA Times article notes that Callen’s long-term survival isn’t unusual, citing a 1987 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine which finds that 20.7% of “non-IV-drug using gay men with AIDS” are still alive four years after diagnosis.

This is one of many indications surfacing that living long-term with AIDS is possible.

February 2, 1989
ACT UP Protests FDA Protocols for DHPG, Forcing Policy Reversal

ACT UP protests the FDA’s new protocols for the drug DHPG (Gancyclovir) that would deny many current DHPG users from continuing to access the drug.

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The action results in the FDA granting access to DHPG under “compassionate use” while the agency reconsiders its methods.

The next day, the FDA would formally authorize pre-approval distribution of aerosolized pentamidine for the prevention of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), conceding to the demands of AIDS activist Michael Callen and Dr. Joseph Sonnabend.

February 13, 1989
Op-ed by ACT UP Exposes LA County Healthcare Failures

The Los Angeles Times publishes “Fumbling on AIDS Causes Waste, Suffering,” an op-ed by ACT UP Los Angeles members Peter Cashman, John Fall, and Enric Morello about the devistating failures of the LA County healthcare system.

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“Who’s in charge here? Nobody, it seems,” they write. “Since the epidemic began nine years ago, the county’s only major organized response has been to open an outpatient clinic, which has proved grossly inadequate.”

People needing an initial visit must schedule it eight weeks in advance, the activists contend.

They continue: “People with temperatures of 103 or higher sit for hours on hard wooden benches waiting for help.  Some receive chemotherapy in crowded hallways, vomiting in bags.  Others in the same hallways, stripped to the waist, have IVs hooked to their arms.”

The activists express anger about LA County’s failure to put to use $8.6 million in AIDS funding, saying, “services go unprovided, facilities unrehabilitated, staff unrecruited and more patients continue to suffer and die needlessly.”

In the op-ed, Cashman, Fall, and Morello show compassion for the hard-working county healthcare staff, crediting them with being “caring” and doing their best amid “poor conditions.”

February 23, 1989
Arsonist Destroys AIDS Center in Dallas

A petty criminal sets fire to the AIDS Resource Center, destroying the center as well as the offices of the Dallas Gay Alliance, an adjacent clothing store, and a popular country-western bar.

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Dale Wesley Biddy, aged 26, broke into the offices of the AIDS Resource Center, located at 3920 Cedar Springs Road in Dallas, to steal the organization’s computer equipment.  In what he later described as a “last minute decision,” Biddy lit two highway flares and placed them on stacks of paper before he fled, according to a historical account in The Dallas Way.

“The fire went to five or six alarms very quickly – one of the largest fires in Dallas history at that time,” William Waybourn recounted for The Dallas Way.  During that year, Waybourn was president of the Dallas Gay Alliance.

“The fire department suspected arson from the very beginning, and (colleagues) Bill Hunt, John Thomas and I were all considered suspects and held for lengthy questioning by the arson investigators,” he said.

After the fire was put out, members of the Dallas Gay Alliance and the AIDS Resource Center surveyed the damage and immediately realized their computers were missing.

“Several months later we got a call from someone asking if we were the Dallas Gay Alliance, and we said yes,” Bruce Monroe, a member of the DGA, told The Dallas Way.  “He said ‘We just bought a computer from someone and turned it on, and the computer’s welcome screen said Welcome to the Dallas Gay Alliance.'”

The caller was from Video Technical Institute, a local vocational school.  Once VTI confirmed the computer was stolen property, the school turned it in to a local branch of the Dallas Police Department, and provided police with the name of the seller, Dale Wesley Biddy, who happened to be enrolled at the school.  The police contacted Biddy in late May, asking him to come to the station for a police interview.

Biddy was a 26-year-old resident of nearby Carrollton and, ironically, gay.  He had recently served time in prison for credit card fraud and passing bad checks, and the phone call from the police made him realize that he would likely be heading back to a jail cell.

Instead of going directly to the police, Biddy walked to the offices of the Dallas Voice, the local LGBTQ weekly newspaper, and presented its editors with a signed confession.

In his letter, Biddy apologized for setting the fire and expressed remorse for the damage he caused, estimated at $150,000 to the AIDS Resource Center alone, according to reporting in The Dallas Morning News.

The Resource Center was founded in 1983 as a response to the AIDS crisis escalating in the Dallas community.  According to the center’s website, the center was created as the services branch of the Dallas Gay Political Caucus (later known as the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance) and was initially called the Foundation for Human Understanding. The center’s focus was education and service, and a goal of achieving equality, recognition and equal rights for the gay and lesbian community in north Texas.

In 1985, the AIDS Resource Center was created to provide prevention education, legal services, a food pantry, clothing, household goods and emergency funding.  Three years later, the center established the Nelson-Tebedo Health Clinic for treatment, clinical drug trials and HIV testing.

After the 1989 fire, the center would restore the Cedar Springs Road location to house the health clinic and food pantry, and move the rest of the organization to a former church on Reagan Street.

February 26, 1989
Madonna & Sanda Bernhard Join Dancefloor at APLA Fundraiser

Wearing sunglasses, a black jacket, a white tee shirt adorned with a huge cross, and denim shorts, iconic performer Madonna dances with the crowd and lesbian friend Sandra Bernhard at AIDS Project LA’s Dance-A-Thon at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

March 10, 1989
Dr. Richard Hamilton — Bay Area Doctor — Dies

Richard R. Hamilton, M.D., one of San Francisco’s first openly gay general practitioners, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in Orange, California.  He was 44.

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Affectionately called “Dr. Dick” by his clients, Dr. Hamilton authored The Herpes Book (1980) and was well-known for his expertise in treating sexually transmitted diseases in gay men.  He fostered a professional climate in his office of understanding, acceptance and support, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

When AIDS appeared in the Bay Area, Dr. Hamilton responded by focusing on finding effective treatments for AIDS-related illnesses.  He was one of the founding members of the County Community Consortium, an organization of local AIDS care providers.  He also was a member of the State of California’s AIDS Advisory Committee and the AIDS Advisory Committee of Pacific Presbyterian Medical Center.

April 10, 1989
First HIV-information Center Opens in West Hollywood

The nation’s first HIV-information center opens at the West Hollywood Library, offering access to current, accurate and often expensive materials about AIDS treatment and prevention.

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West Hollywood’s HIV Center was the result of the persistence and diligence of local activist Ron Shipton, who at 43 years old was living with HIV.  He decided that the community deserved to have access to up-to-the-minute information about HIV that was regularly published in medical journals and he set about to make it happen.

Shipton spoke with a librarian at the local library and also wrote to City Council, asking why he and his friends should spend hundreds of dollars on medical journals “when the rich city of West Hollywood could buy it for the library.”

He asked for the library to start carrying a subscription to the AIDS Targeted Information Network, which publishes abstracts of important medical journal articles about the virus and the disease.  With initial funding of $20,000 from the City of West Hollywood and County of Los Angeles, the library secured a subscription for public use and then went much further.

The HIV Center, which was the first of its kind in the country, opened with a robust collection of materials that included periodicals, pamphlets, books and, perhaps most importantly, a computer terminal with free access to the Computerized AIDS Information Network (CAIN).  Library staff and volunteers were trained to help visitors with navigating reference system.

Volunteers from the HIV/AIDS service organizations Being Alive and West Hollywood Cares advised the library on the selection of reading materials and with information on testing, treatment and support facilities.

“I think there is something there for everybody, Dan Solliday of Being Alive told the LA Times.   “We have tried to get well-rounded resources for college students and clinicians.”

The City would continue to fund updates and expansions of the HIV Center’s resources, including the addition of a free STD Clinic coordinated by Being Alive for testing, vaccines, treatments, and preventative services.

First housed in the original West Hollywood Library at 715 N. San Vicente Blvd., the collection would move in October 2011 to a newly constructed library at 625 N. San Vicente Blvd. and would be renamed the Ron Shipton HIV Information Center.

Ron Rose
April 18, 1989
Ron Rose, WeHo Activist Who Founded Being Alive, Dies

Ron Rose, founder of a life-embracing support group for people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, dies of AIDS-related illness in Los Angeles. He was 37.

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After Rose became dismayed at the frustration and hopelessness that was the focus of many AIDS support groups, he founded Being Alive, an organization that encouraged members to celebrate what life was left to himself and other HIV-positive patients.

Diagnosed with HIV in 1985, Rose also served as a member of the City of West Hollywood’s Gay and Lesbian Advisory Task Force, appointed by then-mayor Abbe Land.

Rose founded the West Hollywood Annual Candlelight AIDS Vigil and Rally, and was co-chairman of the National Association of People with AIDS, a member of the board of directors of Aid for AIDS and coordinator of the 1989 Heart to Heart National Conference.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Rose described the goal of Being Alive was “getting people that were being isolated back doing things.”

Community members would gather for a memorial service at Plummer Park in West Hollywood the following Sunday.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

May 13, 1989
Gay Rights Activist and Political Operative Peter Scott Dies

Peter Scott, a champion of gay rights, dies of AIDS-related illness at his Los Angeles home. He was 50.

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Peter Scott was an LA-based lawyer who gave up his practice to advocate for gay rights.  With his partner David Mixner, Scott organized large-scale campaigns to defeat state ballot measures that would have permitted discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community.  He also led the fight in California to speed up testing of experimental AIDS drugs, which resulting in a 1987 drug-testing law.

Scott was so influential that when he was hospitalized in August of 1986 with AIDS-related illness, the Los Angeles Times ran a story on it.

Scott was born in Texas and attended the University of Texas, Austin law school, according to United Press International.  In the 1970s, he moved to Los Angeles to start a private law practice.

After moving into political consulting and activism in the late ’70s, Scott co-founded MECLA (Municipal Election Committee of Los Angeles), which became the most powerful LGBTQ political group in Los Angeles County.  He was active in political fundraising until his illness worsened.

He was also the former chairman of the Los Angeles AIDS Project (APLA).  In 1985, Scott and actress Elizabeth Taylor organized the annual APLA fundraiser, which raised an unprecedented $1 million.  The event was co-chaired by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and former First Lady Betty Ford.

Scott was diagnosed as having AIDS in 1986, just as he was planning to run for the state assembly, challenging majority leader Mike Roos. Instead of running for office, Scott shifted his focus to fundraising for an AIDS cure, according to The New York Times.

A memorial service was held at St. Augustine’s by the Sea Episcopal Church in Santa Monica.  State Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp eulogized Scott as a man of courage who made a difference, according to the Los Angeles Times.  Also paying respects were former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., Assemblymember Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Los Angeles Councilmember Joel Wachs.

Chris Brownlie
November 26, 1989
AIDS-Care Activist Chris Brownlie Dies

AIDS-care activist Chris Brownlie, for whom the first Los Angeles County-supported AIDS hospice was named, dies of AIDS-related illness at his Silver Lake home at the age of 39.

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Born in Farmington, NY, Brownlie had been active in LGBTQ politics since the early 1970s, when he helped found the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center.

Since the mid-1980s, the one-time greeting card company owner also worked for a variety of AIDS-care projects, including service as a volunteer for AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) and the Minority AIDS Project.  He also helped found the nonprofit AIDS Hospice Foundation, an outgrowth of the 1986 Stop AIDS Quarantine Committee, which defeated a state ballot initiative that would have required detention of those testing positive for the human immunodeficiency virus.

Faced with inaction by the then-conservative Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Hospice Foundation members picketed in front of Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s home.  Brownlie, meanwhile, appeared before the LA County Commission on AIDS, emotionally demanding: “You find a way for me to die at home in the arms of my loved ones, or a facility in which my loved ones can care for me in dignity.”

When supervisors eventually voted $2 million for AIDS health care, the Hospice Foundation agreed to operate a facility in Elysian Park at the site of Barlow Hospital’s old nursing quarters.

The 25-bed facility was named the Chris Brownlie Hospice, according to foundation President Michael Weinstein, “because he is a representative of those in the community who have the spirit, courage and grace to fight for those with AIDS.”

The Chris Brownlie Hospice, which had a waiting list in late 1989, was the largest of its kind in the county and offered 24-hour medical service.  At that time, construction was under way on another 25-bed hospice to be operated by the foundation on the grounds of Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk.

“If you want a miracle that is better than any drug, work to make life better,” Brownlie said at the start of construction of the Chris Brownlie Hospice.

“Of course, I’ve always hoped that I would not die, that I would live forever,” Brownlie told The LA Times when the facility opened.  “But on another level, I actually get a sense of well-being about this experience.  Sometimes it becomes very profound in a religious sense at the edges of my consciousness.  And this is what the hospice program is about.  It will help others accept the fact that death, too, is part of the life experience.”

Shortly after traveling to Sonoma, Arizona for a vacation with his longtime partner, Phill Wilson, Brownlie became very ill and eventually slipped into a coma.

He was cared for at his namesake hospice, where he would occasionally wake up from the coma and talk with Wilson.

“Finally, after about eight or nine days of that, he woke up and he said, ‘Take me home.’  I knew what he meant, and so I said, ‘We’re going home,’ and nobody agreed,” Wilson told PBS’s Frontline in a 2004 interview.  “The doctor said no; the nurses said no; all of our friends said no.  They didn’t think that I could take care of him.

“I brought him home, and we [got] a little hospital bed and all the supplies, and I kept saying, ‘We won’t need all of that; we won’t need all of that,’ because I knew that he wanted to come home to die.  He wanted to come home so that the last minutes would be in our space, and so we brought him home.”

Wilson said he carried Brownlie into the house, put him into bed and sat with him.  After taking a short nap at the suggestion of the home nurse, Wilson returned to Brownlie’s room and found him “breathing the kind of labored breathing [where] you can kind of hear death happening.”

Wilson said he climbed into bed with Brownlie and whispered that it was okay now, it was going to be OK, and that he was going to be OK.  He sang to Brownlie a favorite song, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”

“The words are ‘Let me call you sweetheart/ I’m in love with you/ Let me hear you whisper/ That you love me, too,'” Wilson recalled.  “And he took a breath, and then he didn’t take another breath.”

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

December 1, 1989
Visual AIDS Organizes First ‘Day Without Art’

In response to the worsening AIDS crisis and coinciding with the World Health Organization’s second annual World AIDS Day, Visual AIDS organized its first “Day Without Art.”

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More than 800 arts organizations, museums and galleries throughout the U.S. participated by shrouding artworks and replacing them with information about HIV and safer sex, locking their doors or dimming their lights, and producing exhibitions, programs, readings, memorials, rituals, and performances.

Founded in 1988, Visual AIDS utilizes art to fight AIDS by provoking dialogue, supporting HIV+ artists and preserving a legacy, because AIDS is not over.  The contemporary arts organization is dedicated to raising AIDS awareness around HIV issues today, by producing and presenting visual art projects, exhibitions, public forums and publications — while assisting artists living with HIV/AIDS.

The organization supports the preservation of the work of artists with HIV/AIDS and the artistic contributions of the AIDS movement.

Keith Haring
February 16, 1990
Artist Keith Haring Dies

Pop artist Keith Haring dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 31 at his LaGuardia Place apartment in Greenwich Village.

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Between 1980 and 1989, Haring achieved international recognition and participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions. His first solo exhibition in New York was held at the Westbeth Painters Space in 1981, according to the Keith Haring Foundation.

Throughout his career, Haring devoted much of his time to public works, which often carried social messages. He produced more than 50 public artworks between 1982 and 1989, in dozens of cities around the world, many of which were created for charities, hospitals, children’s day care centers and orphanages.

Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. In 1989, he established the Keith Haring Foundation, its mandate being to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children’s programs, and to expand the audience for Haring’s work through exhibitions, publications and the licensing of his images.

Haring enlisted his imagery during the last years of his life to speak about his own illness and generate activism and awareness about AIDS.  By expressing universal concepts of birth, death, love, sex and war, and using a distinctively bold style, Haring attracted a wide audience and assured a timeless accessibility of his imagery.  His work has become a universally recognized visual language.

Since his death, Haring has been the subject of several international retrospectives. His work can be seen today in the exhibitions and collections of major museums around the world.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

March 17, 1990
Pop Stars Perform in AIDS Benefit Concert at Radio City

The first national AIDS fundraising concert by the pop music community raises about $1.5 million for HIV/AIDS organizations, including the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

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In the concert’s finale, Dionne Warwick, Whitney Houston, and about 40 other performers sang “That’s What Friends Are For,” a hit song from 1985 considered the unofficial anthem of those in the fight against AIDS.  At the song’s end, Houston and Warwick are seen hugging.

Organized by Arista Records, the benefit concert took two years to come together and, in the process, unearthed troubling attitudes in the pop music community toward gay men and AIDS, according to Entertainment Weekly.

The idea for a benefit concert took off in March 1988, when Grammy Awards committee member Jonathan Tisch and his mother, a volunteer at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, were attending the Grammys at Radio City Music Hall. Tisch’s mother, Joan, said there had yet to be a major rock concert to benefit AIDS.  Tisch was recruited then and there to organize the event.

According to Entertainment Weekly, Tisch assembled a group to oversee the event, including two record company presidents, Clive Davis of Arista and David Geffen of Geffen Records.

By early 1989, the group had settled on the idea to produce a superstar concert to be called Rock and a Hard Place, featuring six or so multi-platinum artists.  They also agreed on a date for the concert: June 6, 1989.

The first band announced for the concert was the heavy metal band Guns N’ Roses, from Geffen’s label. Shortly thereafter, staffers at GMHC, the concert’s major beneficiary, discovered that the band had recorded a song, ”One in a Million,” that included the lyrics:

   “Immigrants and faggots, they make no sense to me
    They come to our country, and think they’ll do as they please
Like start a mini-Iran, or spread some f—in disease

Within the month, GMHC issued a request to Guns N’ Roses to withdraw from the concert.  It was a decision that GMHC did not come to easily.  David Geffen was a major donor.

Geffen told Entertainment Weekly that GMHC should have let Guns N’ Roses to perform.

”I don’t care what their record was,” Geffen said. ”If you need a blood donor and the only person who can give you a transfusion is Adolf Hitler, you take the blood.”

The incident caused Clive Davis and Arista to take the lead in organizing the event, and the concert date was pushed to March 1990.

“As much as the show reflected the somewhat conservative musical tastes of Clive Davis, it also demonstrated his relentless charitable determination,” wrote music critic Ron Givens in EW.  “After volunteering to use his label’s anniversary as the foundation for the benefit, Davis gained the cooperation of nearly every artist he wanted. Everyone agreed to appear for just expense money; none of the artists performed extended sets, and many of them sang with the house orchestra rather than with their own backup musicians.”

During the concert, various actors (Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Michael Douglas, Whoopi Goldberg, and Melanie Griffith) hosted the show and made short presentations about HIV and AIDS.

Goldberg also performed in a bittersweet skit about a girl with AIDS, and Jennifer Holliday dedicated a song from the musical Dreamgirls to that show’s director, Michael Bennett, who died of complications from AIDS in 1987.

The rest of the show featured performances by Barry Manilow, Melissa Manchester, Patti Smith, Milli Vanilli, Daryl Hall and John Oates, and Taylor Dayne.

Outside Radio City Music Hall, members of ACT UP handed out fliers. In the lobby, GMHC distributed safe-sex packets with condoms.

The concert was videotaped and later aired on CBS during television prime-time hours.

AIDS Quilt - Ryan White
April 8, 1990
Teen Activist Ryan White Dies

Ryan White dies of AIDS-related illness at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianpolis at the age of 18.

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White was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 13, following a blood transfusion in December 1984.  Living with his family in Kokomo, Indiana, doctors told his parents that he had six months to live but he proved to be more resiliant.

White became a national celebrity when he and his family fought AIDS-related discrimination following his school district’s refusal to let him return to school.

Along with his mother Jeanne White Ginder, Ryan rallied for his right to attend school and became the face of public education about his disease.

After winning a lengthy court case allowing him to return to his classes, Ryan was taunted and shunned by other students. Vandals broke the windows of the White’s home, and cashiers refused to touch his mother’s hands when making change at the supermarket.

Ryan is considered one of the most effective proponents of increasing awareness about HIV/AIDS, He served as an eloquent spokesman about AIDS to the young people of America, as well as to journalists and, through TV appearances, the general public.

“He valiantly fought against a battalion of bigots who saw AIDS as some kind of divine retribution against gay men and intravenous drug users — two of the largest groups stricken with AIDS during this time,” writes Dr. Howard Markel in PBS’s profile on Ryan Wyite.

He died one month before his high school graduation and only months before Congress passed the legislation bearing his name — the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act.  His name would also be given to the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, the largest federal program designed specifically for people with HIV, serving over half of all those diagnosed.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

April 17, 1990
CBS Airs ‘That’s What Friends Are For’ Concert

CBS broadcasts AIDS fund-raising concert That’s What Friends Are For during television “prime time.”

Learn More.

The TV special, taped  at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, featured “two hours of sweet music and good thoughts,” according to Entertainment Weekly.

In the concert’s finale, Dionne Warwick, Whitney Houston, and about 40 other performers sing “That’s What Friends Are For,” a hit song from 1985 considered the unofficial anthem of those in the fight against AIDS. At the song’s end, Houston and Warwick join in a hug.

The concert was the first national AIDS fund-raising effort by the pop music community and collected about $1.5 million for AIDS organizations. Organized by Arista Records, the show took two years to come to fruition and, in the process, unearthed troubling attitudes in the pop music community toward gay men and AIDS.

At the March 17 concert, Arista President Clive Davis declared the event to be ”a party with a purpose.” The party was to celebrate Arista’s 15th anniversary; the purpose was to fight AIDS by raising money and consciousness.

The serious side of the evening was evident in scattered moments. Outside Radio City before the show, members of the AIDS-activist group ACT UP handed out fliers. In the lobby, a New York City group, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), dispensed brochures and safe-sex packets with condoms. During the concert, the actors who hosted the show (Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Michael Douglas, Whoopi Goldberg, and Melanie Griffith) gave short speeches about AIDS. One of the chairmen of the benefit, Loews Hotels CEO and President Jonathan Tisch, told the audience, ”We must do everything in our power to end this plague.”

Two of the performances reflected the problem that had brought everyone together. Whoopi Goldberg did a bittersweet skit about a girl with AIDS, and Jennifer Holliday dedicated a song from the musical Dreamgirls to that show’s director, Michael Bennett, who died of complications from AIDS in 1987. The rest of the show concentrated, as it was supposed to, on entertainment. Twenty-two current and past Arista acts performed, including Barry Manilow, Melissa Manchester, Patti Smith, Milli Vanilli, Daryl Hall and John Oates, and Taylor Dayne. Some of the live concert music won’t be seen on the TV special, but the notoriously audience-shy Carly Simon will appear in a segment taped before the concert started.

As much as the show reflected the somewhat conservative musical tastes of Clive Davis, it also demonstrated his relentless charitable determination. After volunteering to use his label’s anniversary as the foundation for the benefit, Davis gained the cooperation of nearly every artist he wanted. Everyone agreed to appear for just expense money; none of the artists performed extended sets, and many of them sang with the house orchestra rather than with their own backup musicians. Plus, CBS agreed to air the show in prime time. To accomplish all this took considerable clout. ”Clive Davis is a hero here,” says Katharine DeShaw, director of development at GMHC. ”He was willing to put himself on the line.”

Why did Davis do it? ”The cause,” he says. ”It’s the most urgent health problem facing us in this country. Nobody can remain immune from the effects of this terrible plague.” Davis prefers to give credit to the musicians who performed at the benefit: ”This wasn’t a command performance for Clive Davis. The artists responded openly that this was something they wanted to do.”

And yet it seems puzzling that it has taken this long for the pop music community to stage a major national AIDS benefit. At a time when a wide variety of causes is being embraced by musicians, from the environment to human rights to the ethical treatment of animals, these activists haven’t done very much to fight this major health problem.

There have been exceptions. Royalties from the song ”That’s What Friends Are For” have raised more than $1.5 million for the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR). Madonna donated seats at her Madison Square Garden concert in 1987 and raised $250,000 for AMFAR. In Oakland Coliseum last June, the Grateful Dead headlined a 9 1/2-hour concert that raised $500,000 despite selling only two-thirds of the seats available. Various artists, such as the B-52’s and Los Lobos, have done public-service TV ads. But, according to fund-raisers at AMFAR (the most prominent nationwide group raising money to fight AIDS), musicians haven’t done as much as people in movies, TV, or the fine arts. ”Other areas of entertainment have done more, much more,” says a fund-raiser at AMFAR, who asked not to be named. ”I would like to see more support. I’d like to see [artists like] Bono and Sting get up on stage for us. I’d like to see Live-Aid for AIDS.”

As successful as the Arista benefit was, it followed two frustrating years that included a major controversy and one planned event that fell through. Back in 1988, Loews Hotels executive Jonathan Tisch was in the audience for the Grammy Awards at Radio City. Tisch, who headed the committee that brought the Grammys to New York, was chatting with his mother, Joan, a volunteer at GMHC. ”She said that, to her knowledge, there hadn’t been a major rock event to benefit AIDS,” Tisch recalls. ”I asked, ‘Who are you going to have do it?’ She said, ‘You.”’ So Tisch put together a group to chair the event, including two record company presidents, Clive Davis of Arista and David Geffen of Geffen Records.

By early 1989, the organizers had decided to produce a superstar concert the following summer to be called ”Rock and a Hard Place,” featuring six or so multi-platinum artists. In February, the heavy metal band Guns N’ Roses, from Geffen’s label, was the first band announced for the June 8 concert. Shortly thereafter, staffers at GMHC, the concert’s major beneficiary, discovered that the band had recorded a song, ”One in a Million,” that includes this homophobic observation:
Immigrants and faggots, they make no sense to me They come to our country, and think they’ll do as they please Like start a mini-Iran, or spread some f—in disease

By mid-March, GMHC asked Guns N’ Roses to withdraw. ”We felt that the group would be in total conflict with what we were trying to accomplish,” GMHC’s DeShaw remembers. ”It was an extremely difficult decision. David Geffen is an important person, and you never want to offend a major donor.”

Geffen is still angry about that decision, feeling that Guns N’ Roses would have raised a lot of money. ”I don’t care what their record was,” he says. ”If you need a blood donor and the only person who can give you a transfusion is Adolf Hitler, you take the blood.”

April 20, 1990
ACT UP Takes Over Chicago with Multiple Protest Actions

For four days, the Chicago chapter of ACT UP organizes various rallies and actions that culminate in one of the largest AIDS demonstrations ever held.

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Chicago became the home of one of the most important, complex, and effective activist events in the history of AIDS activism.

“The protest brought national attention to the epidemic in the Midwest, shed light on the fact that it wasn’t just young white gay men who were dying, and brought about crucial changes at Cook County Hospital, which, like many urban public health facilities, had lagged in meeting the challenges of the epidemic,” wrote Rebecca Makkai for the Chicago Reader on the 30th anniversary of the event.

On April 20-23, the National AIDS Action for Healthcare event was hosted by the Chicago chapter of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP.  Activists came to the city from around the country to protest increasingly glaring inequities in the way Chicago’s health care establishment was responding to the AIDS crisis.

Activists were outraged that nearly 10 years into the AIDS epidemic, no effective treatment or cure existed, and the disease was a death sentence.  Also inciting the activists was the fact that the most promising new treatments came with a cost of thousands of dollars a month, and insurance companies were effectively excluding members of the gay community from coverage.

“The massive public plea for fair and adequate health care was nothing less than a bid for survival,” wrote Makkai.  “The demonstrators’ props were banners, costumes, and mattresses; their motto, emblazoned on T-shirts, was ‘Silence = Death.’  For some, it was their first protest. For others, battling with all they had left, it would be their last.”

Of that time, LGBT historian Owen Keehnen recalled how quickly the health of people infected with HIV would deteriorate.

“In ’88 I started working at Unabridged Bookstore,” Keehnen to the Reader.  “People would come in, they’d look fine.  They’d come in, they’d look sick.  Then they didn’t come back.”

The April 1990 event was the largest, most ambitious action in Chicago since the local ACT UP chapter was founded in 1988.

“There were two issues,” Roberto Sanabria, formerly the director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago and an administrator the Illinois Department of Human Services.  “One was that HIV meds were incredibly expensive, so we were going after the AMA (American Medical Association) and the insurance companies. The other was that Cook County Health Clinic had opened up this AIDS ward that didn’t have spaces for women.”

The first day of actions on Friday, April 20 was a “teach-in,” held on the campus at University of Illinois Chicago.

We had one of those big lecture halls, and we had little classrooms for breakouts.  This was followed by an all-night performance stage at Cook County Hospital, called the Vigil, where activists could get a meal.

“Just because it was not important to sleep — we were all so young, weren’t we?” said Jeanne Kracher, Activist and former executive director of Crossroads Fund, in her interview with the Reader.

After a weekend of round-the-clock vigils at the county hospital, everyone gathered for a rally at Wellington Church near Douglas Park.  The speeches were primarily informational, covering the logistics of various actions and the guidelines for civil disobedience.

“I thought, wow, that took it to a whole new level,” said Sanabria.  “I was sitting next to [gay rights icon Ortez Alderson].  I love me some Ortez.  Ortez was friends with James Baldwin!  And he goes, ‘You’re gonna get arrested with me, right?’ So I was shamed into it.”

As ACT UP leaders left the Sunday night rally, they began to see more clearly what they would be up against.

“Someone handed me a report, saying, ‘I got this from a source at the police department.’  It was presumably the plans for the police, and it was overblown, meant to make us feel like we’d be met with tremendous force,” said Jeff Edwards, who now works with the Chicago Teachers Union.

The march began on Monday, April 23 at 8:00 a.m. with activists gathering at the Prudential Building at Randolph and Michigan.  About 250 police officers, 50 of them mounted, were waiting for them.  But they were quickly outnumbered by the assembling crowd.

The group proceeded north across the Michigan Avenue Bridge to the headquarters of Blue Cross Blue Shield, then located on St. Clair Street, and ultimately on to the headquarters of the American Medical Association.  As the march continued, more and more activists joined them until they numbered almost 2,000.

At first, police officers tried to confine the marchers to the sidewalks, but then the marchers were able to move en masse into the streets.  As they marched, they held periodic “kiss-ins,” chanted and played instruments, like drums, woodblocks and tambourines.

Some led chants with a megaphone. There was “Women with AIDS under attack! What do we do? Act up, fight back!”  Marching down Michigan Avenue, it was “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re not going shopping!”

“I remember walking, hearing honks, mostly supportive,” Keehnen said.  “Everybody in these office windows was watching.”

Once they reached the AMA’s building at Grand and State, activists staged a die-in.  People would lie on the ground while others outlined their body in chalk on the pavement.

“When people do chalk outlines in front of your company, it’s shaming you into the fact that you can call your business whatever you want, but you’re basically making money off sick people,” said Keehnen.

Police responded with brutal tactics, according to the activists.  They put activists into headlocks and hurling homophobic insults.  Five protesters were arrested outside the AMA, and two dozen more were arrested in front of the building at 333 West Wacker Drive, which housed MONY, another insurance firm.

One of the last actions of the day was the Women’s Caucus’ statement about the lack of beds for female patients at Cook County’s AIDS unit.  Women activists took over the intersection in front of Cook County Hospital with mattresses, declaring it the “Cook County Women’s AIDS Unit” since no women with AIDS were allowed treatment in the hospital.

“Suddenly all these mattresses appear in the intersection, and these women put hospital gowns over their clothes and plop down,” said Kracher.

“When people starting hitting the mattresses, somebody handed me the megaphone. I’d move around in the group leading chants,” she told the Reader.  “There were two defensive rings around us, the PISD (People with Immune System Disorders) Caucus and the People of Color Caucus, creating a barrier against the police … It was amazing.”

Then, at the County building, something happened that even most of the activists didn’t expect.

“It was Danny [Sotomayor], Tim Miller, Frank Sieple, who’s no longer with us, Paul Adams, who’s no longer with us, and me,” said activist Bill McMillan.

Five ACT UP/Chicago activists had climbed onto a ledge outside the third floor of the County Building and they were holding a banner.

“We walked right past the secretary into an office and moved a desk against the door. It was like being in a Fellini film,” he recalled.  “We opened the window and climbed out. Then we unfurled our banner: ‘We Demand Equal Healthcare Now.’”

Quickly, Cook County sheriff’s deputies pushed their way into the room with the breach, and pulled the activists off the ledge.

“The first two guys they dragged through the window, they banged their heads on the floor and roughed them up,” said McMillan.  “Partway through, the sheriff got up there. He was running for reelection and didn’t want bad PR, so by the time they got me, he said, ‘We’re not gonna hurt you, son, we just don’t want you to fall.’”

The demonstration that day stopped traffic on Chicago’s major thoroughfares of Randolph, Clark, and La Salle, and drew national media attention.

Steven Migalski, who now teaches psychology at Adler University, said “That day made me an activist. I left transformed. My parents found out I was gay two years later from a CNN interview. The whole family, including my grandparents, saw it during Sunday dinner.”

[photo by Mary Patten, ACT UP Chicago]

May 21, 1990
ACT UP Protests NIH to Demand More HIV Treatment Options

The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP)  protests at the National Institutes of Health, demanding more HIV treatments and the expansion of clinical trials to include more women and people of color.

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ACT UP protesters occupy the NIH campus, calling on scientists to develop more drugs for people with AIDS and the federal government to disseminate drugs equitably.

Promoted as “Storm the NIH,” the demonstration challenges the NIH to address the issue of growing numbers of women and people of color being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

Days later, activist G. Harold Mehlman would write in The Washington Post, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease, the saying goes. I’m here to tell you that ACT UP and lots of others will be squeaking to the high heavens until drugs to save the lives of our citizenry affected with the HIV disease are made available.”

Their efforts convince policy makers to change regulations, which results in a new regimen of drugs used to treat AIDS made available in 1996.

June 20, 1990
Protestors Disrupt Int’l AIDS Conference in San Francisco

The 6th International AIDS Conference in San Francisco erupts in demonstrations, boycotts and dramatic disruptions in protest of U.S. immigration policies that bar people with HIV from entering the country.

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“For me, the single most moving episode of the week took place at the conference, when a huge number of the delegates stood up and turned their back on [US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary] Louis Sullivan as he was speaking,” journalist Tim Kingston recalls in an interview with 48 Hills.

For the first time in history, a major policy address got hijacked at an International AIDS Conference.

“Then, all at once, they marched out of the Moscone Center and joined the Pride parade,” Kingston says. “That was such a powerful statement.”

Many of the demonstrations during the conference were organized by ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), and brought attention to issues the conference failed to address, like the growing infection rate and the lack of treatment programs for women, people of color, and intravenous drug users.

Activists also protested laws against needle exchanges, the federal law forbidding HIV-positive people from entering the country, and the notable absence of President George Bush.

“Three hundred thousand dead from AIDS — Where is George?” chanted activist Peter Staley and other ACT UP members from a conference stage.  Soon, others in the packed auditorium joined them.

Bush refused two invitations to address the conference, Staley told UPI science writer Rebecca Kolberg.  Instead, the president attended a fundraiser for conservative senator Jesse Helms, who lead legislative efforts to restrict travel and employment of people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.

For five days, ACT UP stopped business as usual, reported CBS.  Members clogged downtown San Francisco, marching to the Immigration and Naturalization building at 630 Sansome Street to protest the travel and immigration ban for HIV-positive people.  Activists crashed convention events and disrupted speakers.  About 100 protesters were arrested outside the Marscone Center on the first day of the conference.

Even the co-chairman of the conference, John Ziegler, wore a red armband in solidarity with activists and held a moment of silence in support of those who boycotted the conference because of the travel ban.

July 6, 1990
Bay Area Comedian Jim Samuels Dies

Jim Samuels, winner of the 1982 San Francisco Comedy Competition, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 41.

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Born in Oakland, Samuels was a popular comedian and sometime comedy teacher.  In the mid-1970, Samuels and then-comedy-partner Marty Cohen were regulars on Merv Griffin’s television show and several other variety programs.  In 1977, Samuels performed solo in a comedy skit on the TV show Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and would embark on a solo career officially in the early 1980s.

Dubbed San Francisco’s Dean of Comedy by his friends and competitors, Samuels was also part owner of the Holy City Zoo club, a small but influential comedy club located at 408 Clement Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in San Francisco.

Samuels died at Garden Sullivan Hospital in San Francisco.

September 30, 1990
First ‘AIDS Walk Wisconsin’ is Held in Milwaukee

AIDS activists in the Midwest gather in Milwaukee for the first “AIDS Walk Wisconsin” and raise money for the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.

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Sponsored by the Milwaukee AIDS Project, AIDS Walk Wisconsin drew hundreds of participants to its first event.  Milwaukee-area business donated a total of $33,000 to support the event, making it the biggest HIV/AIDS fundraiser in the state.

The Walk’s route, which was a full 10 kilometers, went from Summerfest via Lincoln Memorial Drive to Lake Park and back again. Each of eight rest stops had its own stage and musical entertainment.

The honorary chairpersons of the event were Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist and his wife, Susan Mudd.  The event raised money for the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, founded in 1985 to provide comprehensive HIV/AIDS healthcare services.

AIDS Walk Wisconsin would go on to become an annual fundraiser and bring in millions of dollars for HIV/AIDS healthcare services for state residents.

The first AIDS case in Wisconsin was reported in 1983, and reached 100 cases in 1986.  By 1991, the number of cases exceeded 1,000.  In 1995, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Wisconsin would peak with the cumulative number of HIV cases exceeding 3,000 and cumulative deaths exceeding 2,000.

Milwaukee writer Paul Masterson remembered his first AIDS Walk Wisconsin in 1996:  “In the face of all those deaths, the Walk represented hope in those most dire of times …. Bette Midler was honorary chair. I recall her standing on the Mason Street Bridge over Lincoln Memorial Drive waving to the thousands of walkers (there were 10,545 to be precise) who passed underneath.”

  Shepherd Express, October 24, 2017, “Our Milwaukee AIDS Walk History
The Wisconsin Light, September 5, 1991, “Massive Turnout Expected for Annual Wisconsin AIDS Walk
Wisconsin State Department of Health, “Timeline of the Wisconsin HIV Epidemic

December 1, 1990
‘Night Without Light’ Launches in NYC

The organization Visual AIDS presents its first Night Without Light, organizing cities nationwide to turn off their architectural lights for 15 minutes as visual reminder of the impact of AIDS.

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“Night Without Light” was launched to coincide with Visual AIDS “Day Without Art” on World AIDS Day.  For fifteen minutes, from 7:45 to 8:00 p.m. on December 1st, the lights on Manhattan’s historic buildings, bridges, monuments and Broadway’s theatre marquees are turned off, including the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, United Nations Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York Life Building, MetLife Tower,  Grand Central Terminal, Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and George Washington Bridge among others — transforming the Manhattan skyline into a visual reminder of the impact of AIDS.

In future years, San Francisco would join New York City and also darken its skyline by turning off the architectural illumination on key landmarks as a symbolic reflection for the lives lost due to HIV.

Founded in 1988, Visual AIDS utilizes art to fight AIDS by provoking dialogue, supporting HIV+ artists and preserving a legacy, because AIDS is not over.  The contemporary arts organization is dedicated to raising AIDS awareness around HIV issues today, by producing and presenting visual art projects, exhibitions, public forums and publications — while assisting artists living with HIV/AIDS.

The organization supports the preservation of the work of artists with HIV/AIDS and the artistic contributions of the AIDS movement.

Dean Goishi
March 1991
API Service Group Grows from Club Committee to Stand-Alone Org: APAIT

Started as a committee in an Asian-focused gay and lesbian social club in greater Los Angeles, the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team (APAIT) becomes an independent organization.

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Dean Goishi, Joel Tan and Ric Parish took their club committee to the next level of HIV/AIDS advocacy by linking APAIT to a fiscal agent, the Special Service for Groups.  With Goishi as the Founding Director, APAIT fought against ignorance, racism, and homophobia to break the silence about HIV/AIDS in the Asian community.

“It was a role that … if I didn’t step up, nobody else would, and we would have been left out and we would have been left behind in services, funds and so forth,” said Goishi in 2023 for Okaeri Voices, an oral history project featuring LGBTQ+ Japanese Americans.

The next year, APAIT would receive CARE Act Title II funds that helped the organization launch Los Angeles County’s first API-focused case management program for people living with HIV/AIDS.

APAIT would also announce its presence to the greater LGBTQ+ community in Los Angeles by participating in the 1992 Pride Parade in West Hollywood, according to APAIT’s website.

May 1, 1991
William Waybourn & Vic Basile Found Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund

HIV/AIDS activists William Waybourn and Vic Basile found the first LGBTQ political action committee to help elect more LGBTQ candidates to public office.

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Modeled after the successful women-focused PAC Emily’s List, which helped Anne Richards win the election for Texas Governor in November 1990, the Victory Fund sought to have the same impact and influence, but with a focus on LGBTQ candidates.

William Waybourn, who for several years led the Dallas Gay Alliance’s HIV/AIDS programs, moved to Washington, D.C. to found the Victory Fund with Vic Basile.  Basile left his position as Executive Director of the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign (then called the Human Rights Campaign Fund) to work with Waybourn on the new organization.  Both were seasoned activists who spent the 1980s demanding legislative action to address the AIDS crisis and experiencing constant disappointment from elected leaders who viewed the needs of the LGBTQ community as a low priority.

In 1991, the U.S. had less than 50 openly LGBTQ elected officials at any level of government.  Weybourn and Basile believed that boosting LGBTQ representation in public office would be key to advancing equality.

Through the Victory Fund, Weybourn and Basile began to build a network of supporters who pledged to assist viable LGBTQ candidates endorsed by the organization.  They were joined by Roberta Bennett, David Detrick, Lynn Greer, Tim McFeeley, Howard Menaker, David Mixner, Hilary Rosen, and John Thomas.  Weybourn became the first Executive Directory.

Seattle City Council candidate Sherry Harris became the first Victory Fund endorsed candidate.  With an initial donor network of just 181 members, the Victory Fund helped Harris defeat a 24-year incumbent to become the first openly lesbian Black city council member in the U.S.

This single election resulted in more members of the LGBTQ community running for office and more LGBTQ voters being willing to rally around candidates who could better represent them.  Members of the community with deep pockets were similarly inspired, and the Victory Fund overshot its 1992 fundraising goal of $80,000 by more than three times the amount — $260,000.

Among the candidates receiving Victory Fund support that year was Tammy Baldwin, who became the first openly lesbian member of the Wisconsin Assembly in 1993.  Victory Fund would continue to support Baldwin’s campaigns over the years (two more successful elections to the state assembly, three successful elections to Congress, and ultimately successful elections to U.S. Senate).

Meanwhile, the Victory Fund continued to evolve and get stronger.  In 1993, the Victory Institute was launched to help train future candidates and campaign workers. The organization successfully lobbied White House officials and Senators to appoint Roberta Achtenberg to the position of Assistant Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, making her the first openly LGBTQ presidential appointee to a Senate-confirmed position.

In 1994, 14 of Victory Fund’s 28 endorsed candidates won their elections.  Among them were Sheila James Kuehl, who won her race to become the first openly LGBTQ person in the California state legislature, and Bonnie Dumanis, a San Diego Republican who was elected as Municipal Court Judge.

In 1996, Victory Fund went big and endorsed 50 candidates.  With the organization’s help, Ed Flanagan became the first openly LGBTQ person elected to a statewide office, winning his race for State Auditor in Vermont.

Before founding the Victory Fund, William Weybourn was a leader in the Dallas LGBTQ community.  He was journalist for The Dallas Times Herald who decided the community needed a “center” and in 1980 opened Crossroads Market in the gay-friendly neighborhood of Oak Park.  Located at the intersection of Throckmorton and Cedar Springs, Crossroads Market sold everything, from candy to furniture, books and gifts, and “anything gay-related,” according to The Dallas Way‘s profile of Weybourn.

The shop offered free coffee and a free-to-use copy machine, and became an important gathering spot.  Not much later, the Dallas Gay Alliance opened a community center a few doors away, cementing the area’s importance as a vital community asset.

While many of Weybourn’s friends battled HIV-related illnesses, Weybourn struggled with his own health issues.  In 1984, he had a heart attack while driving home.  He was only 36 years old.  He had another heart attack 12 years later, and over the course of 20 years, several stents were placed in his heart, according to The Dallas Way.

The devastation of HIV/AIDS on the Dallas community also took its toll on Weybourn’s mental health.

“I can’t answer how others got through their grief, but Craig (Spaulding, his partner) and I tried to avoid focusing on death, but instead focused on how fortunate we were to know and care for someone for the short time they were alive,” he told The Dallas Way in 2022.

Vic Basile, Weybourn’s co-founder at the Victory Fund, was also steeped in HIV/AIDS activism in the 1980s.

Basile was the first Executive Director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), serving during the earliest years of the AIDS crisis, from June 1983 to June 1989.  The HRC was created initially to fund Congressional candidates who supported issues important to the LGBTQ community, and quickly found itself struggling to identify elected officials willing to fight for HIV/AIDS funding.

During this time, Basile supported the outing of gay politicians who worked against LGBTQ interests.

In 1989, he told the Washington Post, “Those who participate in the (gay) community and then vote against it are guilty of hypocrisy — hypocrisy that causes harm to a whole class of people…. Their duplicitous, devious, harmful behavior ought to be exposed.”

Later, Basile was Executive Director of Movable Feast, a Baltimore charity which delivered meals to homebound HIV and AIDS patients, and then Counselor to the Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Phil Zwickler
May 7, 1991
NYC Documentarian-Writer Phil Zwickler Dies

Phil Zwickler, who directed documentaries and wrote articles about the AIDS crisis, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in Manhattan. He was 36 years old.

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Zwickler’s films included Rights and Reactions: Lesbian and Gay Rights on Trial, an account of the 1986 New York City Council hearings on the gay rights bill.

The documentary, which Zwickler produced and directed with Jane Lippman, won the Gold Plaque at the 1987 Chicago International Film Festival and a special jury prize at the 1988 San Francisco Film Festival, according to The New York Times.

Zwickler also collaborated with the experimental German film maker Rosa von Praunheim on the documentaries Silence Equals Death and Positive.  Exploring the the rage and frustration of people with AIDS, the films were screened at the Berlin International Film Festival and then at the New York Public Theater as part of the 1990 Documentary Festival of New York.

AIDS Walk NY 05111991
May 19, 1991
26,000 Participate in AIDS Walk in New York City

Starting and ending at Lincoln Center, the Sixth Annual AIDS Walk New York draws 26,000 people and raises approximately $4 million to benefit Gay Men’s Health Crisis and over 50 other local AIDS service organizations

Learn More.

The event becomes the world’s largest and most successful AIDS fundraisers to date.

The atmosphere for the 10-kilometer event ranged from “the revelry of a pep rally” to “the somberness of a wake,” wrote reporter Jerry Gray in his coverage for The New York Times.

Gray spoke to many walkers, including some people living with HIV/AIDS and friends of those who had died from AIDS-related illness.

“The perception is that it’s ‘a gay disease, but it’s not. It’s everybody’s family. It’s everybody’s friends,” participant Carole Mayer said to the NYT reporter.  She walked wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the message “In Loving Memory of Mike 12/7/49-5/7/91.”

Willie Sandoval, who identified himself as a person with AIDS, told the NYT: “I’m here for people who will never march again, because they are dead.”

Founded in 1986, AIDS Walk New York was the largest walkathon in the world.

Red Ribbon
June 2, 1991
Red Ribbon Makes Debut at Tony Awards

The red ribbon becomes a symbol of compassion for people living with AIDS and their caregivers.

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The Visual AIDS Artists Caucus  launches the Red Ribbon Project to create a visual symbol to demonstrate compassion for people living with AIDS and their caregivers. The red ribbon would become the international symbol of AIDS awareness.

New York artist Patrick O’Connel and other artists band together and started making art in response to AIDS, calling their collective Visual AIDS.  The artists, which hold public events and organized gallery shows to raise AIDS awareness, perhaps make their biggest impact with a simple little symbol: the AIDS awareness ribbon.

The idea started with Marc Happel, a costume designer invited to a meeting of the Visual AIDS artist caucus.

After several trips to upstate NY, where he had seen yellow ribbons tied around trees to honor servicement, Marc thought that Visual AIDS could do something similar, to acknowledge the war at home. Marc proposed that the group fold a ribbon and pin it on their lapels; the group decided that the ribbon ought to be red — the color of blood.

A local ribbon supplier donated spools of red grosgrain ribbon, and Visual AIDS began cutting, folding, and pinning. The Visual AIDS Artist Caucus members held what they called “ribbon bees” — like a quilting bee, where a bunch of people gathered to work.

The looped, inverted-V shape came after trying out numerous styles. Visual AIDS would hand-cut, fold, and pin thousands of ribbons, all just to hand out for free, attached to pamphlets.

On Sunday, June 2, Visual AIDS (working with Broadway Cares and Equity Fights AIDS) would launch the Red Ribbon project at the 45th Annual Tony Awards.

The Tonys host, Jeremy Irons, wore the red ribbon, and so did many winners, presenters and guests (Daisey Eagan, Kevin Spacey, Penn and Teller, Tyne Daly, Mercedes Ruehl, Jerry Zaks, Joel Grey, Keith Carradine, and more).

The guests and presenters were asked not to speak directly about what the red ribbon meant. This resulted in media curiosity and the red ribbon became an overnight phenomenon.

July 1991
ACT UP Contingent Launches Treatment Action Group

Members of the Treatment and Data Committee of ACT UP New York split off to launch a new organization focused on accelerating treatment research.

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The mission of the new group — called the  Treatment Action Group (TAG) — was to work effectively with government scientists, drug company researchers, and FDA officials on speeding up the development of new HIV therapies.  In fact, many scientists and government officials were impressed with the level of knowledge that TAG founding director Peter Staley (pictured) and other members had and welcomed their input.

Prior to founding TAG, Staley and other members of ACT UP’s Treatment and Data Committee (many of whom were HIV positive) learned how to become their own researchers, lobbyists, drug smugglers, and clinicians.

In a 2013 interview with Martha Henry of the Harvard AIDS Initiative, Staley expressed regret that they weren’t able to keep TAG within ACT UP.  At the time, the split seemed inevitable because the Treatment and Data Committee wanted to work in tandem with government researchers and drug companies, while the more radical members of ACT UP viewed federal research programs and the pharmaceutical industry as the enemy and wanted a more antagonistic approach.

But TAG did, after all, have its roots in activism, and the group announced itself in spectacular fashion.  As its first big action, TAG members spent the summer planning on an action that would bring nationwide awareness to the problem of AIDS stigma while also “zapping” one of the country’s most anti-gay politicians, U.S. Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina.  Helms was notoriously opposed to government funding for HIV/AIDS research, prevention, and treatment.

TAG’s director, Peter Staley, devised a plan to put a giant condom over the home of Senator Helms, and enlisted a select crew of TAG members to help.  By September, they had everything in place, and on Sept. 5, 1991, they went to the senator’s two-story house in Arlington, Virginia to unfurl the giant yellow condom printed with the message “A condom to stop unsafe politics — Helms is deadlier than a virus.

The activists were detained briefly by police but were allowed to go free once they complied with the police order to remove the giant condom from the house.  Helms was not home at the time, but the incident succeeded in getting nationwide media attention, according to the History website.

With the condom action, Staley hoped that ACT UP radicals would see that they could still employ theatrical, attention-getting actions while working with the scientists seeking better treatments.

But TAG would go its own way and, as separate entities, ACT UP and TAG would both be very effective in pushing the federal government to fund research into new and better treatments for HIV and AIDS.

Following the approval of several effective antiretroviral drugs in 1995, TAG would be successful in persuading the government to work with the pharmaceutical industry on research that would identify long-term effects of the new HIV therapies.

In 2002, TAG would raise awareness about the impact that tuberculosis was having on people with HIV in the developing world. In 2007, the organization would receive a $4.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to foster increased international advocacy on TB/HIV research and treatment.

In 2012, Staley would become a leading subject in the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague, and he would become a 2016 Fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.  Staley’s memoirs of his activism and advocacy, Never Silent: ACT UP and My Life in Activism, would be published in October 2021.

“The plague that killed a generation of gay men cannot be forgotten, and Peter saw it all from the front lines,” CNN reporter Anderson Cooper writes in the forward of Staley’s book.  “He wasn’t the only one, but he was a key member of a brave group of people who stood up and fought back so that others, you and I, might live and be free.”

Staley would also co-found the PrEP4All Collaboration, whose mission is to make HIV medication available to everyone who needs it, and the COVID-19 Working Group – New York.

August 1991
Minority Groups Launch HIV Treatment Education Program

The National Minority AIDS Council, in cooperation with the National Association of People With AIDS and the National AIDS Interfaith Network, holds the National Skills Building Conference, which will later become the United States Conference on AIDS.

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As the largest AIDS-related gathering in the country, the United States Conference on AIDS would draw thousands of attendees annually to share information, create new networks, and learn about the latest tools being used to address the challenges of HIV/AIDS.

Paul Kawata, Executive Director of NMAC, planned and implemented the first three conferences, considered to be the first national HIV treatment education programs in the U.S.  Annual conference participants include healthcare and service providers, advocates, people living with HIV/AIDS, and policymakers.

Tom Duane
August 8, 1991
Candidate for NY City Council Discloses HIV+ Status

Tom Duane, one of two candidates running for the lower Manhattan district of the New York City Council, announces that he tested positive for HIV.  Three months later, he would win the election.

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Duane’s announcement is the first time a candidate seeking elected office openly disclosed being HIV positive.  At a time when many considered it professionally ruinous to disclose their infection, Duane boldly challenged the stigma and used the public view into his personal health to his advantage.

“In one sense, it’s nobody’s business that I’ve tested positive for the presence of HIV virus in my blood,” Duane stated in a letter mailed to 40,000 district households.  “But I am a candidate for public office and I believe in being candid.”

In the letter, Duane also said that as an elected city official, he would fight for more funding for AIDS research and health care.

“That’s what I believe, and have for a long time. Maybe I believe it a little more strongly because of my own circumstance,” he wrote.

Duane was running in the third district, which had been recently configured to include the Manhattan neighborhoods of SoHo, Greenwich Village, Clinton and Chelsea and had the highest concentration of LGBTQ voters in New York City, according to The New York Times.

Duane’s main opponent in the City Council race was Liz Abzug, the 39-years-old lesbian daughter of Congresswoman Bella Abzug.

New York Times, August 8, 1991, “Gay Candidate for City Council Says He Has AIDS Virus”

Condom on Helms House bw
September 5, 1991
Activists Put Giant Condom on House of Homophobic Senator

Activists from the Treatment Action Group (TAG) gathered at the Arlington, Virginia home of U.S. Senator Jesse Helms and placed over his house a giant condom with the message, “A CONDOM TO STOP UNSAFE POLITICS. HELMS IS DEADLIER THAN A VIRUS.”

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Led by the new activist group’s founding director Peter Staley, TAG executed a meticulous plan to create a condom large enough to engulf the senator’s two-story brick colonial house, transport it from New York to Virginia, and quickly place it over the senator’s house using two ladders, rubber mallets, plastic stakes, a portable generator, air blowers, and a extra-long extension cord.

Senator Helms was TAG’s target for this “zap,” because — as Staley put it — he was one of the chief architects of AIDS-related stigma in the U.S.  He proposed and passed federal laws that limited the rights of HIV-positive people, including restricting their travel to the U.S. and forbidding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to spend money on HIV prevention in the LGBT community.

“Helms gave a veil of legitimacy to every parent who threw their HIV-positive kid out of the house,” Staley wrote in 2008 in POZ magazine.  “ACT UP New York was filled with angry young men who experienced this kind of Helms-related hatred.”

The members of TAG came largely from the Treatment & Data Committee of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power).  They were well-versed in creating spectacle — often with humor — to draw attention to the problems surrounding HIV/AIDS treatment, research and policy.  And they decided that Senator Helms’s destructive rhetoric and policy actions deserved a special response that only they could provide.

“If you can get folks laughing at your target’s expense, you diminish his power,” Staley said. “I wanted the country to have a good laugh at Helms’ expense. I wanted his fellow senators to have a little chuckle behind his back. And I wanted Senator Helms to realize that his free ride was up — if he hit us again, we’d hit back.”

The activists involved in the condom action — the “TAG Helms Seven” — were Staley,  Sean Strub (who would found POZ), Garance Franke-Ruta, Mark Allen (who blogged about it here), Derek Link, Jim Serafini, and Jason Childers. An eighth activist, Dan Baker, agreed to be TAG’s “ready for Prime Time” media spokesperson.

Once the condom was in place, police arrived and debated how to proceed, Staley said.  One of them laughed at the sight, and after much consulting over the radio with law enforcement leaders, the officers took down the names and addresses of the activists and issued a ticket for parking their truck in the wrong direction.

After the media recorded and photographed the spectacle, the activists removed the condom and all their equipment.  The condom still exists — it is currently stored at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California.

The action was well-covered in the media.  After television stations around the country played clips of the action with humorous comments by newscasters, Sen. Helms was moved to complain on the Senate floor about “radical homosexuals” — but he never proposed or passed another life-threatening AIDS amendment.

In the years that followed, Helms’s health would begin to deteriorate due to bone disorders, prostate cancer and heart disease.  He would retire from the Senate in 2003 and die in 2008.

Meanwhile, Staley, who was HIV-positive, would be appointed in 1994 to President Clinton’s National Task Force on AIDS Drug Development, and would serve on the Board of Directors of amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research) from 1991 to 2004.  In 2000, he would found AIDSmeds.com to provide treatment information for people living with HIV, and in 2004, he would launch an impactful awareness campaign to address the epidemic of crystal meth use among gay men.

In 2013, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo would appoint Staley to serve on the state’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force. In 2014, Staley would help to form a coalition of advocates for Truvada PrEP that successfully pressured Gilead Sciences to liberalize its patient assistance programs.

Staley would also be a leading subject in the Oscar-nominated documentary How To Survive A Plague (2012).

AIDS Quilt - Belinda Mason
September 9, 1991
‘Well, bye-bye y’all’: Activist Belinda Mason Dies

Belinda Mason, the only AIDS-infected member of the National Commission on AIDS and a critic of President George H.W. Bush, dies of AIDS-related illness at age 33.

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Infected with the AIDS virus in 1987 from a blood transfusion during the birth of her second child, Mason is known for being the commission member most unafraid to speak out against the Bush administration for treating AIDS as a moral issue rather than as a public-health issue.

She is also known as a strong voice among people with AIDS who are angry that AZT is the only AIDS drug approved by the U.S.

Mason refused to distinguish between what sanctimonious politicians called the “innocent victims” of HIV and the rest of those living with the disease.  Yet she was aware of her priviledge, telling the press that Bush appointed her because, ″I was perfect. I was Southern, I was white, I was articulate and I got AIDS in a nice way.″

Before becoming ill, Mason worked as a reporter for the Appalachian News Express in Pikeville and the Hartford Times News, both Kentucky weeklies.  She also wrote short stories.

Mason, originally of Whitesburg, Ky., founded Kentuckiana People With AIDS, the first Kentucky-based group dedicated to fighting for a cure. She also was a member of the AIDS Action Council, a national AIDS lobbying group.

She spent untold hours with Kentuckians, listening, laughing, educating, telling stories and being a lifeline for rural HIVers, according to Kate Black in her profile on Mason in POZ magazine.

She was president of the National Association of People With AIDS when Bush appointed her in 1989 to the commission created by his predecessor, Ronald Reagan.

Right before Belinda Mason died at the age of 32, she told her family, “Well, bye-bye y’all.”

In 2016, the legislature of the State of Kentucky would honor Mason with a resolution to “reflect on the many accomplishments Belinda Mason made as a notable woman in Kentucky’s history.”

“For her uncommon courage in the face of death, for all that she accomplished as an AIDS
advocate during a time in this country when it was unpopular to do so, and for being a
daughter of this great Commonwealth,” the resolution states, “this honorable body posthumously honors her for her many contributions to human rights on Women’s History Month.”

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

September 26, 1991
Navy Vet & Leatherman Robert Douty Dies

Robert L. Douty, a Navy veteran who specialized in electronics, dies of AIDS-related illness at Laguna Honda Hospice at the age of 37.

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Douty served in the U.S. Navy in 1972-1978 as an electronic standards specialist on the USS Dixie and the USS Oriskany.  After his military service, he continued to work in electronics at Ford Aerospace until his illness forced him to retire in 1987.

A respected member of the leather community, Douty was an early member of The 15 Association, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

September 29, 1991
California AB101 Veto Ignites Protests in LA and SF

Infuriated by Gov. Pete Wilson’s veto of a major gay rights bill, California activists launch a wave of demonstrations that brand the governor “a liar” who betrayed a cause he had pledged to support.

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Demonstrators gathered at the Westwood Federal Building in Los Angeles in the morning and the Ronald Reagan State Office Building in downtown LA in the afternoon. Protesters splattered red liquid on the state building and broke a heavy glass door before disbanding after a standoff with police.  Two demonstrators were arrested.

That evening, about 2,000 whistle-blowing, chanting demonstrators gathered in West Hollywood, where they torched a California state flag and burned Wilson in effigy.  The protesters then marched from West Hollywood to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Wilshire Boulevard, where Wilson was attending an event.

When the activists arrived at the museum, they shouted, “Civil rights or civil war!”

Later, about 150 demonstrators gathered at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, where Wilson was a guest.  A man and a woman were arrested on suspicion of assault after protesters rushed the hotel’s front entrance and knocked down a helmeted police officer.

In San Francisco, angry protesters marched from San Francisco’s Castro District to the State building in Civic Center, where Gov. Wilson had an office.  The situation took a violent turn when the front doors were smashed and offices were set on fire.  The Bay Area Reporter described protestors kicking in glass doors and causing over $150,000 in damages to the building.  This would become known as the “AB 101 Veto Riot.”

The demonstrations go on for about three weeks, and transformed thousands of people into activists. Some people were out every night.

“Probably the biggest demonstration started at San Vicente and went west on Sunset to UCLA, where we disrupted an outdoor speech being given by Wilson,” recalled Steve Martin, who was President of the Stonewall Democratic Club at the time.  “The police said there were 5,000 in the streets; it looked closer to 10,000 to me.  As we marched back to West Hollywood, Sunset looked like a river of demonstrators.”

AB 101 would have prevented job and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Gov. Wilson, a moderate Republican, initially promised to sign such legislation into law, but reversed his decision after his office received complaints from anti-gay activists.

“We were blatantly lied to, and we are angry,” John J. Duran, co-chair of the Lobby for Individual Freedom and Equality, told the Los Angeles Times.  Duran said Wilson promised to support anti-discrimination legislation in meetings with gay activists during his gubernatorial campaign.

About one year later, California AB 101 was passed by state legislature and signed by signed by Pete Wilson.

November 21, 1991
Three Men Convicted of Hate-Crime Killing of Julio Rivera in NYC

Two men were convicted of murder and one of manslaughter in the killing of Julio Rivera, a man who became their target in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens because he was gay.

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On July 2 at about 3:00 a.m., Rivera, a 29-year-old bartender, was lured to his death in a remote part of a local schoolyard by three white men who wanted to “reclaim” their neighborhood from gays.

Two of the defendants were convicted of taking part in what the prosecutors described as a savage “gay bashing” spree.  A third defendant, 21-year-old Daniel Doyle, had previously pled guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter in return for providing the only eyewitness account of the crime.

According to testimony by Doyle, his two friends Erik Brown and Esat Bici assaulted Rivera with a claw hammer and broken beer bottle, and then Doyle himself finished him off with a knife.  The New York City Police Department initially and erroneously classified the murder as a drug-related crime, and it would have remained so if it were not for members of Rivera’s family and local gay activist friends who spoke out to the media about the mishandling of the case by the NYPD.

Brown and Bici received convictions of second-degree murder and faced sentences of life in prison, with parole possible no sooner than 15 or 25 years.  The plea deal that Doyle received (the prosecution dropped the murder charge against him and allowed him to plead guilty to manslaughter) was protested by Brown’s and Bici’s lawyers.  Doyle, who admitted to instigating the attack and stabbing Rivera, faced a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison for his manslaughter plea, with parole possible as early as 8 years.

Leaders of gay-rights groups told the NY Times that the verdicts sent important message in the effort to counter violence against gay people, who have been increasingly targeted in violent attacks since the emergence of the AIDS virus.

“It sends a message to everybody in the city that we have a right to live and that this kind of violence will not be tolerated,” Rafael Ruiz-Ayala, a member of Latino Gay Men of New York, told the NYC Times after the verdict was announced.

“I’m sorry that hate led them to this sorry fate, but I’m pleased justice was done,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.

The three defendants were lifelong residents of Queens.  Doyle, who testified against the other two, was the son of a retired New York City police detective and was home from college when he participated in Rivera’s murder.  Brown was a student at the Art Students League in Manhattan. By contrast, Bici was a high school dropout whose family background included the killing of his mother by his father when he was 7 years old.

Prosecutors told the jury that Doyle and Bici were members of a local racist organization, the Doc Martens Skinheads, and the three had shaved their heads the night of the murder.

November 27, 1991
Paul Martin Heltsley — San Francisco Writer-Editor — Dies

Paul Martin Heltsley, a writer for Drummer and other leather-related magazines, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in San Francisco.  He was 29 years old.

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Heltsley, who wrote under the name Paul Martin, was an assistant editor at Drummer magazine and often led workshops at QSM and San Francisco State Unviversity.  He was one of the founders of San Francisco Leather Bears and a member of the National Leather Association and the Phoenix Uniform Club.

Heltsley also composed music in a variety of genres, including jazz, punk and electronica.  Prior to moving to San Francisco in 1988, he performed in a punk band in Seattle.

“He cared passionately about the physical , psychological and spiritual implications of Leather and SM,” Heltsley’s partner, Roy Cameron, told the Bay Area Reporter.

“As an expression of his deep personal love of the people in his life, and his desire not to have his friends worry about him, Paul remained silent, even to the end, as to the seriousness of his illness,” Camerson said.

A tree was planted in the AIDS Memorial Grove at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park as a permanent tribute to Heltsley.

AIDS Quilt - Stan Hadden
December 2, 1991
Sacramento Activist Stan Hadden Dies

Stan Hadden, a senior administrative aide to California Senate President Pro Tempore David A. Roberti and one of the most influential voices on AIDS policy in Sacramento, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 35.

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As fierce fighter for HIV/AIDS policy for 10 years, Haddon is credited with shepharding the creation of the California AIDS Advisory Committee in 1983 and writing legislation supporting a coordinated approach to local HIV/AIDS programs and services in 1985.

According to Stephen Colbrook’s paper “Clandestine Networks and Closeted Bureaucrats: AIDS and the Forming of a Gay Policy Network in California,” Haddon was a key player among policymakers who jumped into action when the AIDS crisis unfolded.  When Hadden learned that a new deadly disease was spreading through San Francisco’s gay community, he brought the epidemic to the attention of his boss, David Roberti, who was the president of the California senate.

Colbrook wrote:

“Hadden quickly emerged as a pivotal figure in California’s response to the AIDS crisis. He was affable, forthright, and pragmatic, burnishing a well-deserved reputation as the AIDS Tsar of California.  By 1987, his monthly AIDS newsletter had 25,000 subscribers, and his correspondence reached beyond California to activists in Texas, Illinois, and New York.”

Sen. Roberti provided Hadden with a significant degree of autonomy, with which Hadden used to craft a large portion of California’s early AIDS legislation, including Senate Bill 1215, which expanded the state budget for prevention education by $11 million.  Passed in 1985 by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in both the Assembly and Senate at a time when budget funds were thin, SB 1215 cemented California’s leading role in addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis.  In 1985, nearly half of the total state spending on the AIDS epidemic was attributed to California, according to Colbrook.

Hadden’s leadership also throughout the 1980s also helped steer California’s action on the epidemic toward a focus on patient confidentiality and individual rights.  This focus was not always adopted by other states in their approach to the AIDS crisis.  On the other end of the spectrum was Texas, whose political leaders created policy centered on the disease’s perceived threat to the heterosexual population.

Hadden was one of only a few in the 1980s Sacramento political scene who were open about their LGBT identity, journalist Karen Ocamb would later write in The Pride.  Scores of administrative and political aides to California legislators remained in the closet, fearful that open knowledge of their sexual identity would end their professional careers.  Elected officials and potential candidates who identified as LGBT also remained silenced by the very real fear of ruination.

In the final two weeks of his life, Hadden received round-the-clock nursing care as part of a hospice program.  Sacramento AIDS Foundation spokeswoman Patty Blomberg noted that the AIDS care Hadden received might not have existed if it were not for his influence and persistence.

Blomberg told the Sacramento Bee that Hadden had slipped into a coma early that morning and then died at about noon at his farmhouse along the Sacramento River, surrounded by friends and family who had flown in from as far away as Michigan.

Hadden’s funeral would bring in friends and colleagues from around the state, including Ocamb and John Duran, then President of the Board of LIFE AIDS Lobby who would become Mayor of the City of West Hollywood.

“In a gesture unheard of for the suits of Sacramento, a huge rainbow flag was unfurled and solemnly marched down the street to the Capitol,” Ocamb recalled.

“Stan’s memory will go on, because he made a contribution to this state that many of us can only dream of making,” Senate President Pro Tem Roberti said during Hadden’s memorial service at St. Francis Church in midtown Sacramento.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Kimberly Bergalis
December 8, 1991
Kimberly Bergalis — Focus of Testing Debate — Dies

Kimberly Bergalis, who stirred a national debate over AIDS testing when she became known as the first case of contracting the virus from a health care worker, dies of AIDS-related illness at her home in Fort Pierce, Florida at the age of 23.

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Bergalis became the poignant symbol of a scientific mystery and a continuing debate over the risk of infection in health care settings and what to do about it.

Bergalis’ infection with the AIDS virus was traced to her dentist, Dr. David J. Acer of Stuart, Florida.  Acer, who continued practicing dentistry several years after learning he was infected with HIV, told health investigators that he did not believe he had infected anyone.

However, testing of hundreds of his patients found four more who were infected with the same strain of HIV as his and who reportedly had no other risks for the disease.  Experts still question how those infections occurred, with the most common theory beging that Acer bled from a cut in his hands or used instruments that had punctured his skin or were not sterilized after use on another infected patient.

What finally convinced health officials that Acer was responsible for Bergalis’ infection with HIV was a laboratory analysis of the virus, whose mutations produce varied strains, showing that the samples from Acer and Bergalis were virtually identical.  Bergalis sued Acer’s estate for $1 million and also received an undisclosed sum from his insurance company. But her crusade continued.

“Someone who has AIDS and continues to practice is nothing better than a murderer,” said George Bergalis, Kimberly’s father.  The Bergalis family also urged testing of patients to protect doctors.

A few months before her death, Kimberly Bergalis was wheeled into a Capitol hearing room so she could state her support for a bill to test both medical professionals and patients.

“I did not do anything wrong, yet I am being made to suffer like this,” she whispered. “My life has been taken away. Please enact legislation so that no other patient or health care provider will have to go through the hell that I have.”

Some said that Bergalis stirred unwarranted panic and that her case diverted attention from the far more common spread of the disease by unprotected sex and the sharing of tainted needles by IV drug users.

Spurred by the public uproar, the Federal Centers for Disease Control proposed barring infected health workers from procedures in which HIV might be transmitted.  But the legislation stalled, and the centers backed off under opposition from state and local health officials, medical societies and advocates for AIDS patients.

Opponents of the proposed regulation argued that the Florida case remained an anomaly, that thousands of patients of other doctors with HIV were tested and found uninfected, and that new rules were not needed.  They said the proposals would unfairly destroy the careers of infected health workers and waste millions of dollars that would be better spent on other AIDS preventives.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Danny Sotomayor
February 5, 1992
Danny Sotomayor of ACT UP/Chicago Dies

Illustrator Daniel “Danny” Sotomayor, who helped found Chicago’s ACT UP chapter, dies of AIDS-related illness at Illinois Masonic Medical Center.  He was 33.

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When Sotomayor was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, he turned his illustration pen into a sword honed for raising awareness about the AIDS crisis.

He established himself as the first nationally syndicated, openly gay political cartoonist, according to The Legacy Project.  During his brief but brilliant career, he created more than two hundred scathing and often humorous cartoons depicting inaction and indifference by the federal government, insurance industry, health care system, and pharmaceutical companies.  His weekly cartoons appeared in Chicago’s Windy City Times and in gay newspapers and magazines in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis

Sotomayor attended the 1988 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, and was energized by the ACT UP demonstrations that generated nationwide media attention, according to activist Jeanne Kracher in the Chicago Reader.  Sotomayor returned to Chicago and immediately proposed reorganizing their activist group, Chicago for AIDS Rights, and changing its name to ACT UP/Chicago.

Sotomayor took initiative early on with the rebranded organization, and his energy and enthusiasm for activism drew others to ACT UP.

“There were people who came because they were Danny Sotomayor admirers,” activist Bill McMillan told the Chicago Reader.

McMillan recalled going down to the gay clubs on Halsted late at night with Sotomayor to pass out fliers.

“We were young and fresh, wearing new t-shirts, because we had a new logo for ACT UP Chicago, which Danny designed,” he said. “We were overwhelmed by how many people showed up.  At Clark and Diversey, we shut down the intersection.”

In 1990, Sotomayor was “at the center of ACT UP/Chicago,” according to a profile of him in the Chicago Reader.  With a T-cell count of 65, Sotomayor was still able to generate the energy to lead hundreds of activists in various demonstrations.

“Sometimes I wonder if ACT UP is what’s keeping me alive,” he told the Chicago Reader.  “Sure, I have AIDS, but I think we all make the decision to die. I just haven’t made that decision yet.”

Sotomayor became known for his escalating public confrontations with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.  Around this time, other ACT UP members begin to say that he had gotten shriller, angrier, and more impatient.  His manner was considered by some to be alienating to those working alongside him.

“I really don’t care whether people like me, or whether they approve of my style or my methods,” he told the Chicago Reader. “The question is whether I’m right and whether we’re making progress. Because if we are, then fuck ’em.”

Three months after organizing one of ACT UP/Chicago’s largest demonstrations — which included Sotomayor and four other activists slipping unnoticed into the Cook County Building and hanging a protest banner from the window of an upper floor — he resigned from the organization.

He explained his seemingly abrupt resignation to the Reader:  “I quit, because I can no longer do the kind of AIDS work I want to do with the hostility that I feel within the group.  People with AIDS are not setting the agenda of ACT UP.  The group is being manipulated to suit the politics of a small group of people who don’t even have AIDS.”

In 1991, at a fundraising event for Impact – an Illinois-based LGBTQ political action group – Daniel challenged invited guest Mayor Daley with a banner that read “Daley, Tell The Truth About AIDS.”  Impact’s organizers promptly threw him out of the venue.

A year later, Impact would have a change of heart and honor Sotomayor with an award for his activism.

“That night, one thousand people leapt to their feet to honor the man they had once rejected,” writes Victor Salvo for The Legacy Project Chicago.

Sotomayor died three days later.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Clint Hockenberry
March 24, 1992
AIDS Legal Activist Clint Hockenberry Dies

Clinton C. Hockenberry, an activist for gay and lesbian rights and on behalf of AIDS patients, died of AIDS-related illness at his home in San Francisco at the age of 41.

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A resident of Washington D.C. from 1975 to 1985, Hockenberry was president and executive director of Gay and Lesbian Pride Day, executive co-director of the 1983 National AIDS Vigil, and a founder of the Whitman-Walker Clinic and Langston Hughes/Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club.

While attending Georgetown University Law Center, Hockenberry was president of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Coalition, which successfully sued for recognition from the university.

Hockenberry was executive director and chief lobbyist of the Greater Washington Americans for Democratic Action from 1982 to 1984. From 1985 until his retirement, he was executive director of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, a public-interest legal service in San Francisco.

He was also editor and writer of AIDSLaw, a manual of legal services for persons with HIV and AIDS.  He won awards from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the State Bar of California for his work.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Freddie Concert
April 20, 1992
Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert Raises AIDS Funds

The sold-out Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness is broadcast in 76 countries, with an estimated that one billion people tuning in worldwide.

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Considered one of the biggest benefit concerts of all time, the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert featured “warm-up acts” by Metallica, Def Leppard, and Guns N’ Roses.

Between bands, several video clips honoring Freddie Mercury were shown. Film star and AIDS activist Elizabeth Taylor then spoke about AIDS prevention, which was followed by a compilation of Mercury’s performances.

Then came the main event: a greatest-hits set from Queen featuring stand-in vocals from superstars that included David Bowie, Robert Plant, Elton John, Annie Lennox, Axl Rose and George Michael.

“It was George Michael who seized the day with a passionate, thrilling performance of “Somebody To Love.” wrote London-based music critic Jamie Atkins in U Discover Music.

After Queen front man Freddie Mercury died on November 24, 1991 after a long battle with AIDS, his bandmates decided to honor him with a concert to raise money for AIDS research. This form of tribute was fitting, given that, seven years earlier, Mercury had delivered the performance of his life at the Live Aid benefit concert.

The concert was held in London’s Wembley Stadium and all 72,000 tickets sold out in three hours, despite that the only confirmed act was Queen and the band still did not have a new front man.

All proceeds from the concert were used to launch the Mercury Phoenix Trust (MPT), a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding programs for HIV/AIDS awareness and treatment.

Since then, MPT has released tapes of the concert at various times to raise money for HIV/AIDS programs and, in 2020, for the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

May 30, 1992
Robert Pruzan — Bay Area Photographer — Dies

Robert Pruzan, longtime photographer for the Bay Area Reporter who also created photographic art, dies of AIDS-related illness at Davies Medical Center in San Francisco.  He was 45 years old.

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Pruzman documented the queer history of San Francisco throughout the 1970s and 1980s, according to Gary Aylesworth of the Bay Area Reporter. His work was published in Drummer, Manifest, Sports Illustrated, and the San Francisco Examiner’s Image magazine, as well as in Geoff Mains’ book Urban Aboriginals.

“Although he worked in photojournalism for years, his fine art photography is brilliant and important,” wrote Aylesworth.  “There are, perhaps, a quarter of a million slides in his collection.”

Born in 1946 in Seattle, Pruzman studied mime in Paris with Etienne Decroux in the 1960s.  As Decroux’s first assistant, he taught mime to many who would become notable performers, like Bill Irwin  , Geoff Hoyle, and Leonard Pitt.  He returned to the U.S. and taught mime in New York City.

Pruzman took an interest in floral arranging after taking a class in Japanese ikebana, and in 1973, he moved to San Francisco, where he began working as a horticulturist and photographer.  Advancing his parallel interests, he became a member of the California Horticultural Society and photographed the first Haight Street Fair in May 1978.  He also photographed the Castro Street Fair, early Pride Parades, and the Folsom and Up Your Alley Fairs through 1991.

In addition to documenting San Francisco’s gay and leather communities, Pruzman regularly photographed opera stars like Pavorotti and drag artists like Divine.  Harvey Milk, Wavy Gravy, Nancy Pelosi, Jane Dornacker, Robert Mapplethorpe — all were captured by Purzman’s camera.

Friends told the Bay Area Reporter that Pruzman’s apartment was filled with exotic plants. He curated many gardens throughout the Bay Area, and longtime friend Nancy McNally said Pruzman inspired her to create the AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park, which would open about a month after Pruzman’s death with a memorial service and planting in his honor.

LA Needle Exchange
June 30, 1992
ACT UP LA Launches Clean Needles Now

Consisting of a small group of activists within ACT UP Los Angeles, the Clean Needles Now (CNN) program launches its first exchange in the predominantly Latinx immigrant neighborhood of MacArthur Park.

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The controversial program — intended to help stop the spread of HIV infection and give people the tools they needed to make informed decisions about their own health — started after a year of careful research and planning.  Founding members educated fellow activists, organized resources, and stockpiled clean needles and other supplies; member Renée Edgington secured a decommissioned postal truck, out of which they would run the program.

ACT UP LA adopted the needle exchange committee as an official project in January 1992, and the group created CNN as a service provider with a distinctly activist spirit.  Unlike the community-based AIDS services that defined the first wave of AIDS organizing in the early 1980s, needle exchange was itself an act of civil disobedience.

Drug paraphernalia laws made the possession and distribution of syringes a crime, and rarely distinguished between distributing rigs and selling drugs.  Emboldened by the use of health emergency declarations in San Francisco and other cities and bolstered by support from West Hollywood civil rights attorney John Duran, the CNN activists believed they had the law on their side.

“When beat cops came sniffing around, the group closely adhered to a script describing themselves as HIV outreach workers,” said Dont Rhine in his article, “Below the Skin: AIDS Activism and the Art of Clean Needles Now.”.

Eventually, CNN split off from ACT UP, so it could obtain funding as an independent service provider.  And then, in early 1995, under Renée Edgington’s leadership, CNN boldly opened a storefront on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood.  Los Angeles City Councilmember Jackie Goldberg helped CNN obtain the space, fending off detractors with the explanation that a storefront would get the needle exchange program off the streets.

Christened “Harm Reduction Central” (HRC), the storefront extended its program, offering a range of health services and cultural activities for Hollywood’s homeless and runaway youth in addition to providing syringe exchange.  HRC offered an appealing space where street youth and users could hang out casually.

“One of the main purposes I saw in the storefront, in contrast with what the street exchange had been doing, was that Harm Reduction Central wanted to pull in all those Hollywood kids.  Teen homelessness was so prevalent at the time,” said Kim Abeles, a close friend of Edgington.

In spite of its split from the mother ship, CNN retained much of ACT UP’s activist DNA with its storefront programs.

“CNN adhered to a similar AIDS cultural analysis around the politics of representation regarding drug users,” recalled Dont Rhine.  “CNN’s primary demands to city and county governments were that they provide the legal protections for needle exchange to exist, and that they offer funding and interconnection of services so that CNN could do the job itself.  Beyond this, the fundamental political demand of CNN was the end of drug prohibition (i.e. legalization).”

In the early 2000s, gentrification pressures in Hollywood forced CNN out of its lease on the Cahuenga Boulevard space.  Over the years, the needle-exchange program was housed out of various non-profit organizations and eventually morphed into the Los Angeles Community Health Project’s Syringe Service Program.

Today, CHPLA’s Syringe Service Program reaches nearly 10,000 people and distributes more than 1.1 million sterile syringes a year.  In 2020, the program provided participants and community members across LA County with 10,778 Naloxone kits and, of those kits, 3,701 were used to successfully respond to an overdose.

July 6, 1992
Civil Rights Icon Marsha P. Johnson Found Dead in Hudson River

Marsha P. Johnson — an HIV-positive gender-fluid activist, performer and advocate for gender-nonconforming youth — dies under suspicious circumstances in New York City.  She was 46.

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Marsha P. Johnson was an icon of the LGBT rights movement who was involved in the Stonewall uprising in 1969 and later became an AIDS activist.

Born in 1945 in New Jersey, Marsha moved to New York City when they were 17 and took a job waiting tables.  After befriending street hustlers in Times Square, Marsha came out as gay and changed their name from Malcolm Michaels Jr. to Marsha P. Johnson, according to the National Women’s History Museum.  Their new surname came from the Howard Johnson’s restaurant near Times Square, and the “P” stood for “pay it no mind” – a reference to their gender fluidity.

Marsha invariably identified as gay, a transvestite, and a queen. Today, Marsha’s gender expression could perhaps most accurately be called gender non-conforming or transgender, but these terms were not broadly in use during Johnson’s lifetime.

On the first anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, Marsha marched in the first pride parade, an event that was then called Christopher Street Liberation Day.  Soon after, Marsha founded the radical activist group Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with their friend Sylvia Rivera, according to the Smithsonian’s profile of the icon.

In 1973, Marsha and Sylvia were banned from participating in the pride parade by the host committee consisting of gay men and lesbians.  They were told that they were concerned that drag queens would give their march “a bad name.”  Marsha and Sylvia responded by marching defiantly ahead of the parade.

Marsha also had a presence in the City’s art scene, modeling for Andy Warhol and performing onstage with the drag troupe Hot Peaches.  When The Cockettes drag troupe in San Francisco formed an East Coast troupe, The Angels of Light, Marsha was asked to perform with them.

Marsha and Sylvia established STAR House, a shelter for homeless gay and trans youth, and paid the rent for it with money they made themselves as sex workers, according to the New York Historical Society.  Marsha was a “drag mother” of STAR House, in the longstanding tradition of Houses as chosen family in the Black and Latino LGBT community.

By 1990, Marsha was HIV positive and an early member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP, according to The New York Times.  When gay bashing in New York City became an epidemic in the early ‘90s, Marsha was one of the activists marching in the streets, demanding justice.

In early July 1992, Marsha’s body was found floating in the Hudson River with evidence of a severe injury on the back of their head.  While initially ruled a suicide by the New York City Police Department, Marsha’s death was widely thought to have occurred under suspicious circumstances and activists demanded the case be re-opened as a possible homicide.

Marsha’s body was cremated, and their ashes were scattered over the Hudson River off the Christopher Street piers. Police allowed Seventh Avenue to be closed while Marsha’s ashes were carried to the river. After the funeral, a series of demonstrations and marches to the police precinct took place, to demand justice for Marsha.

In December 2002, a police investigation resulted in reclassification of Marsha’s cause of death from “suicide” to “undetermined.”  The case remains unsolved.

Marsha P. Johnson was one of the 50 inaugural “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted in 2019 on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument in New York City’s Stonewall Inn.

July 13, 1992
Ronnie Mutimusekwa, First AIDS activist in Zimbabwe, Dies

Ronnie Mutimusekwa, the first AIDS activist in Zimbabwe, Africa, dies of HIV-related illness in Njube, a township of Bulawayo.  He was 33.

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Mutimusekwa made international headlines in 1989 when he publicly revealed that he, a 23-year-old heterosexual man who worked as a street vendor, was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

His story, which appeared on the front pages of the major newspapers, was the first personal account of an AIDS patient in Zimbabwe and it included details about how his wife and child were also infected, according to The New York Times.

Mutimusekwa sought to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS by warning the public about the deadly risks associated with promiscuous behavior.  At the time, government officials in Zimbabwe were downplaying the threat of HIV and were severely underreporting the number of AIDS cases.

Because of under-recognition, under-reporting and delays in reporting, the World Health Organizaton estimated that only a fraction of the world’s cases of AIDS and HIV had been recorded, according to the Associated Press.

By the mid-1990, only 65,000 AIDS cases had been reported from African countries. But WHO estimated that number to be closer to 500,000.  The spread of the disease peaked in 1997 when more than a quarter of the African population was estimated to be infected.

Other notable AIDS activists in Zimbabwe include:

  • Auxillia Chimusoro (1956-1998): The first woman to publicly announce being HIV-positive, also in 1989.
  • Eliot Magunje (1965-2003): Zimbabwean actor whose HIV-positive status was accidentally revealed by CNN. Magunje decided to make the best of the situation and became a leader at The centre, one of Zimbabwe’s largest AIDS service organizations.
  • Frenk Guni: A former coordinator of the ZNNP+ and a former executive board member for the National AIDS Council of Zimbabwe, living under political asylum in the U.S. since 2003.
  • Sunanda Ray: British doctor who founded the Women Aids Support Network in November 1989.
Elizabeth Glaser
July 14, 1992
Activist Elizabeth Glaser Addresses 1992 Democratic National Convention

Elizabeth Glaser gives a landmark speech on the AIDS epidemic at the Democratic National Convention in New York City, telling the story of how she and her children were infected with HIV.

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At that point, Glaser’s foundation had raised $13 million for pediatric AIDS research.  Many of the money she raised went to the Ariel Project, named for her late daughter, seeking ways to prevent the transmission of AIDS from mother to child.

In her speech, Glaser told the assembled Democratic delegation along with millions of TV viewers that her daughter Ariel died of AIDS exactly four years ago.

“She did not survive the Reagan Administration,” Glaser said.  “I am here, because my son and I may not survive four more years of leaders who say they care but do nothing.”

While giving birth to her first child in 1981, Glaser received an emergency blood transfusion, which unknowingly infected
her with HIV.  She passed the virus onto her children through breast-feeding and in utero before she was diagnosed with AIDS-related illnesses.

In 1988, she created the Pediatric AIDS Foundation (now called the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation) to raise funds for pediatric HIV/AIDS research.

Her DNC speech is listed as #79 in American Rhetoric’s Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century, listed by rank.

On December 3, 1994, Glaser died at the age of 47 from AIDS complications at her home in Santa Monica.  Her son Jake has remained relatively healthy due to a mutation of the CCR5 gene that protects his white blood cells.

July 25, 1992
Robert Nemchik, Los Angeles Activist, Dies

Robert Nemchik, who was known to channel his rage about the AIDS crisis in ACT UP demonstrations, dies of AIDS-related illness at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in West Hollywood.  He was 28 years old.

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Nemchik was an active member of the Los Angeles chapter of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and also volunteered for AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), an organization providing care and services to people with HIV/AIDS, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

Less than a year ago, in October 1991, Nemchik joined 4,000 activists in Sacramento to protest California Governor Pete Wilson’s veto of a bill supporting gay and lesbian rights.  He arrived at the state capital in a bus from Los Angeles bearing the banner “Gay and Lesbian Freedom Ride.”

“This is what keeps me alive now. This is what it’s all about,” Nemchik told the Los Angeles Times.  “I would like to think before I die, that everyone gets the rights they deserve. I want to go thinking I made a difference.”

August 5, 1992
Activist & Fundraiser Randall Klose Dies

Randall Klose, longtime gay-rights activist and fund-raiser, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in Washington, DC.  He was 37.

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Klose said he had been inspired to become an activist by Larry Kramer’s essay “1,112 and Counting” in The New York Native in 1983.  In that essay, Kramer demanded to know why wealthy homosexuals were not responding to the AIDS crisis.

“I read the article, and said to myself, ‘Here I am,'” Klose said.

At the time, Klose was a Beverly Hills developer with strong connections to the LGBTQ community.  He started raising money for the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center of Los Angeles (now the Los Angeles LGBT Center) and the Triangle Institute.

On June 1, 1987, Klose was among those arrested at a White House demonstration protesting the lack of an AIDS response from President Reagan.

He then helped organize and finance lobbying efforts for the 1988 AIDS research and education law, a cornerstone of the comprehensive federal AIDS effort.  He later became co-chairman of the Human Rights Campaign Fund’s board of directors, and helped the fund’s budget grow from $1 million to $5 million in a few years.

In 1991, Klose helped lead a U.S. contingent to the meeting of the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission in Moscow, one of the first publicized gatherings of LGBTQ people in Russia.

Klose contributed much of his own wealth to organizations conducting HIV/AIDS research and providing social services.  In addition to his earnings as a developer, his wealth included an inheritance from his father, who owned Dairy Queen franchise in Texas, with 800 outlets.

Mary Fisher
August 19, 1992
HIV+ Activist Mary Fisher Speaks at RNC

Not long after her own HIV diagnosis, Mary Fisher addresses the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston’s Astrodome.

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Seen by many as a sharp rebuke of her party’s negligence in the face of the growing AIDS epidemic, Fisher’s speech — titled “A Whisper of AIDS” — moved many in the convention hall and those watching her televised speech from home to tears.

A mother of two young children and a former staffer in President Gerald Ford’s administration, Fisher called for members of her party and policymakers to be compassionate and “lift our shroud of silence.”

“Adolescents don’t give each other cancer or heart disease because they believe they are in love, but HIV is different; and we have helped it along,” she told party members.  “We have killed each other with our ignorance, our prejudice, and our silence.”

Her message was embraced by many, regardless of their political affiliation.

Four years later, she would address the RNC again.  She would also found the Mary Fisher Clinical AIDS Research and Education (CARE) Fund at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, as well as become a representative for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Many years later, broadcaster Rachel Maddow would call Fisher’s speech “incredibly eloquent and poignant,” and “one of the top speeches in the 20th century.”

And Fisher would write in her blog about ending each day with watching The Rachel Maddow Show , enjoying Maddow’s “casual intimacy in her conversational style,” and appreciating her “genuine insight based on knowledge.”

Recently, Fisher claimed she shares a “political legacy” with Maddow.

“Asked once what it meant to be a ‘liberal,’ [Maddow] said it was simple: ‘It means I’m in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-era Republican Party platform,'” Fisher wrote in February 2022. ”Me, too.”

Ron Woodroof DBC
September 12, 1992
Ron Woodroof, Founder of Dallas Buyers Club, Dies

Ron Woodroof, who founded the Dallas Buyers Club in 1988 after testing positive for AIDS, dies in Dallas of AIDS-related illness. He was 42.

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Woodroof’s Dallas Buyers Club was among the most successful of several AIDS buyers clubs that sprang up in the U.S. at a time when effective HIV treatment was not available, according to Biography / A&E Television network.

Diagnosed with AIDS in 1986 and given just weeks to live, Woodroof decided to take his healthcare into his own hands.  He researched various medicines to counteract AIDS’ effects being used in different parts of the world, spending hours in libraries researching experimental treatments.

“I am my own physician,” he was known to say.

Woodroof determined that he would have the best chance of survival if he treated himself with a combination of antiviral medications that were available in other countries but not in the U.S.  He then set about to acquire these medications and use them.

Woodroof, who was an electrician, found that he could legally purchase many of the medications he wanted just over the Texas border in Mexico.  When other AIDS patients came looking for these same medications, the Dallas Buyers Club was born.

He began buying large quantities of the AIDS medications and distributed them out of his apartment in Oak Lawn, Texas. Within months, his club became a huge network of buyers and sellers.  Woodroof’s club served not only local people with AIDS but people around the world who learned about the medications the Texan was making available.

In spite of crackdowns by the FDA and other federal regulators, the Dallas Buyers Club would flourish.  Woodroof would charge club participants a fee for membership and sell the medications to them at cost.  Unable to continue work as an electrician, he embraced the Buyers Club as his full-time job.

Woodroof’s story would become the basis for the 2013 film The Dallas Buyers Club, and actor Matthew McConaughey would play Woodroof and win Best Actor honors at both the 2014 Academy Awards and Golden Globes.

To prepare for his role, McConaughy listened to audio tapes of interviews with Woodroof and read Woodroof’s diaries provided by the family.

“At the beginning of this journey he’s a two-bit cowboy, and by the end of it, he’s a damn scientist,” said McConaughy upon the release of the film.  “He did have an engineering mind, which he’d put to good use to make something of a living as an electrician …  Once he grasped that he had HIV, he gains purpose, he had this one clear thing to do — stay alive. Everything else followed from that.”

AIDS Quilt in Washington DC 2
October 9, 1992
AIDS Quilt Grows to 24,000 Panels

The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt is displayed for two days on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. with more than 24,000 panels.

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The first display of 1,920 Quilt panels was held in the National Mall on October 11, 1987 during the March on Washington for Gay & Lesbian Rights.  In 1988 and 1989, the quilt was displayed on the Ellipse’s 52-acre green space across from the White House.  By 1988, the quilt had grown to 8,000 panels; a year later it was 12,000 panels.

Despite the quilt being in their backyards, then-presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush refused to visit.

Bush was still in office in October 1992 when the quilt returned to Washington, this time to be displayed at the Washington Monument’s 72-acre grounds.  The quilt, which had grown to more than 24,000 panels, put the issue of AIDS in the national spotlight during a hotly contested presidential election.  In fact, Bush would lose that election to Bill Clinton, the Democratic candidate from Arkansas.

By 1996, the quilt would grow to more than 40,000 panels and it would fill the National Mall from the Capitol to the Washington Monument.  The display would be visited in 1996 by 1.1 million people, among them the new president, Bill Clinton, his wife Hillary, Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper.  Today, the quilt is too large to display in one piece.

[Photo courtesy of Sue Scheibler, West Hollywood activist]

November 3, 1992
Homophobic Texas Judge Loses Election

Texas gay rights advocates celebrate the defeat of a judge who gave a convicted murderer a light sentence and later said his views on the sexual identity of the victims influenced his decision.

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The judge, Jack Hampton of the Texas Criminal District Court, narrowly lost the election to Barbara Rosenberg, a 42-year-old Democrat and a judge on the Texas Court of Appeals.

Rosenberg won by 15,994 votes (51%) over Hampton, a 60-year-old Republican.  Judge Rosenberg campaigned on a theme of fairness, referring to Hampton’s homophobic comments in her television advertisements.

Following the 1988 sentencing of the killer of two gay men, Hampton had been under sharp criticism from gay rights groups. In that criminal case, a group of men, including Richard Lee Bednarski, picked up two men, Tommy Lee Trimble, 34, and John Lloyd Griffin, 27, and drove them to a Dallas park, where Bednarski shot them to death.

Kenneth Molberg, the chairman of the Dallas County Democratic Party. told The New York Times that Judge Rosenberg was able to raise three times as much money for her campaign due to a tremendous outpouring of support from the LGBT community.  The support of women also factored greatly in Judge Rosenberg’s success in a heavily Republican area.

“The gay community was a more powerful factor this time,” Molberg told the NY Times. “They did a lot of direct mail on their own, slate cards, advertising in gay newspapers and ran their own phone bank.”

Mobilized in the last few years by homophobic attacks likely related to the AIDS crisis, LGBT groups in Texas have been diligently working to advance the rights of their community.  Among recent campaigns were the support of a woman who hoped to become the first openly gay police officer in Dallas and a challenge to the state’s sodomy law.

November 18, 1992
Barbra Streisand Calls for Boycott of Colorado, Protesting Amendment 2

While being honored at AIDS Project Los Angeles’ Commitment to Life benefit, superstar Barbra Streisand calls for a boycott of the state of Colorado, in the wake of that state’s passage of Amendment 2.

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“There are plenty of us who love the mountains and rivers of that truly beautiful state,” said Barbra Streisand. “But we must now say clearly that the moral climate there is no longer acceptable. And if we are asked to, we must refuse to play where they discriminate.”

Colorado was poised to become the first state in the nation with a constitution that prevents adoption of laws that specifically protect homosexuals from discrimination, due to the passage of a ballot measure introduced by Christian Conservatives.  In the new year, gay men and lesbians could be dismissed from jobs and denied housing on the basis of their sexual orientation, and then prevented from challenging the discrimination.

Streisand made her call to action at APLA’s annual gala while being honored with the “Commitment to Life” award for her fundraising efforts through her foundation.  In her speech, she also criticized former President Ronald Reagan for his inaction during the first eight years of the AIDS crisis.

“I will never forgive my fellow actor Ronald Reagan for the genocidal denial of the illness’ existence, for his refusal to even utter the word AIDS for seven years, and for blocking adequate funding for research and education which could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” she said.

Streisand’s call for a Colorado boycott was widely covered by the media, and drew the support of other celebrities, such as Whoopi Goldberg, Liza Minelli, and Joan Rivers.  Boycotts were soon implemented by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation – Los Angeles (GLAAD-LA) and Coloradans & Californians for Fairness in the Nation (COFFIN).

Katrina_Haslip-removebg-preview (1)
December 2, 1992
New York AIDS Activist Katrina Haslip Dies

Katrina Haslip — an AIDS activist who fought for the CDC to expand its definition of HIV and AIDS to include symptoms found in women — dies of AIDS-related illness less than a month away from the date that the CDC’s new definition would go into effect.  She was 33 years old.

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Haslip became an advocate for HIV/AIDS treatment while she was an inmate at the Bedford Hills Correctional Center, serving a sentence in the late 1980s for pickpocketing.  In 1987, she tested positive for HIV while in jail and befriended other HIV-positive inmates who were outraged at the ostracization and abuse directed at them.

“Women were dying in their cells and in the hospitals,” Haslip said in an interview with Mireya Navarro of The New York Times. “They were dying because they were giving up and because they felt there was no hope.”

She and other inmates created a network for services and began to take care of each other.  After her release, she created a program to help formerly incarcerated, HIV-positive women.

“They have to deal with, ‘How do I get my kids back?’ ” Haslip told The Times. “‘Where do I move to? How do I stay drug free? How do I earn money without stealing?'”

She became an AIDS educator with Life Force, a program for women in Brooklyn, and at a health clinic associated with the Brooklyn Task Force on AIDS.  Haslip went from sharing her story in one-on-one outreach work to making speeches at AIDS conferences and activist rallies.

From years of helping HIV-positive women connect to treatment and other programs, Haslip realized that many of her clients in the later stages of the disease were left out of important medical research trials, healthcare initiatives and more, because their symptoms did not meet the government’s case definition of AIDS.  She personally knew that women and IV-drug users often had different HIV-related illnesses from men, and the government’s AIDS definition was based on the symptoms and auto-immune disorders of men who were infected through sexual relations with other men.

With the numbers of HIV infections rising among women nationwide, Haslip began meeting with government health officials to tell them that the case definition for HIV and AIDS was outdated and too limited.  She urged them to broaden the definition to include the symptoms and conditions that were unique to HIV-positive women and IV-drug users.

In early 1992, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finally began to acknowledge the need for updating the case definition of AIDS.  When officials appeared to slow-walk the initiative to revise the classification system for HIV and AIDS, Haslip voiced her anger in the media and at protests.

In October, the CDC finally announced plans to update the AIDS case definition.  The same month, Haslip was admitted to Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan with renal problems and was diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia.  When the CDC released its new AIDS definition, with the news that it was scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 1993, Haslip spoke to reporters from her hospital bed.

“Ms. Haslip was so weak she spoke in a raspy whisper.  Her eyes were often closed when she spoke,” Mireya Navarro of The New York Times reported on November 15, the day after the CDC announcement. Navarro noted that Haslip’s room was filled with flowers, food, stuffed animals, newspapers and romance novels.

Haslip’s health continued to decline and she succumbed to complications from AIDS on December 2, 1992.  Thirty days later, the new AIDS case definition went into effect, giving access to services and programs to an additional tens of thousands of people living with AIDS, the majority of them women.

December 28, 1992
11-year-old Glendale Boy Dies

Alan Ward Ritchie, the 11-year-old son of Glendale community leader Judith Ritchie, dies of AIDS-related illness at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

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Alan was infected with HIV from a blood transfusion administered when he was 2 days old; he was diagnosed with HIV in 1988 at the age of 8.

Upon being informed of her son’s HIV diagnosis, Judy Ritchie became an expert in pediatric HIV/AIDS so she could tend to and, in some cases, fight for Alan’s healthcare needs.  A lifelong resident of Glendale, Ritchie used her knowledge to educate other parents in the community, according to the Glendale News-Press.

“Parents’ attitude [was] this won’t happen to our family,” Ritchie told the News-Press. “We found out it does happen to your family … People were very surprised to find out you could get it that easily … They were very grateful to know what I was telling them and surprised to know how widespread it was.”

Following the death of her son, Ritchie would become PTA President at Herbert Hoover High School in Glendale.  She also continued her relationships with doctors at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, so she could receive and relay information about pediatric HIV/AIDS.

At Ritchie’s urging, Glendale community activist Marilyn Gunnell would found Glendale Leaders for AIDS Awareness during the height of the AIDS epidemic, according to the News-Press.

According to Gunnell, she told Ritchie: “Judy, I will give you my promise that something good will come out of this.”

Glendale Leaders for AIDS Awareness would go onto have a meaningful impact on the city and community.

In 1997, Ritchie would be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease of the brain and spinal cord. Still, she remained active in the Glendale community until her death on July 26, 2021.

December 29, 1992
ACT UP/LA Member Richard Iosty Dies

Richard Iosty, a veteran member of the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power/Los Angeles (ACT UP/LA) dies at Los Angeles County Hospital of AIDS-related illness.

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As his health declined, Iosty was hospitalized at National Medical Enterprises in Century City.  After two weeks at NME, Iosty lost his health insurance and the hospital transferred him to Los Angeles County medical center.

At the time, the county medical center had established an AIDS ward, known as “6700,” but its beds were filled with many non-HIV/AIDS patients, according to ACT UP/LA member David Lacaillade.  The ward stopped admitting new patients in June 1992.

So when Iosty was admitted to LAC medical center in mid-December 1992, he was placed instead in a bed outside the ward, where Lacaillade said Iosty was subjected to “homophobic interns and prayer meetings.”

Following Iosty’s death, ACT UP/LA members decided to memorialize him with a political protest against Los Angeles County’s healthcare providers.  Amgen, a pharmaceutical company based in Thousand Oaks, California, became ACT UP’s target, due to the exorbitant price the company set for its HIV-treatment medications Epogen and Neupogen.

At ACT UP’s protest on March 3, 1993, activists carried signs with Iosty’s name, along with the name of Jerry Mills, another local ACT UP member who died shortly after Iosty.

January 1993
Haitians Detained in GTMO Refugee Camp Go on Hunger Strike

To remind President Bill Clinton of his campaign promise to close the Haitian refugee camps at Guantánamo Bay, many Haitian detainees — including some from the “HIV camp” — begin a hunger strike.  By Feb. 15, seven of the fasters had fallen unconscious.

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The hunger strike received worldwide media coverage, drawing attention to the plight of the 215 HIV+ Haitians being detained at Camp Bulkeley along with 52 relatives and dependents, according to the Guantánamo Public Memory Project.

The refugees were supported by many human rights organization, perhaps most ardently by the NAACP.

In February of 1993, six NAACP members in the Miami-Dade branch engaged in a three-week hunger strike to call for better treatment of detainees.  The same month, civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton also went on a five-day hunger strike.

As far back as 1991, the NAACP rallied their supporters to engage in civil disobedience to protest the treatment of Haitians in the camps. Activists in south Florida, where a large Haitian-American community lived, responded to the call for action.

The president of the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP, Johnnie McMillian, organized many of the relief drives for detainees.  McMillian said the refugee camp was “like a concentration camp and a condition which no American would want to experience.”

Still, President Clinton would not release the refugees for another six months.  In June 1993, on the eve of a human rights conference, he finally ordered the release of the refugees in response to a court order from a federal judge who ruled that U.S. could not continue to detain HIV-positive refugees at a location ill-equipped to care for them.

In 1987, the Helms Amendment added HIV/AIDS to the list of diseases that precluded immigration into the U.S., a restriction that remained in place for more than 20 years. In 1993, the law led to the quarantine of 215 HIV+ Haitians in Camp Bulkeley at Guantánamo Bay; 52 relatives and dependents were also housed with them.

Barred from the U.S., the fate of these men, women, and children remained unclear under two presidential administrations, those of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

January 31, 1993
SOMA Event Producer Jerry Vallaire Dies

Gerald “Jerry” Vallaire, vice president of the South of Market Individuals Lifestyles Events, dies of AIDS-related illness in San Francisco at the age of 41.

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When Vallaire was diagnosed in 1989 with AIDS, he closed his successful florist business, and dedicated his time to raising funds for AIDS service programs, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

As part of Up Your Alley Productions, Vallaire helped to produce benefits such as the Ringold Alley Fair, Let’s Go Navy, The Charity Bowl, The Military Ball and Art for AIDS.  His involvement in the benefits led to thousands of dollars for AIDS causes.

Born in 1951 in New Orleans, Vallaire was born to a family trade of operating wholesale and retail floral businesses.  But he was interested in the performance arts, and moved to New York City to pursue dance and theater.  There, he performed in productions with Richard Chamberlain, George Maharis, Margaret Hamilton, Ann Miller and George Chakaris.

But when his stage career failed to take off, he moved to San Francisco and opened a florist business, , Styles and Stamens.  But when Vallaire began getting involved in fundraising events, his performance background came in handy and he acted as choreographer of many dance productions created for the events.

Elton John
February 1, 1993
Rock Legend Elton John Starts AIDS Foundation

Musician Elton John, who since the late 1980s has been leveraging his celebrity to raise money for AIDS research, decides to launch the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF).

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Following the deaths of his friends Ryan White in 1990 and Freddie Mercury in 1991, Elton John established EJAF, a nonprofit organization to support innovative HIV programs focusing on prevention, education, direct care and support services.

In early 1993, John started hosting his annual Foundation Academy Awards Party, which has become one of the biggest Oscar parties in Hollywood and one of the most successful fundraisers anywhere.

The first party was produced by activist Patrick Lippert, according to Claude Bernardin and Tom Stantin in their book Rocket Man: Elton John from A-Z.  Lippert, who was executive director of the 1991 nationwide campaign Rock the Vote, died of AIDS-related illness a few months after the Oscar party.

John continues to throw his Academy Awards viewing party every year, and the event keeps moving to larger and larger venues to accommodate the growing number of attendees to this invitation-only event.  In the late 1990s, the party was held in the upscale Beverly Hills restaurant Spago, and in recent years, the event has been held under white tents erected in West Hollywood Park.

Guests pay an entry fee in order to attend and, once inside, they are encouraged to pledge donations to EJAF in between the Academy Awards broadcast and also make bids in the auction held at the end of the event.  In 2018, the event raised almost $6 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.

EJAF puts donated money toward programs and organizations committed to ending HIV and AIDS.  One current grant recipient is AIDS United and its Fund for Resilience, Equity and Engagement (FREE), which focuses on providing support to Black gay, bisexual, queer and same-gender-loving men and transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the U.S.  EJAF also provides multi-million-dollar grants to HIV/AIDS organizations in Africa and other parts of the world most impacted by HIV infection.

EJAF also has dedicated $125 million to its Rocket Fund, a campaign to ensure that LGBTQ+ people across the globe have access to quality health services responsive to their needs.

Established as one of the top philanthropic funders of HIV/AIDS grants worldwide, EJAF has raised over $600 million to support HIV-related programs in 90 countries, according to EJAF.  The foundation estimates the number of people reached with education, prevention services, treatment, testing and other support to be more than 100 million.

March 3, 1993
Activists Protest Drug-maker Amgen at Thousands Oaks HQ

Members of the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power/Los Angeles (ACT UP/LA) gathered at the headquarters of pharmaceutical company Amgen to protest the high cost of the company’s HIV/AIDS medications.

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About 40 demonstrators marched through Amgen’s campus in Thousands Oaks, California, blowing whistles and chanting, “Amgen, Amgen, you can’t hide!  We charge you with Amgen-ocide!” The protest was dedicated to the memory of two recently deceased ACT UP members, Richard Iosty and Jerry Mills.

Amgen was the target of ACT UP’s protest, because they were the sole manufacturer of Neupogen and Epogen, expensive medications commonly prescribed for people living with HIV who were at high risk for bacterial and fungal infections.  According to ACT-UP, Amgen was over-charging patients for the drugs and taking advantage of people desperate to stay alive but who were unable to work or sustain health insurance coverage.

At the time, a ten-day treatment of Neupogen cost about $1,350, ACT-UP activist David Lacaillade told the Los Angeles Times. He called the price “appalling.”

“This is only an opening salvo,” Lacaillade said. “We will keep our attention on Amgen and, if they don’t respond to the community, which includes ACT-UP, we’ll be back. We want to put them on notice that people are dying for their drug. They’re making a killing — literally.”

While Amgen offered a patient assistance program that offered free or reduced-cost treatment, the program involved a complicated system of paperwork, Lacaillade said.  He added that many doctors were not aware that Amgen had a program for low- or no-income patients.

ACT-UP demanded that Amgen create a community price advisory board and make a commitment to lower the cost of its HIV-treatment drugs.

U.S. National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine
Los Angeles Times, “Thousands Oaks: AIDS Activists to Protest at Amgen,” by Stephanie Simon, Feb. 26, 1993
University of Southern California, One National Gay and Lesbian Archives, picket sign from Amgen protest
The Life and Death of ACT UP/LA, by Benita Roth (Cambridge University Press, 2017)

March 6, 1993
West Hollywood Pharmacy Owner Loyd Tittle Dies

Loyd Tittle, owner of Capitol Drugs in West Hollywood, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 42.

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Tittle was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988.  For four years, his sister Ruth Tittle traveled from Lexington, Kentucky to Los Angeles to help care for Loyd.  In 1992, Ruth moved to West Hollywood to care for her brother full-time and to help him with running his West Hollywood businesses.

Loyd suffered from cytomegalovirus (CMV) colitis, and as a result he couldn’t absorb nutrition.  As with many people with AIDS, this condition led to loss of body mass, commonly known as “wasting.”  Loyd was in the hospital 11 times in the last year of his life.

A plaque remembering Loyd Tittle is on the sidewalk in front of Capitol Drugs, part of the AIDS Memorial Walk.  His sister went on to become one of the founding members of the Foundation for The AIDS Monument.  She also served on the City of West Hollywood’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board and worked on the Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing project.

March 1993
AIDSWatch: Advocates Organize to Lobby for Congressional Action

The National Association of People With AIDS convenes the first “AIDSWatch,” a national advocacy effort to lobby Congress for increased funding.

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AIDSWatch would become an annual event, serving as a vehicle by which people living with and affected by HIV could speak their truth in the halls of power in Washington, D.C., and demand that Congress protect their rights and honor their struggle.

Even after the National Association of People With AIDS ceases operations in 2013, AIDSWatch advocacy day would continue to be held annually under the auspices of AIDS United.

The small group of HIV advocates who met in 1993 would transform into the country’s largest annual constituent-based national HIV advocacy event.  AIDSWatch 2020 becomes the largest to date, with more than 2,500 advocates joining over multiple platforms.

Chris Fairchild
April 6, 1993
West Hollywood Activist Chris Fairchild Dies

Christopher “Chris” Fairchild, a lawyer and activist who spearheaded a campaign to create a new police department for the City of West Hollywood, dies of AIDS-related illness.  He was 35.

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Prompted by years of discrimination against gays and lesbians by Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies, Fairchild proposed that West Hollywood create an independent police department, one that could be directed to treat the community with respect.

Fairchild served on the City of West Hollywood’s Public Safety Commission, participated in many ACT UP/LA demonstrations, and campaigned in Sacramento for a state gay rights bill.

In 1991, Fairchild bankrolled an impressive campaign to create a separate police department for the City of West Hollywood after many community members were outraged by the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s overly aggressive response to an LGBT demonstration protesting then-Governor Pete Wilson’s veto of AB 101, the California gay rights bill.  Many community members believed that this was just the latest incident in a long history of discrimination by the Sheriff’s Department against members of the LGBT community.

The new police department initiative was just narrowly defeated — the margin was 51% to 49%, according to John Duran, who co-authored the initiative with Fairchild.

“But it forced the LA County sheriff’s department to reform itself and become more LGBT inclusive,” said Duran.

“The initiative came about because the city has no control over how many officers protect its streets at any given time, and because the sheriff’s price tag increases annually at twice the rate of inflation,” West Hollywood resident Paul Amirault stated in a letter to the LA Times.

“The City of West Hollywood lost a good friend [on] April 16 with the death of gay activist Christopher Fairchild,” said Amirault, who was chair of West Hollywood Citizens for Better Police Protection.

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Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

June 13, 1993
LA Activist & Commissioner Rand Schrader Dies

Rand Schrader, a California municipal judge who was a noted gay activist, dies of AIDS-related illness at Century City Hospital. He was 48.

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Judge Schrader helped establish the AIDS clinic at the Los Angeles County Medical Center, which would later be renamed in his honor.

He became one of California’s first openly gay judges when he was appointed to the Municipal Court in 1980 by Gov. Ed Brown.  He also served on the Board of Regents for the University of California, and the board of the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles (MECLA), the first LGBT political action committee.

As a gay, liberal student at UCLA School of Law, Schrader volunteered countless hours giving legal guidance to members of the Los Angeles LGBT Center (then called the LA Gay Community Services Center).  Many of his cases involved police discrimination against gay men.

After graduating from UCLA, Schrader began working for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, becoming the first openly gay staffer.

“He was a star performer,” said LA City Attorney Burt Pines.  “In a relatively short period of time, he had the respect of everyone he worked with, including real conservative prosecutors who thought they could never work with a gay [man].”

In 1987, Los Angeles County established an AIDS commission, and Schrader was among its first cohort of commissioners.  At the time, the county had surpassed San Francisco in the number of HIV/AIDS cases, and yet county officials had refused to act on the growing call for the creation of a ward dedicated exclusively to the care and treatment of AIDS patients.  San Francisco had established an AIDS ward in 1983 (Ward 5B at San Francisco General Hospital).

As a commissioner, Schrader found himself siding with activists from the local chapter of AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).   With a steady stream of demonstrations at LA County Medical Center, the activists publicly called for persons living with HIV/AIDS to be provided with a specialized unit at the hospital that would protect them from discrimination and neglect.

When his friend Sheldon “Shelley” Andelson, died of AIDS-related illness in late 1987, Schrader issued a call of action: “There is only one memorial worthy of Sheldon and all the others lost to this disease, and that is to go forward with courage and spirit, to claim the ultimate victory of human freedom.  Sheldon lived for no less, nor can I, nor can you.”

As the fight to create an AIDS ward in LA county continued, Schrader found himself at odds with the AIDS commission’s chairman, Rabbi Allen Freehling, who contended that patients put in a separate unit would feel “isolated.”  The commission decided to form a task force to determine a course of action, and soon it became apparent to all the commissioners that people living with AIDS would benefit significantly from having access to their own clinic.

In 1988, a separate ward for AIDS patients was opened at the county hospital.  The next year, Schrader was elected the new chair of the AIDS commission.

Schrader was diagnosed with HIV in 1991.  He went public with the news and continued his judicial work.  A month before Schrader’s death, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion to name the county’s AIDS ward after Schrader in tribute to “his courage, his vision and his tenacity.”

Schrader’s partner of 10 years was David Bohnett, who through his grief developed the groundbreaking  e-commerce company GeoCities in the early days of the internet as a way to create a virtual place where people could connect.

“When [Randy] died, I honestly did not know how I could go on,” Bohnett said in 1999, the year when he sold GeoCities to Yahoo! for a reported $3.6 billion.  It was also the year he was honored with the Rand Schrader Award by the Los Angeles LGBT Center.  “But I had friends.  I had a family — mine and Randy’s.  And we all shared our grief and comforted one another during our time of loss.

“But what if I had been alone in that grief?  What becomes of a man or woman when one loses a partner whom no one else knows was a partner?  What happens to people who are afraid to tell the truth about who they are and whom they love?”

Bohnett said he created GeoCities with these thoughts in mind and, in the process, was able to introduce the internet to millions of people as a way to find connection and solace.

Rand Schrader’s legacy also endures in the HIV/AIDS clinic he helped to create.  Today, the University of Southern California manages the Rand Schrader HIV Clinic.  Dr. Joseph Cadden, an infectious disease specialist, serves as Medical Director and oversees more than 40 faculty members providing primary and specialty care to more than 3,000 patients in LA County.

AIDS Quilt - Daniel P Warner
June 14, 1993
LA Shanti Founder Daniel P. Warner Dies

Daniel P. Warner, co-founder and former executive director of the Los Angeles Shanti Foundation, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 38.

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As LA Shanti’s first Executive Director, Warner laid the groundwork for a successful volunteer-run, community-based organization that provided clients with the opportunity and resources to die with dignity.  Under Warner’s leadership, LA Shanti would become a leader in quality service programs using the Shanti model of compassionate presence.

Warner also served as Program Director of the AIDS education group West Hollywood CARES, and organized the National Candlelight March in 1983 and in 1990.

As Warner stepped down from LA Shanti’s leadership team in 1991 and prepared to move to San Francisco, he received Shanti’s first Commitment to Service Award. The same year, he received LA County’s Community Service Award and a certificate of recognition from the state Senate.

Warner served as consultant to two television movies dealing with the subject of AIDS –“Our Sons” on ABC and the Emmy Award-winning “An Early Frost” on NBC.

Warner would die on his 38th birthday with his companion at his side.

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Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Patrick Lippert
July 13, 1993
Patrick Lippert of ‘Rock the Vote’ Dies

Patrick Lippert, a well-known Los Angeles political activist, dies of AIDS-related illness at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Marina del Rey. He was 35.

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Starting in 1991, Lippert headed the music industry organization Rock the Vote, helping to energize young voters for the 1992 presidential race.  In that election, then-Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas, a Democrat, defeated the incumbent President George H. W. Bush, a Republican.

Under Lippert, Rock the Vote also played a key role in the passage of the “Motor Voter” bill, a federal law that registers people to vote as they receive or renew their driver’s licenses.

Lippert entered politics in the early 1980s as a volunteer for Tom Hayden’s campaign for California Assembly, representing the Santa Monica district, according to the Los Angeles Times.  Lippert then served as director of Network, a political action group created by Hayden and actress Jane Fonda (Hayden’s wife at the time) to organize the entertainment community around progressive causes.

In 1989, Lippert helped launch the Hollywood Policy Center, another politically based entertainment group, and in 1991, he became president of Rock the Vote.

The Rock the Vote campaign, which targeted young voters nationwide through celebrity-studded PSAs on MTV, claimed credit for an 18% increase in turnout in the 1992 election among voters aged 18 to 24.

The campaign was so successful that MTV decided to host an “unofficial” inaugural ball in Washington, D.C. — and the newly-sworn in president, Bill Clinton, surprised everyone by dropping by with his wife and daughter.

At the MTV Inaugural Ball, Lippert was introduced to President Clinton, who then assured him that the “motor voter” bill would be signed into law, according to People magazine.

Lippert was also known for his ability to organize major fundraising events.  In 1991, he helped organize the an Academy Awards-viewing party for El Rescate, a Salvadoran refugee aid organization, according to the Los Angeles Times.  In 1992, Lippert took his party to the Elton John AIDS Foundation, creating an Oscar night fundraiser so fabulous and successful that Elton John continues to host this party every year.

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Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Jim Owles
August 6, 1993
Jim Owles, Founder of Gay Activists Alliance, Dies

James “Jim” Owles, the founding president of the Gay Activists Alliance and the first openly gay candidate for political office in New York City, dies of AIDS-related illness at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan. He was 46.

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Until earlier this year, Owles was a special assistant to State Senate minority leader Manfred Ohrenstein, according to The New York Times.  He was also a founding member of GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which still today monitors the coverage and depiction of LGBTQ people in the media.

Born in Calumet City, Illinois in 1946, Owles attended the University of Illinois and then served in the Air Force.  At the age of 20, he helped found the Gay Activists Alliance in New York City with Arthur Bell, Morty Manford, Martin Robinson and others. As president of GAA from 1970 to 1971, Owles advocated for anti-discrimination legislation in New York City and the state capital.

“It’s a lot more difficult to march out of the closet than to march for peace. It can cost you your job or your career,” Owles said on the eve of the 1971 Pride March in New York City.

While he was president of the Gay Activists Alliance, Owles lived at 186 Spring Street  in a 19th-century row house with other gay activists, including author Arnie Kantrowitz (1940-2022) and scholar Bruce Voeller (1934-1994).  Around 2010-2012, activists tried unsuccessfully to have the building designated as an historical site, due to its history as the home of prominent gay leaders and focal point for activism.  In spite of broad support for the landmarking proposal, the City of New York allowed its demolition.

During the 1970s, Owles was arrested many times during gay rights demonstrations, known as “zaps” (a term that was adopted by ACT UP a decade later).  In January 1973, Owles announced his candidacy for the New York City Council and ran in the district that included Greenwich Village.  In doing so, he became the first openly gay candidate for office in New York City.

He lost to the incumbent councilmember in the primary election, receiving 3,632 votes to his opponent’s 16,814 votes.  It would take another 20 years before gay men would win seats on the NY City Council (with Thomas Duane and Antonio Pagán in 1992)

After his council campaign, Owles founded the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, the first gay political club in the city.

In 2004, the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club was formed as a citywide political activist club with a mission to secure human rights, dignity, and freedom for all people.

“Jim Owles was one of the pioneers of the gay rights movement in the 1960s, and his influence and spirit can still be felt today,” the club’s website states.

October 29, 1993
17-year-old Hemophiliac Joins Lawsuit Against Japanese Govt

Ryūhei Kawada joins about 400 other Japanese citizens infected with HIV in a lawsuit alleging that Japan failed to require the use of blood-clotting agents treated with heat to kill viruses.

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Diagnosed with hemophilia at the age of six months, Kawada became infected with HIV through the use of virus-contaminated blood products imported from the U.S.  When he was 10 years old, Kawada was told by his mother that he was HIV positive.

In 1993, he joined as one of about 400 plaintiffs in the “Tokyo HIV Litigation,” a historic lawsuit in Japan that sought financial compensation and an apology from government officials and blood products providers.

During the court proceedings, most of the plaintiffs testified from behind a screen, so that they could protect their identity from the public, according to the Los Angeles Times.  Kawada, however, became one of the few plaintiffs willing to be identified by name and face.

Two years later, at the age of 19, Kawada would win his lawsuit.  But around this time, his health began to decline and he began more rigorous HIV therapies.

“We’re not simply dying,” he told Japanese media, “we’re being murdered one by one.”

Within a few years, Kawada would become healthy enough to attend Tokyo Keizai University and then University of Cologne in Germany.  In 2000, he returned to Japan to support his mother’s campaign for a seat on the country’s House of Representatives.  Following his mother’s election, Kawada became her secretary.

In 2007, Kawada would embark on his own political career.  He campaigned for a seat in Japan’s parliament on a promise to bring more transparency and accountability to the country’s Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry — and won.

West Hollywood Memorial Walk
December 1, 1993
Memorial Plaques Begin Lining Sidewalks of West Hollywood

Bronze plaques commemorating the fallen from AIDS begin to be embedded in the sidewalks along Santa Monica Boulevard between Fairfax and Doheny, as part of “West Hollywood Palms: A Tribute to Life.”

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Created in 1993 to honor people who were lost to the AIDS epidemic, West Hollywood Palms (later re-named the West Hollywood Memorial Walk) became a visual reminder of how the AIDS epidemic impacted the West Hollywood community.

From an idea from West Hollywood resident Timothy Brusso, the service organization Aid For AIDS worked with the City of West Hollywood to coordinate the installation and maintenance of the first in a series of memorial plaques.  In its original conception, a palm tree accompanied each plaque, thus the project name West Hollywood Palms.

Every plaque donation provided funding for Aid For AIDS, which was Los Angeles County’s largest provider of financial assistance to people living with HIV/AIDS.  AFA, which helped thousands of clients each year pay for rent, utilities, food, and pharmaceutical needs, eventually merged with the Serra Project to become the Alliance for Housing and Healing (which currently oversees the West Hollywood Memorial Walk).

In 2000, the memorial plaques and palm trees would be removed for the duration of the Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction Project.  Then, in 2003, the plaques would be re-installed on the boulevard between Crescent Heights and Robertson — this time with trees other than palms — and the project would be re-named the West Hollywood Memorial Walk.

On World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, 2003, the Memorial Walk would be re-dedicated in a City Hall ceremony, followed by a procession along Santa Monica Boulevard, during which the names on the plaques were read and flowers placed in honor of each person memorialized.

Currently, the Memorial Walk includes more than 200 plaques.  The Alliance for Housing and Healing administers the Memorial Walk program and maintains a website that contains an application process and an inventory of existing markers.

Perhaps the most famous person memorialized in the Memorial Walk is actor Rock Hudson, whose plaque was arranged by his friend, Elizabeth Taylor.  The names of Ron Stone, a West Hollywood community leader who orchestrated the Cityhood campaign; Daniel P. Warner, founder of the LA Shanti Foundation; and Loyd L. Tittle, popular local pharmacist, are also included on plaques.

For more information, please visit the Alliance for Housing and Healing website.

AIDS Quilt - Michael Callen
December 27, 1993
Pioneer of AIDS Activism Michael Callen Dies

AIDS movement pioneer Michael Callen dies of AIDS-related illness at Midway Hospital in Los Angeles at the age of 38.

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Callen was diagnosed early in the epidemic — 1982 — and he responded by becoming involved in every way he could in promoting the self-empowerment of People With AIDS.  In fact, Callen is credited with coining the term “People With AIDS,” and insisted on this term instead of the passive and negative-sounding phrase “AIDS victim” commonly used at the time.

Callen was born in Rising Sun, Indiana and raised in Hamilton, Ohio.  He graduated in 1977 from Boston University, which he attended on a music scholarship, and then moved to New York, where he sang in cabarets and with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.

He grew into political advocacy after receiving a diagnosis of AIDS in 1982.  He became an early proponent of safer-sex practices, writing How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach with Richard Berkowitz, Dr. Joseph A. Sonnabend, and Richard Dworkin in 1983.

Among the very first publications to recommend the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of STDs in men having sex with men, the pamphlet was distributed at gay social establishments throughout New York City — 5,000 copies in its first run.

That same year, Callen was a plaintiff in the nation’s first AIDS discrimination lawsuit, when Dr. Sonnabend, his physician, successfully fought eviction from a Greenwich Village co-op for treating people with AIDS.  Also in 1983, Callen was a founding board member of the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in Greenwich Village.

On August 1, 1983, Callen was one of three PWAs who testified before a Congressional subcommittee examining the U.S. government’s response to the AIDS crisis.  In his statement before Congress, Callen described how he began to feel ill in 1981 and then was diagnosed in the summer of 1982 after being hospitalized with cryptospordiosis.

“It is very difficult when you pick up newspapers or turn on the television, and you hear that no one has fully recovered from this syndrome, and that 80% of those diagnosed with the syndrome are dead after two years,” he said.

A talented writer, Callen became the first editor of the PWA Coalition Newsline and edited the two-volume set Surviving and Thriving with AIDS, published by the Persons With AIDS Coalition in 1988.  From 1988-1989, he was editor of AIDS Forum, and his book, Surviving AIDS, published by Harper/Collins in 1990, received honorable mention from the American Medical Writers Association.

Callen wrote extensively on the subject of the politics of sexuality, his essays regularly appearing in magazines, journals, books, and newspapers, including the Village Voice, The New York Native, and Outweek.  He was among the first to give AIDS a human face, by making courageous appearances on TV shows such as Nightline, Good Morning America and 20/20.  He also appeared on the talk shows Phil Donahue and Geraldo.

Callen moved from New York to West Hollywood to keep up with his busy TV and film schedule.  He can be seen in several films and documentaries, including Philadelphia, Zero Patience, and the HBO documentary Why Am I Gay?

Throughout the years of his illness, Callen had a devoted and caring partner in Richard Dworkin, whom he met in June 1982, when Dworkin answered his classified ad seeking gay musicians.

“I called and Michael answered and said, ‘I happen to be getting together with a bass player tonight, do you want to come over?’  So I said OK and went to his house on Jones Street, and there was the bass player, and Michael had made sorbet,” Dworkin told Tim Murphy of The Body.  “And we fell in love that night, and I stayed over.  He had a piano and books, and to me that was a draw.  He moved in with me in the fall of ’82.”

“Michael accomplished so much in the 11 years between his diagnosis and his demise,” Dworkin wrote in his tribute to Callen on Callen-Lorde, the website for the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City (named for Michael Callen and Audre Lorde).

Dworkin listed Callen’s many achievments, including the founding of the People with AIDS Coalition, the Community Research Initiative, and the People with AIDS Health Group.  He also mentioned that Callen performed with The Flirtations, “the world’s first gay male politically correct a cappella group,” plus Dworkin helped Callen record and release two solo albums.

Callen also wrote, along with Oscar winner Peter Allen and Marsha Malamet, the song “Love Don’t Need a Reason”  Callen would go on to sing this at numerous events, including AIDS walkathons in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles as well as the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights.

Shortly before his death, Callen completed vocal tracks for 48 new songs, 29 of which were released as a double album, Legacy (winner of four Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards).

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Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

December 30, 1993
Chicago HIV Physician Ron Sable Dies

Ron Sable, M.D., an AIDS activist who was Assistant Director of the Cook County HIV Primary Care Center, dies of AIDS-related illness in Chicago at the age of 48.

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Dr. Sable was a leader in Chicago in the fight against AIDS.  In 1983, he co-founded with Dr. Renslow Sherer the Sable/Sherer Clinic at Cook County Hospital for the care and research of HIV disease.

In their first year together, Drs. Sable and Sherer worked with 141 patients.

“Dr. Sable was very well respected within the LGBT community,” Dr. Sherer told the Windy City Times.  “I suppose I was in the right place at the right time, or rather, the wrong place at the wrong time. The death and sickness were enough but having the media, the hype and the phobia gave a sort of drama to the issue, especially when you had Reagan who would not openly talk about HIV/AIDS.”

Dr. Sherer said that because Dr. Sable was openly gay, he was able to attract to the clinic the best health professionals and volunteers.

“Gay nurses and clinicians came out to help and that just gave us such an advantage,” Dr. Sherer said.  “[It] made us an even more credible resource.”

Dr. Sable was known in Chicago’s LGBT community as an influential force, both politically and in the treatment of AIDS. In the late 1960s, Sable was a Vietnam medic who brought home with him a new world view.

After studying medicine at the University of Missouri, he moved to Chicago to intern at Cook County Hospital and he would remain there for his entire medical career.  He would become the hospital’s first openly gay physician.

Dr. Sable ran for Chicago City Council in 1987 as an openly gay candidate in the 44th Ward, against incumbent Alderman Bernie Hansen. He lost by just a small percentage of votes.  Still, Dr. Sable’s campaign helped inspire a new generation of activists, some of whom helped organize Chicago’s participation in the 1987 March on Washington.

In 1988, Dr. Sable was selected to be an alternate delegate at the Democratic National Convention.  He was also a strong believer in national healthcare and was a frequent volunteer physician at the Howard Brown Health Center and area prisons.

When Dr. Sable came out as HIV positive in 1993, a large public event was held at the South Shore Cultural Center to celebrate his lifetime of achievements. He was weak, but was able to attend.  He died later that year, and soon after he was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.

“I miss him every day,” Dr. Sherer told the Windy City Times. “He was a fabulous person, and if I wanted to go out on a limb, I’d say he was one of the best advocates for LGBT rights that this city has ever seen.  He spent half his time treating AIDS patients and the other half standing up for their rights.”

Bruce Voeller
February 13, 1994
AIDS Activist & Scientist Bruce Voeller Dies

Dr. Bruce Voeller, a specialist on sexually transmitted diseases who was in the forefront of the fight against AIDS, dies of AIDS-related illness at his home in Topanga, California. He was 59.

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Dr. Voeller was highly regarded as a national authority on AIDS research and the gay-rights movement, according to The New York Times. After helping to found the National Gay Task Force (NGTF) in New York City in 1973, he served as its Executive Director from then until 1978.

During this time, Voeller recruited Jean O’Leary, founder of Lesbian Feminist Liberation, to join him as co-director of NGTF and laid the groundwork for an alliance with lesbian groups. NGTF is now known as the Washington-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Born in Minneapolis in 1934, Voeller pursued a career as a scientist, graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Reed College in Oregon and then attending Rockefeller University in New York on a fellowship.  At Rockefeller, he earned a doctorate in developmental biology, biochemistry, and developmental genetics in 1961, according to the LGBTQ Archives.

By 1964, Dr. Voeller was 29 years old and already a successful academic.  He had been promoted at Rockefeller University from research associate to faculty member.  He was also married to a woman and had three children.

As he neared his 30th birthday, he decided to make good on a promise he made to himself: come out as a gay man before he was 30.  After disclosing his sexual identity, his wife petitioned for a divorce and sought sole custody of their children, according to Reed Magazine.

Dr. Voeller fought and lost the child custody battle in the lower courts, but appealed and appealed again until the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court — where he won. This case became a legal precedent for gay parents seeking child-visitation rights.

While his child custody case proceeded through the justice system, he published numerous scholarly articles and four books, and was promoted to associate professor in 1966, becoming the youngest person in Rockefeller University’s history to hold that position.

Following his court case win, he left his academic career to devote himself fully to
advocating for gay rights.  Already a member of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), Dr. Voeller became its third president during its most active years, according to Reed Magazine.  He parted ways with the GAA in 1973, when members began to embrace a more radical, activist approach — with rallies and other public actions — when he wanted to move the GAA toward the mainstream of political discourse.

In 1978, Dr. Voeller founded the Mariposa Education & Research Foundation with Karen DeCrow of the National Organization of Women and Aryeh Neier of the American Civil Liberties Union.  Funded primarily by private donations, the foundation set out to conduct formal studies of human sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases.

Soon after, Dr. Voeller was in the forefront of the fight against AIDS.  In the early 1980s, he returned to his scientific roots and conducted studies at Hunter College and Cornell University on the effectiveness of different kinds of condoms and spermicides in preventing sexually transmitted diseases.  He also coined the term Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) after pointing out that the early-80s name for the disease, GRIDD (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency Disease), was both inaccurate and stigmatizing, according to Village Preservation.

In 1990, Dr. Voeller coedited the book AIDS and Sex: An Integrated Biomedical and Behavioral Approach, and wrote many papers on the subject.  At the time of his death, he was still serving as president of the Mariposa Education and Research Foundation.

In June 2019, Dr. Voeller was one of the inaugural 50 “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City’s Stonewall Inn.

AIDS Quilt - Randy Shilts
February 17, 1994
Author-Journalist Randy Shilts Dies

Randy Shilts, a U.S. journalist who covered the AIDS epidemic and who authored And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic, dies of AIDS-related illness at age 42.

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Randy Shilts joined the newsroom of The San Francisco Chronicle in 1981 to report on gay politics, making him the first full-time openly gay journalist in the U.S. mainstream press. As one of the earliest people in the media to recognize the importance of AIDS as a national issue, Shilts dedicated his writing career to bringing the epidemic to the attention of the American public.

He authored three books, including The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk and And The Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (1980-1985).

Although Shilts had been tested for HIV earlier, Shilts postponed learning the results out of fear the knowledge would compromise his objectivity. He was informed he had tested positive for the virus the day he wrote the final page of And The Band Played On.

When Shilts pitched the book to publishers, he was rejected until St. Martin’s made a modest offer with an advance of $16,000, recalls friend Michael Denneny, who edited the book.  And The Band Played On would go on to sell more than 100,000 hardcover copies, and some 600,000 paperbacks.

“He worked four years on that book,” Denneny says. “He went into debt. At one point, literally to pay his rent, he had to empty this huge water jug full of pennies, nickels and dimes.”

He died while planning a fourth book examining homosexuality in the Roman Catholic Church.

At his memorial service at Glide Memorial Church, his friend and assistant Linda Alband placed his press card on his casket.

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Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Derek Jarman
February 19, 1994
Derek Jarman — British Film Director & Activist — Dies

Derek Jarman, an LGBTQ rights activist and independent filmmaker, dies of AIDS-related illness at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London.  He was 52.

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Best known as the director of low-budget surrealistic films such as Sebastiane (1975), Caravaggio (1986) and Edward II (1991), Jarman was credited with infusing 1970s and 1980s independent British cinema with fresh energy and a provocative point of view.  He also directed music videos for the Smiths, Bryan Ferry, Pet Shop Boys, Bob Geldof, Patti Smith, and Marianne Faithful, according to The New York Times.

The imagery and energy of Jarman’s work — which included film, painting and writing — reflected the violently homophobic place that London was during the 1970s and 1980s, British director Neil Bartlett wrote in a 2014 tribute to Jarman in The Guardian.

“Jarman’s films – and later, his activism – were crucial points of reference in my generation’s struggles to endure and enjoy life,” wrote Bartlett. “Even before I had the good fortune to meet him in person, I intuited that here was a true ally, fighting in much the same way as I and my friends and colleagues were to find a way through some very dark times.”

Standing out from the backdrop of British traditionalism, Jarman was frequently regarded as the country’s most avant-garde director.

“Critics drew attention to his radical techniques, including the nonnarrative structure of his films, and his ‘painterly’ style,” arts and culture author Tim Lawrence wrote in AIDS, The Problem of Representation and Plurality in Derek Jarman’s Blue.  “Ironically, it was Jarman’s anti-commercialism and the financial restrictions that resulted from this stance that pushed him into adopting these techniques.”

Jarman’s final — and perhaps most daring — film project was Blue, which was released at the Venice Biennale four months before his death.  The film is both a serene soundscape (by Simon Fisher Turner) and spoken-word account of Jarman’s experience with AIDS, set against a delphinium blue screen.

Blue was inspired by the ultramarine light Jarman saw as his eyesight deteriorated from AIDS.  At the end of the film, Jarman narrates his view of the future:

“Our name will be forgotten, in time, no one will remember our work.  Our life will pass like the traces of a cloud … I place the delphinium, blue, upon your grave.”

Swapnil Dhruv Bose wrote in Far Out magazine about how Blue captures the experience of having AIDS like no other work of art.

“By showing us around 70 minutes of a static blue screen, Jarman makes a bold choice to make the viewer confront an unchanging reality while he talks about various issues that haunted him,” Swapnil Dhruv Bose wrote. “He explains the choice in the film itself, claiming that ‘blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.’ It contributes to the construction of a paradoxical experience that is simultaneously clinically cold and vibrantly warm, inherent with all the ironies of the human condition.”

After testing positive for HIV in 1986, Jarman spoke publicly about his diagnosis amid the public panic in England about the virus. The same year, he bought a cottage in Dungeness, Kent for 32,000 pounds (roughly US$48,000).  He and his partner, Keith Collins, moved in and Jarman soon began designing a garden there.

After Jarman’s death in 1994, Collins continued to live in the cottage until 2018, when he died of a brain tumor.  Concerned that the cottage and its accompanying garden would be sold to a private owner, friends of Jarman and Collins raised the money to buy the property and arranged for an arts charity, the Art Fund, to maintain it, according to Rebecca Mead’s article in The New Yorker.

Among those fundraising friends were actor Tilda Swinton, who got her start in Jarman’s films; David Hockney, whom Jarman befriended in the 1960s; and Sandy Powell, the Academy Award-nominated costume designer (including for her work on Shakespeare in Love [1998], The Aviator [2004], and The Young Victoria [2009]).  All told, $4 million was raised to save the property and preserve it as a tribute to Jarman and his work.  The garden was clearly important to Jarman and his artistic process throughout his illness.

In a journal about his life at the cottage, Jarman wrote: “It isn’t a gloomy garden.  Its circles and squares have humor — a fairy ring for troglodyte pixies — the stones a notation for long-forgotten music, an ancestral round to which I add a few new notes each morning.”

In this same journal, published in 1991 as Modern Nature, Jarman wrote in his characteristically unfettered and upbeat way about his illness and declining health:

“As I sweat it out in the early hours, a ‘guilty victim’ of the scourge, I want to bear witness how happy I am, and will be until the day I die, that I was part of the hated sexual revolution. And that I don’t regret a single step or encounter I made in that time; and if I write in future with regret, it will be a reflection of a temporary indisposition.”

Throughout his creative career, Jarman took big risks to make gay life and issues central to his work, according to the Associated Press.

Jarman’s breakout film Sebastiane (1975) was considered radical for its exploration of homosexuality in the life of Saint Sebastian.  Also hailed as audacious was Jarman’s decision to have the film’s dialog performed in Latin.

In the 1986 film Caravaggio, Jarman interpreted a defining moment in painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s life — a swordfight which ended in the death of Caravaggio’s opponent — as a lovers’ quarrel turned deadly.

In Edward II (1991), Jarman addressed the king’s intimate liaison with his favorite Piers Gaveston.  The film was based on Christopher Marlowe’s 1593 play, a work unusual for its time in openly portraying a gay relationship.  It begins with Edward II (portrayed by Steven Waddington) and Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan), lounging on a bed, while two sailors are seen having sex nearby.

“Next, a naked man crowned in gold kisses a great big snake,” historian and screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann wrote in The Guardian in his tongue-in-cheek exploration of the historical basis of Jarman’s film.  “If you look very closely, you may detect an extremely subtle hint of homoeroticism here.”

Jarman was bold in his work and also in his advocacy for gay rights.  According to The Washington Post in its obituary for Jarman, the film director voiced his disapproval of openly gay actor Ian McKellen accepting a knighthood from the queen, because the country’s conservative government had recently adopted anti-gay legislation.

“As a queer artist, I find it impossible to react with anything but dismay to his acceptance of the honor from a government which has stigmatized homosexuality,” Jarman wrote in The Guardian in January 1991.

“Maybe Ian McKellen will use this knighthood to try to influence the government. But I’m not at all certain. I think it’s a co-option and allows anyone to say: ‘The Tory Party isn’t so bad. It’s not really anti-gay. After all it gave Ian McKellen a knighthood.’ And he fell for them and accepted,” Jarman wrote.

For Jarman, it was important to raise awareness about the realities of HIV and AIDS, albeit while maintaining a degree of dark humor about it, because these political gestures were necessary to break through the homophobic stigma surrounding AIDS in society.

“Derek Jarman refused to live, work, or die quietly,” wrote the Thames and Hudson museum on its website.  “A prolific artist and activist, he defined the bohemian ’60s in London, blazed into the queer punk scene of the 1970s, and went on to wield his colossal creativity and pride against the stigma and fear of the AIDS epidemic.”

At the time of his death in 1994, Jarman had produced 11 feature films, 10 books, hundreds of paintings, dozens of experimental short films, several music videos – and one fantastical garden.

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Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Stephen C Smith
May 10, 1994
Washington DC AIDS Activist Stephen Smith Dies

Stephen C. Smith, 37, an AIDS activist who lobbied on behalf of federal legislation affecting people with HIV/AIDS, died of AIDS-related illness at the Hospice of Washington at the age of 37.

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Smith worked for the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the nation’s largest LGBTQ political organization, from 1987 until he retired on disability in 1993.  With his credentials as a lawyer, he worked as a lobbyist, legislative director and legislative counsel for the organization.

His achievements included advocacy of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which still today contains prohibitions on discriminating against people with AIDS, and the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, which provided federal money for cities hit hard by AIDS cases. He also worked on the Hate Crime Statistics Act and lobbying efforts to increase federal funding for AIDS.

Smith was president of the Gay & Lesbian Activist Alliance of Washington from 1983 to 1985, and he later served as director of its human rights project. He was chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Committee on AIDS issues, and he helped organize the National Organizations Responding to AIDS Coalition.

In a 1985 lawsuit against Georgetown University, Smith represented the Gay Rights Coalition and won the suit in 1987 to compel Georgetown to recognize LGBT organizations on campus.

He was born in Geneseo, NY, and graduated from Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Law School.  In 1980, he came to Washington as a lawyer for the United Auto Workers and later worked for the National Labor Relations Board before joining the staff of the Human Rights Campaign Fund.

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Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Assotto Saint
June 29, 1994
NYC Poet-Performer Assotto Saint Dies

Assotto Saint, a Haitian-born poet and performance artist, dies of AIDS-related illness in New York City at the age of 36.

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Among the first Black activists to disclose his HIV positive status, Saint was one of the first poets to include the subject of AIDS in his work.  He was also a performance artist, musician, editor, human rights and AIDS activist, theatrical founder, and dancer.

After immigrating from Haiti to New York in 1970 when he was 13 years old, Saint graduated from Jamaica High School and was briefly enrolled as a pre-med student at Queens College.  Soon, however, he turned his attention to theater and dance, and adopted the name Assotto Saint —“Assotto” for a ceremonial drum used in Haitian vodoo rituals and “Saint” for Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint L’Ouverture. Through the 1970s, Saint’s passions grew to include poetry, music, and fiction.

In 1980, Saint fell in love with Jaan Urban Holmgren, a Swedish-born composer, and they began to collaborate on a number of theatrical and musical projects.  Their relationship would last 14 years, during which time Holmgren would write songs for Saint’s many theater pieces on gay Black life, including including Risin’ to the Love We Need and New Love Song.  Saint was the founder and artistic director of Metamorphosis Theater, where many of their collaborative pieces were performed.

Saint founded the publishing house Galiens Press, which published his book of poems Stations and the anthologies Here to Dare and The Road Before Us.  With Holmgren, Saint also performed as lead singer in the “techno pop duo” band Xotika, and released the dance song “Forever Gay” on the album Feeding the Flame: Songs by Men to End AIDS.

Saint was dancer with the Martha Graham company, and appeared in Marlon Riggs’ Non Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regret).

“Assotto was always prepared to die,” writes author Victoria Brownworth for Lambda Literary.  “If that makes him sound like a fatalist or a Zen master, he was neither. He was just clear about what was going to happen. And he knew the work had to be done and quickly, urgently, before time ran out.”

Here is the beginning of Saint’s final poem for his life-partner, Jan Holmgren, who was dying of AIDS:

A Lover’s Diary

monday, march 29, 1993


vigil on two chairs
iwhisper “hey, good morning”
he doesn’t respond
iwatch his labored breathings
the head nurse suctions him up


“he’s turned for the worse”
dr mcmeeking mumbles
weeks, days, just can’t tell
“hours” insists my mother
furious iescort her out


the oscars come on
the crying game stars don’t win
hoping he can hear
iremind him he’s my light
death rattles my scream for help


the nurse rushes in
mother returns with prayers
icradle him close
pleading “stay, one more day, stay”
eleven twenty, he’s gone


bathe him with my tears
parched lips thirst for a wet
istick my tongue deep
bitter taste of bloody phlegm
moans spat out ishut his eyes

October 27, 1994
Dave Johnson, First AIDS Coordinator for Los Angeles, Dies

Dave Johnson, who in 1989 became the first AIDS coordinator for the City of Los Angeles, dies of AIDS-related illness at the Chris Brownlie Hospice.  He was 39 years old.

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Johnson brought his experience as a gay rights activist to his position in City Hall, where he was responsible for mobilizing the city’s efforts to address the growing AIDS crisis, according to the Los Angeles Times. He oversaw housing, prevention programs and financial assistance for those too ill to support themselves.

Upon taking the lead at the LA AIDS Coordinator’s Office, Johnson went to work to develop a comprehensive City AIDS Policy, which served as a blueprint for the City’s multi-pronged effort to combat AIDS.  According to the website for LA’s AIDS Coordinator Office, Johnson’s work reflected his dedication to collecting community input, as well as pulling in legal and healthcare expertise from the City Attorney’s Office and the City’s Medical Director.

On October 16, 1990 the AIDS policy (Council File No. 85-0869-S19) was adopted by the City Council, followed by final approval a week later by then-mayor Tom Bradley.

The AIDS Policy included the following:

  • The City Attorney’s Office briefed City department heads on their legal duties regarding the epidemic and the impact of AIDS on the workforce;
  • Each City department head designated a departmental AIDS Coordinator responsible for ensuring that employees were trained on anti-discrimination, workplace safety and confidentiality principles, and general HIV prevention education; and
  • The Office of the AIDS Coordinator routinely pushed the City to advocate for progressive legislation on the state and federal levels.

By establishing a strong role for the City in AIDS prevention and the system of care, Los Angeles became a civic leader nationwide in addressing the AIDS epidemic.  Johnson’s work was key the program’s success.

He turned full time to the AIDS battle after his longtime companion died in 1986, according to the LA Times.

Before taking the city job, Johnson had been a co-founder and first chairman of the United AIDS Coalition of Los Angeles County, an umbrella group of 30 organizations, and executive director of Being Alive Los Angeles.

On September 18, 1989, he spoke at the the first meeting of the National Commission on AIDS about the problems facing AIDS patients and the lack of response by the federal government.

AIDS Quilt - Pedro Zamora
November 11, 1994
Activist & Reality TV Star Pedro Zamora Dies

Pedro Zamora, an HIV-positive man appearing in MTV’s popular show The Real World, dies of AIDS-related illness at age 22.

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As one of the first openly gay men with AIDS in media, Zamora brings international attention to HIV/AIDS and LGBT issues and prejudices through his appearance on MTV’s reality television series, The Real World: San Francisco.

Zamora’s commitment ceremony to his partner Sean Sasser, which is filmed for the show, is also the first same-sex ceremony in television history.  Zamora dies just hours after the finale of The Real World: San Francisco aired on MTV.

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Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

November 29, 1994
HIV+ Woman in AZT Study Gives Birth to HIV- Baby

Gina Brown, who was informed simultaneously by her doctor that she was HIV positive and pregnant, gives birth to an HIV-negative daughter, Jamanii, after entering an AZT research trial in New Orleans.

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Brown would become one of the country’s leading HIV/AIDS activists, speaking boldly on the need for Black women to be tested for HIV and seek the best treatment available.

Born in January 1966 in Pittsburgh, California in Contra Costa County, Brown had a happy, middle-class childhood until age 4, when she and her mother moved in with an aunt in New Orleans.  Brown told Outwords in a 2021 interview that it was in her aunt’s home where her cousin began molesting her.  Amidst this trauma, Brown was able to find refuge with her grandmothers.

As Brown entered her teenage years, she became aware that she was attracted to women, but felt a social pressure to sleep with men to prove she wasn’t a lesbian.  In her 20s, she struggled with drug use and decided to enter treatment for her addiction when she was 28.

The drug treatment program ran medical tests on Brown and found that she was pregnant and infected with HIV.  This was in 1994, a few years before modern-day antiretroviral therapy (ART), the most effective treatment for HIV, was available.

A nurse informed Brown that she had AIDS, and coldly told her that she and her baby were going to die. A second nurse, however, told her she would live if she followed doctors’ instructions diligently and learned all she could about HIV. She referred Brown to a research trial used AZT to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to fetus.

During 1994-1999, AZT was used to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.  This treatment, which was highly toxic to human cells, was discontinued after better medication options became available.  But in 1994, AZT was the best medical option available to Brown, and she embraced it.

And on November 29, 1994, Brown gave birth to a daughter, Jamanii, and she was born HIV negative.

Brown’s triumph was hard-won.  Not only was she subjected to the toxic effects of AZT over long months of treatment, but she was treated in a hostile manner by hospital workers who, throughout her pregnancy, openly looked through her medical charts without permission and made judgmental comments about her.

So after she and her newborn daughter was released from the hospital, she decided to hide her HIV condition from everyone, except for select members of her family.

About 10 years later, after Brown relocated from New Orleans to Dallas, she decided to tell her HIV story to a local newspaper.  Then when she returned to New Orleans a few years later in 2007, a local TV news station asked Brown if she would agree to be featured on its popular “Quiet Hero” segment.

Publicly sharing her HIV status was risky, especially in Louisiana, which had a state law that criminalized the exposure of another person to HIV/AIDS through sexual contact.

Still, she decided to do the TV appearance and openly talk about being a 41-year-old Black woman living with HIV.  Afterward, she received an influx of phone calls from women throughout the city inspired by her to seek HIV testing and treatment.

Encouraged by the experience, Brown enrolled in the social work program at Southern University at New Orleans and earned a Bachelor’s degree in 2011 and then her Master’s degree in 2012.  Her openness about her HIV status made her the go-to mentor for younger students.

She started her professional career as an HIV/AIDS advocate at the age of 46 with a job organizing for AIDS United and then a position with the Southern AIDS Coalition.

In 2012, Brown met HIV activist Penny DeNoble at a political campaign training program, and sparks flew.  At first, Brown and DeNoble decided to keep their relationship a secret.  But then, at a 2018 HIV/AIDS conference during a panel discussion, she inadvertently outed herself when she made an offhand comment about dating women.

Brown then wrote a blog post titled “I Have a Secret” on the Southern AIDS Coalition’s website, and officially came out as bisexual.  She was rewarded for her openness and courage with a large response from women grateful to hear her story and realize that they weren’t alone.

Brown and DeNoble have since ended their romantic relationship, but they remain close friends.  She currently is director of strategic partnerships and community engagement for the Southern AIDS Coalition.  She sits on the boards of the Black AIDS Institute and The Well Project, and also supports the Umi Project, which provides college and career guidance and training for girls and women. Through the project, she plans to take girls on college tours of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

In 2022, the Advocate named Brown a “Champion of Pride” for her work in dismantling the stigma of HIV/AIDS in the southern U.S. states.

January 30, 1995
Bay Area AIDS Fundraiser Joseph Hollinger Dies

Joseph Hollinger, a lifelong Bay Area resident who organized several AIDS fundraisers and leather pride parade floats, dies of AIDS-related illness at his mother’s home.  He was 32.

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Hollinger and his partner, Rodney Barnal, operated a landscaping business in Santa Cruz.  When Barnal died of AIDS-related illness in 1988, Hollinger maintained the business until his own health began to decline in 1993, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

In 1990, Hollinger won the title of Mr. San Francisco Eagle Leather and placed third at the International Mr. Leather competition.  He wrote a widely-read leather column for the Sentinel and was nominated for a Cable Car award for his work.

Harvey and Scott
February 4, 1995
San Francisco Political Organizer Scott Smith Dies

Scott Smith, a gay rights activist best known for his romantic relationship with Harvey Milk, dies of AIDS-related illness at San Francisco General Hospital at the age of 46.

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

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Smith was instrumental to the political career of Harvey Milk,  the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.  Smith organized and managed Milk’s campaigns for public office from 1974 to 1977, and he continued to influence Milk after the latter was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

In 1972, Milk and Smith were down to their last $1,000 in collective savings when they decided to open Castro Camera, a photography supplies and service shop that would soon serve as Milk’s campaign headquarters.  At the time, Milk and Smith were in a romantic relationship.

According to Randy Shilts in his book The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (1982), Milk and Smith needed to find a cheap place to live and a way to make money.  They chose the Castro District because they heard that apartments there were cheap and they knew of two gay bars there doing booming business.  Castro Camera opened at 575 Castro Street on March 3, 1973.

Later that year, Smith orchestrated the Coors Beer boycott that elevated Milk in the Bay Area’s political scene.  One of the first public displays of power by the gay community, the boycott galvanized support behind Teamsters against the Coors Company, which refused to employ union drivers.   With Smith’s strategy, Milk convinced gay bars to boycott Coors beer and it worked — Coors caved in.  In return, Milk convinced the Teamsters to hire openly gay truck drivers, solidifying Milk’s reputation as an astute political operator.

Milk and Smith followed the success of their boycott with campaigns to elect Milk to public office. First, Milk ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1973 and again in 1975, losing both times.  Then in 1976, Milk was appointed by Mayor George Moscone to the city’s Board of Permit Appeals, but he resigned the position just a few months later to run for the California State Assembly. He lost the Assembly race as well.

Finally, Milk was elected to the Board of Supervisors in the November 1977 election, and he was sworn into office on January 9, 1978, becoming the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.

When Milk was assassinated on November 27, 1978, Smith’s life was thrown into turmoil.

In the days that followed, Milk’s body was laid in state in the City Hall Rotunda.  On November 29, a memorial service was held at City Hall, followed by another service at Temple Emmanue-El.  Milk’s body was cremated and his ashes were wrapped in a Doonsebury comic-strip to acknowledge his love for newspaper comics, and “RIP” was spelled out in rhinestones.  Smith and a few others of Milk’s closest friends scattered the ashes in San Francisco Bay, according to Bob Kelley, curator of the photo presentation Harvey Milk, Second Sight.

The violent death of the man who had guided Smith’s personal and professional life since he was 22 years old had a devastating impact, according to Randy Shilts in his biography of Milk.

“Since most media attention focused on the political heirs of Harvey Milk — who had long considered Scott to be little more than the camera store’s clerk — Smith became increasingly embittered in the month’s after the assassination, complaining that he had never gotten due credit for propping up the business that gave Milk his political base,” Shilts wrote.

Smith was executor of Milk’s last will and testament, a job that came with the tedious process of resolving Milk’s debts and other open affairs, and he also became head of the Harvey Milk Archives, spending long hours organizing Milk’s papers, speeches, photographs and other ephemera.  Now located in the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library, the Harvey Milk Archives/Scott Smith Collection contains hundreds of photographs of Smith taken by Milk, the latter who sometimes spent entire rolls of film on candid images of his favorite model.

Smith converted Castro Camera into an art gallery.  When more than a year had passed since Milk’s death and Smith was still in the throes of a deep depression, the city’s public health director reached out to Scott with counseling resources.  It was almost two years before Smith could begin reconstructing his life.

In the early 1980s, Smith left the world of politics and started afresh as a travel agent, according to SFGATE.  He continued to work on the Harvey Milk Archives, earning the nickname of “The Widow Milk” from his friends.

On January 21, 1995, just weeks before his death, Smith attended the world premiere of the Houston Grand Opera’s Harvey Milk, by librettist Michael Korie and composer Stewart Wallace.  Smith was well-known as an opera buff, a passion he had shared with Milk.  The afternoon before the opening, Smith took part in a panel discussion and traded reminiscences with five others who personally knew Milk.

When news of Smith’s death reached the Houston Grand Opera, they dedicated the final performances of Harvey Milks’ run to Smith.  The opera, in which Smith appeared as a principal character, would be reprised at the San Francisco Opera in late 1996.

Following Smith’s death, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, acting on a resolution by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, adjourned its meeting in Smith’s memory.  A potluck party was held to celebrate Smith’s life, fittingly, at the photography studio of longtime friend Danny Nicoletta.  Nicoletta had worked in Smith and Milk’s camera shop in the 1970s.

In the 2008 feature film Milk, the role of Scott Smith was played by James Franco.

February 24, 1995
Olympian Diver Greg Louganis Shares HIV+ Status

Olympic gold-medal diver Greg Louganis discloses that he is HIV-positive.  The announcement draws criticism from some who believe Louganis should have disclosed his status prior to competing in the 1988 Olympics.

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In a TV interview with ABC’s 20/20, Louganis says he knew he was HIV-positive before the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and was greatly concerned when he hit his head on the board during a dive and shed blood in the pool.

Since the Seoul Games, Louganis’s infection has developed into AIDS, according to the definition established by the Centers for Disease Control.

“According to the CDC, I have AIDS versus HIV,” Louganis told Barbara Walters. “I do have AIDS.”

Louganis, 35, who won four gold medals at the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics, retired from the sport in 1988 and was recently pursuing an acting career. He discloses his homosexuality at the 1994 Gay Games in New York.

Olympic athletes are tested for an array of performance-enhancing drugs, but they are not required to reveal their HIV status. Mike Moran, spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee, tells the Los Angeles Times that the policy was not likely to change.

Regarding the blood that spilled into Seoul’s Chamshil Pool, the International Olympic Committee and FINA, swimming and diving’s world governing body, issue statements saying that a minuscule amount of blood in chlorinated water poses no threat to anyone.

Louganis, 35, joins two other major athletes who shared their HIV-positive status.. Magic Johnson left the Los Angeles Lakers in 1991 after saying he was infected with HIV.  Tennis star Arthur Ashe died in 1993 of AIDS-related causes.


March 11, 1995
South African gospel singer Musa Njoko Discloses HIV-Positive Status

Musa “Queen” Njoko reveals her HIV-positive status to Ilanga, a Zulu newspaper, becoming South Africa’s only recording artist living openly with the virus.

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Njoko’s story landed on the newspaper’s front page, which resulted in her being expelled from her church and threatened with death by her partner.  She told the Ilanga that she was diagnosed with HIV a year ago, in 1994, the year of South Africa’s independence from white minority rule.  She was 22 years old, and her doctor told her she had three months before AIDS would end her life.

“I waited … three, four months, I waited for death,“ Njoko told NationNews in a 2010 interview.  “I would make sure that I rested properly in my bed, put my arms on my chest just to make sure that at least in my coffin, I would look decent.  It was very lonely and very emotionally draining and quite sad.”

Njoko decided to become an advocate and activist for HIV-positive people, because of the lack of information about the disease.  She was angry and frustrated.

“There was no information at all, except that it was known as a disease for people who had multiple partners, a disease for gay people and for people who were sex workers,” she said.

She believed that people — particularly women — were becoming infected because they believed they didn’t need to be concerned about HIV if they didn’t belong to any of those groups.  And yet, when her doctor tested her for the AIDS virus, she said that Njoko “fitted the profile — Black, young, from a township, with a child.”

She wanted to raise awareness about the ever-increasing risk of being infected, so she took the courageous step of disclosing her HIV status in the local newspaper.

Just a few years later, Njoko would find herself organizing the funeral of another activist who publicly disclosed her HIV status in media.  Gugu Dlamini, a 36-year-old South African woman who volunteered as a field worker for the National Association of People Living With HIV/AIDS, was stoned and stabbed to death by neighbors in 1998 after she announced on a local radio station that she was HIV positive.

Njoko somehow avoided a fate similar to Dlmini’s and would become a long-term HIV survivor, thriving as a gospel singer and motivational speaker.  But for almost 10 years, she would have to manage her disease largely without the treatment options available in other countries.

In South Africa, antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) would not become available to its citizens until 2004.  Former President Thabo Mbeki and Health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang questioned the research on ARV treatment for HIV and AIDS.  During this time, Njoko would endure a six-month bout of meningitis, followed by bone-marrow tuberculosis.  Then in 2002, she almost lost her right arm in a car accident, resulting in the permanent limited use of her right hand.

But she perservered, and by 2010, she would be known as the voice for countless women who were still afraid to speak about the issues of rape, abuse and HIV.  Njoko would travel extensively, making her voice heard at conferences and ministering to those living with HIV/AIDS.

In 2016, Njoko would write the musical theatre production In My Own Voice about her journey with HIV against the backdrop of 1990s South Africa, deprived of healthcare resources and rife with intolerance for those with HIV/AIDS.  The show would hold its world premier at the Durban Playhouse in South Afirica on July 22, 2016 on the final evening of the 21st International AIDS conference.

Njoko would also become a key role player in South African Voices: Towards a Museum of HIV Memory and Learning, an AIDS educational project at Durban’s KwaMuhle Museum.  The museum exhibition offered people a space to celebrate achievements in addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa.

Njoko continues to pioneer for HIV/AIDS, women’s health and human rights.

“Life can still be lived to its fullest, but it might change a bit from what you envisioned,” she said in 2016.  “Eat properly, follow your treatment, and look after your spiritual and emotional well-being.”


playsafe 1
Capital City AIDS Fund is Created to Serve Sacramento

Capital City AIDS Fund is founded to support HIV/AIDS services in the Sacramento area.

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Capital City AIDS Fund (CCAF) launched as a non-profit organization to raise money to support HIV/AIDS services in the Sacramento area. Specifically, CCAF’s activities supported a community fund that, from 1995 until today, donates to various city-area organizations that provide HIV/AIDS services.

From the start, CCAF was governed by an all-volunteer board of directors made up of community leaders, including business professionals, media representatives, and government officials.

Since its inception, CCAF has successfully staged many events including the Capital City AIDS Dance-O-Rama, the Boo Bash, the stage production of Ruby Slippers, the Academy Awards gala “An Evening With Oscar,” and the annual Sacramento Valley AIDS Walk.  Over the next 25 years, CCAF would raise and donate over $3 million for Sacramento-area HIV/AIDS services.

In 2001, CCAF teamed with the Elton John AIDS Foundation for the high-profile event Smash Hits with Elton John and Billie Jean King, which raised about $500,000 for the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the CCAF.  The event, which was Elton John and Billie Jean King’s ninth in their annual series, featured tennis stars Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras and music icon Carlos Santana, and packed Arco Arena in Sacramento.

In 2002, CCAF launched the Helen Veress-Mitchell Scholarship program to help people living with HIV attend college or technical school. Most scholarship recipients are pursuing careers in the health care field in hopes of helping other people living with HIV, according to CCAF.

In 2005, responding to rising rates of HIV and STD cases among the city’s youth, CCAF began a campaign to raise awareness about safe sex practices and increase availability of free condoms in targeted locations.  CCAF’s HIV Prevention and Education Campaign, which continues today, provides free condom dispensers and accompanying Play! But Play Safe! posters upon request.

College campuses and public health agencies now use CCAF’s condom dispensers in locations across the globe, including distant locations in India and Africa.  CCAF’s HIV/STD awareness campaign also distributes more than 30,000 free condoms monthly in the bars in downtown Sacramento, according to CCAF Board Chair Joyce Mitchell.

National HIV Testing Day
June 27, 1995
National HIV Testing Day is Launched

The National Association of People With AIDS launches the first National HIV Testing Day.

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National HIV Testing Day is now held annually to encourage people to get tested for HIV, know their status, and get linked to care and treatment.

The National Association of People With AIDS ceased operations in 2013, National HIV Testing Day continues to be observed annually.

On this day, the CDC and many other organizations distribute free HIV self-testing kits.

July 11, 1995
Chinese AIDS Activist & Disc Jockey JJ Chan Dies

Disc jockey JJ Chan, the first Chinese person living with AIDS to speak out about his disease in a government campaign, dies of AIDS-related illness at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong.  He was 35.

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In April 1995, Chan announced he would become the focus of the Chinese government’s AIDS awareness campaign, according to the South China Morning Post.  The move was hailed as a breakthrough, because Chan was the first Chinese-born person to share his story in a government-sponsored campaign.

Talking openly about his disease, Chan countered misconception in his country that HIV/AIDS only afflicted foreigners.

Friends remembered Chan as a fun person.

“He had a really jolly character,” said Maureen McGinley of AIDS Concern.

In addition to an obituary, the South China Morning Post published a tribute to Chan, saying, “Society owes a big debt of sympathy and admiration to the former disc-jockey, J.J. Chan, for his courageous decision to disclose his battle with AIDS.

After Chan’s death, the Chinese government continued to broadcast Chan’s message, in which he relayed his experience as a person with AIDS and his relationship with family and friends. He gave advice on ways of preventing contracting the deadly virus.

Thomas Crail
July 15, 1995
Thomas Crail, Head of WeHo Chamber, Dies

Thomas Michael Crail, executive director of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, dies of AIDS-related illness in his West Hollywood home. He was 41.

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Crail, who also served as chair of the West Hollywood Transportation Commission, was known as an enthusiastic booster for the city.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Crail’s civic projects included West Hollywood’s annual Mardi Gras and Bastille Day observances.  He also created the West Hollywood Leadership Council, the Santa Monica Boulevard Association, and the Avenues of Design Association.

On the Transportation Commission, he was a proponent of the Sunset Shuttle, a nationally recognized pioneering effort in short-haul urban transport.

A native of Charleston, Illinois, Crail was educated at the University of Washington. Remaining in Seattle after college, he became a nationally recognized dancer with the American Contemporary Dance Company.  He went on to manage some of the nation’s top dance companies, including the San Francisco Ballet and the Joffrey II Dancers, according to the LA Times.

Crail moved to Los Angeles in 1988 to become executive director of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, and helped establish the chamber as an influential force in the fledgling city.  In 1994, the City of West Hollywood honored him with its extraordinary service award.

Community members would gather for a celebration of Crail’s life in William S. Hart Park in West Hollywood on the following Sunday.

The West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce would create the Thomas Crail Lifetime Achievement award to honor community members recognized for remarkable service to the City.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Rob Eichberg
August 11, 1995
Rob Eichberg — Co-Creator of ‘Coming Out Day’ — Dies

Rob Eichberg, a psychologist and activist who co-founded National Coming Out Day, dies of AIDS-related illness in Tesuque, New Mexico.  He was 50.

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Dr. Eichberg and lesbian activist Jean O’Leary chose October 11, 1988 as the inaugural “National Coming Out Day,” because it marked the one-year anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, also known as “The Great March.”

“Most people think they don’t know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact everybody does,” said Eichberg in 1993. “It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.”

Dr. Eichberg was born in Brooklyn in 1945 but lived most of his life in the Los Angeles area, where he campaigned for gay rights and raised funds for organizations serving people living with HIV/AIDS. He moved to New Mexico in 1988, the same year he and O’Leary founded National Coming Out Day, according to the Los Angles Times.

In 1978, Eichberg established a workshop called “the Experience” that helped people in the LGBTQ+ community reveal their sexual identity to family and friends.  He ran for the Hollywood-area Assembly seat in the November 1982 election but didn’t win, according to the LA Times.

In 1991, his book Coming Out: An Act of Love was published by Dutton Books and received warm reviews.  Publishers Weekly called Eichberg’s book an “exceptionally well-written manual” on coming out to people in all aspects of life, including business associates and employers.  Coming Out also offered advice on how to address the fear of rejection and feelings of isolation, guilt, powerlessness, and anger.

“This powerful book will also be helpful to heterosexuals who seek a better understanding of gay relatives and friends,” said Publishers Weekly.

“If you care to have any relationship with gay people, his book is essential,” Lynn Shepodd, president of the Santa Fe Lesbian, Gay and Bi Pride Committee, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribute.  “It accurately describes the process that gay and lesbian people go through in their coming out.”

National Coming Out Day is now celebrated annually.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Bruce Boland deputy
August 18, 1995
WeHo Deputy Bruce Boland Dies

Bruce Boland, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who was the first gay officer to sue that agency for anti-gay discrimination, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 48.

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A native of Chicago who was educated at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., Boland became an LA County deputy in 1984 and was assigned to the West Hollywood station.  He was fired in 1991 for allegedly falsifying a 1989 report for a drug paraphernalia possession charge.  Boland was charged with felony preparation of false evidence, but a judge dismissed the criminal case in 1992.

Boland sued the LA County Sheriff’s Department for $90 million, claiming he was harassed and fired because of his sexual orientation.  Boland was represented by John Duran, a civil rights attorney who also served as a Councilmember for the City of West Hollywood.

In the wake of his firing, Boland’s cause was taken up by the West Hollywood City Council, which has urged his reinstatement, and by activists in the city’s large gay community.

The controversy stems from an April 1989 incident in West Hollywood during which Boland arrested a man for possession of drug paraphernalia.  At the preliminary hearing, Boland said he discovered that he had made an error in the arrest report.  He told the prosecutor that he had mistakenly written that a bag of syringes was found at the feet of the suspect seated in the front of the car, when they were actually on the floor of the back seat next to a second man whom Boland did not arrest.

The bag belonged to the man who was arrested. Nevertheless, the prosecutor concluded that Boland’s error had tainted the arrest to the point that the charges had to be dropped.

The Sheriff’s Department referred the matter to the district attorney’s special investigations division, which filed two misdemeanor charges and two felony charges against Boland.  The Sheriff’s Department then suspended Boland without pay.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge dismissed the charges in June 1990, saying that Boland’s arrest report was “at best very sloppy,” but added, “I consider (this) a training problem internal (to) the law enforcement agency and not something that we send people to prison over.”

The district attorney’s office appealed the dismissal of the charges, and Boland was reinstated and assigned to the sheriff’s station in Marina del Rey, where he was told to wash and wax sheriff’s patrol boats. In April, 1991, he was fired – for incompetence, his superiors told him.

Boland said, “To this day I cannot understand why this has happened … I was not openly gay.  There were rumors circulated, but I did not ‘come out.’  … I had an excellent relationship with my superiors.”

The West Hollywood Gay & Lesbian Sheriff’s Conference Committee, an independent advisory body that includes a sheriff’s representative from the West Hollywood station, examined the case and concluded that Boland was treated “substantially different than most deputies involved in similar infractions, and more harshly than other deputies involved in considerably more egregious infractions.”

The treatment of Boland prompted outcries of discrimination against gays and fueled calls for the City of West Hollywood to replace the County Sheriff’s services with a private police force.  Ultimately, the Sheriff’s Department decided to reinstate Boland and bring him back to the West Hollywood station, and the deputy responded by dropping his civil suit.

At the West Hollywood City Council meeting on April 20, 1992, Boland thanked the Council for its help and support in getting him reinstated and re-assigned to his West Hollywood post.

Visitors to the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station can see a photo of Deputy Boland which is placed in a prominent location in the lobby, accompanied by the following poem:

“God saw that he was getting tired
and a cure was not to be.
So He put His arms around him
and whispered, ‘Come with me.’

With tearful eyes we watched him suffer
and saw him fade away.
Although we loved him dearly,
we could not make him stay.

A golden heart stopped beating,
hard working hands came to rest,
God broke our hearts to prove to us
He only takes the best.”

August 27, 1995
TV-Film-Stage Actor Richard Frank Dies

Richard Frank, a critically acclaimed stage actor who portrayed as Jules Bennett on the ABC sit-com Anything but Love, dies of AIDS-related illness at Midway Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 42.

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In Anything but Love (1989-1992), Frank provided comic moments to the series’ love story involving characters played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Richard Lewis.  Frank also gave a notable performance as Father Vogler in the 1984 movie Amadeus.

On stage, Frank originated the role of infamous lawyer and informal powerbroker Roy Cohn in Tony Kushner’s play Angels in AmericaThe Los Angeles Times’ Myrna Oliver described Frank as “a versatile actor equally comfortable with Shakespeare and modern works.”

He earned the 1991 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for his performance as the homosexual window dresser Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa. He also won a Dramalogue award for his portrayal of Herman in Five Easy Pieces at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum in 1985.

By 1993, Frank had been public about his affliction with AIDS. In the wake of his public disclosure, Frank was asked to guest-star on the TV show Life Goes On.  In the episode “Bedfellows,” Frank played Chester, the hospital roommate of Jesse McKenna (played by Chad Lowe), while both were admitted for illnesses related to their AIDS statuses.  Frank’s character lost his battle with AIDS before the episode’s end, but not before passing on wisdom to Jesse for his own dealings with his illness.

Following his landmark appearance on Life Goes On, Frank’s health began a gradual decline, but throughout 1994, he kept up his steady guest turns on series ranging from The Larry Sanders Show to Matlock.

By the beginning of 1995, in order to preserve his health, Frank made the decision to become a television director. That year, an episode of Mad About You he directed became his final work in show business.

In 2006, actor Jamie Lee Curtis told Today that Frank inspired her to participate in the AIDS Walk sponsored by AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).  She also became a member of the advisory board for the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation and helped to raise money for children whose lives were impacted by the AIDS crisis.

“I have tried to keep Rick’s incredible life spirit alive in my daily actions and work, both in and out of show business,” Curtis said.  “I write books for children to help them understand the secrets that we adults seem to know about life, feelings, and loss. I dedicated my book Where Do Balloons Go? to Rick.”

Steven Corbin
August 31, 1995
Author & Activist Steven Corbin Dies

Promising Los Angeles novelist and ACT UP member Steven Corbin dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 41.

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An advocate for Black gay writers, Corbin lived and worked in LA for nearly two decades, and helped to found Clean Needles Now to help stop the spread of HIV among intravenous drug users.

Published in 1989, Corbin’s first novel, No Easy Place to Be, described the lives of three sisters during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s as they mingled with real-life writers Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, actor Paul Robeson and others.

“I wanted to say something about Black writers,” Corbin told the Los Angeles Times. “The only thing we remember about the Harlem Renaissance is the Cotton Club, where Blacks danced and sang and did buffoonery.  We do not … remember our novelists, our playwrights and our great actors, such as Paul Robeson.”

Corbin subsequently wrote Fragments That Remain in 1993, telling the story of a Black family whose eldest son has an interracial homosexual love affair, and A Hundred Days From Now in 1994, describing two lovers dealing with AIDS.

“Over the course of his three published novels and the wildly divergent critical reception that they received, Corbin charted and specified the concerns that recur in black gay men’s writing while rendering those concerns with a sense of urgency rooted in his awareness of his position in medias res,” writes Terry Rowden in PEN America.  “His novels served as articulations of the social and expressive parameters of black queer identities in relation to both established and emerging figurations of history, family, race, and mortality.”

He is considered by many to be a groundbreaking queer Black writer.

Born in Jersey City, Corbin began writing after he dropped out of the film program at the University of Southern California. He later went on to teach creative writing at UCLA.

“The last time I saw Steven, I visited him in New York and we had a wonderful dinner at an uptown soul food place, talking books and politics into the wee hours,” wrote his friend Mark Sarvas in the Los Angeles Review of Books.  “He called me a few weeks later and I could hear in his voice that something was wrong.  The bravado crumbled, and I listened to him miles away as his voice broke … That voice haunts me to this day.”

While a member of ACT UP Los Angeles, Corbin was active in the organization’s People of Color Caucus and then joined a small group of activists who were interested in creating a needle-exchange program in Los Angeles.  The result was Clean Needles Now, a robust syringe exchange program that brought clean needles and other supplies via truck to various parts of the city.

He was nominated for a 1994 Lambda Literary Award in the category of gay male fiction.  Shortly before his death, he moved back to New York City.

October 28, 1995
Kenneth Craig Innes, Broadway & TV Dancer, Dies

Kenneth Craig Innes, aka K. Craig Innes, who achieved stardom as a Broadway dancer, dance teacher and choreographer, dies of AIDS-related illness in San Francisco at the age of 35.

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Innes, a native of San Francisco, performed in more than a dozen Broadway and off-Broadway shows, including Cabaret, Carousel and Hello Dolly.

Born in San Francisco and raised in the peninsula town of Redwood City, Innes was a precocious dance student, according to his mother Shirley Gurnett.  He had his first taste of theater at the age of 7 as a child extra in a touring company rendition of Carousel with John Riatt.

Innes attended Whitman College in Washington State as a theater major, and moved to Los Angeles to start his career.  There, he met his partner, Jimmy Barron in 1978. Innes and Barron were together 14 years until Barron passed away from HIV/AIDS complications in 1992.

Innes performed mostly on and off Broadway in New York productions that included La Cage aux FollesMe and My GirlLegs Diamond and Meet Me in St. Louis, where he was also dance captain. He toured nationally with Dream Street as Charlie.

On television, he was a dancer on the TV show Fame and the made-for-TV movie The Mae West Story (1985). He was also a “Steve Merritt Dancer” and danced in several productions by choreographer Tony Stevens.

Innes’s last performance was just a few weeks before his death.  Innes wrote, produced, directed and choreographed Saturation, an autobiographical music and dance show performed as an AIDS benefit at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center, according to SFGATE.

The project Dancers We Lost: Honoring Performers Lost to HIV/AIDS includes a tribute to Innes.

October 28, 1995
San Diegan AIDS Activist James Thompson Dies

James “Jim” R. Thompson, a founding member of Being Alive San Diego, died of AIDS-related illness in San Diego at the age of 53.

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After testing positive to HIV in 1985, Thompson devoted the rest of his life to the battle against AIDS, according to the Bay Area Reporter.  In addition to being a founding member of Being Alive San Diego, he wrote an 80-page consumer guidebook listing the resources for HIV/AIDS services.

Born in San Diego in 1942, Thompson attended the University of California Berkeley and became involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements on campus.  He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and remained in San Francisco.

In 1984, he returned to San Diego to care for his ailing mother.  When he became HIV+ a year later, Thompson left his job at Bank of America to become staff coordinator of Being Alive’s Peer Advocacy Program.  Thompson was working at Being Alive in August 1995 when he suddenly collapsed and was unable to return to work.

Shortly before he died, Thompson was honored by the San Diego AIDS Coalition for his dedication and achievements in the services of people with HIV/AIDS.

Essex Hemphill
November 4, 1995
Poet & AIDS Activist Essex Hemphill Dies

Essex Hemphill, an openly gay poet and activist, dies of AIDS-related illness at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.  He was 38 years old.

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From 1981 till his death in 1995, Hemphill was a focal point of the Washington, DC arts scene, which was considered a second Harlem Renaissance.  He was one of the few writers to articulate what it meant to be both black and gay.

In 1976, Hemphill left the University of Maryland after his freshman year and spent the following four years in Los Angeles honing his art. When he returned to the District in 1981, his poetry was stronger, sharper, and more elegant and visceral, according Sarah Kaplan in The Washington Post.

He began staging performances of his poetry with artist Wayson Jones, who had been Hemphill’s roommate at U-Md.  Their readings soon graduated from cramped coffeehouses to small, alternative theaters, then to the Kennedy Center, then to New York and London.

In 1991, Hemphill received the Lambda Literary Award for editing the anthology Brother to Brother: New Writing by Black Gay Men, the continuation of a project started by Joseph Beam, who died in 1988.  Hemphill also received the National Library Association award in 1992 for his own collection of prose and poetry, Ceremonies.

The poems and essays in Ceremonies address the sexual objectification of black men in white culture, relationships among gay black men and non-gay black men, HIV/AIDS in the black community and the meaning of family. He also goes on to critique both the institutionalized patriarchy, and dominant gender identities within society.

Much of Hemphill’s poetry and spoken word was autobiographical, and portrayed his experiences as a minority in both the African-American and LGBT communities.  He wrote pieces such as “Family Jewels,” which conveyed his frustrations about white bigotry, specifically within the gay community.  In his essay “Does Your Momma Know About me?” Hemphill criticizes photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s The Black Book, which showcased pictures of the penises of black men and excluded the faces of his subjects.

Hemphill repeatedly invoked loneliness throughout his work. Loneliness in Hemphill’s work is a traumatic feeling, a constant sense of rejection. Many of the men returned home after being rejected by white gay communities, only to be rejected within black communities as well. In Hemphill’s poetry, he portrays loneliness as a collective feeling. He defined loneliness as a sense of being, marked by suffering without public recognition. A sense of separation from the public creates a social longing because even though the journey is lonesome, fighting against that journey not to kill you, as Hemphill said in one of his poems, makes you yearn for community and support

After Hemphill’s death, December 10, 1995 was announced by three organizations to be a National Day of Remembrance for Essex Hemphill at New York City’s Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center. Cheryl Dunye dedicated her 1996 film The Watermelon Woman to Hemphill.

In his essay “(Re)- Recalling Essex Hemphill” in Words to Our Now, Thomas Glave, pays tribute to Hemphill’s life, focusing on the lasting effects of his actions. Glave writes:

In this now, we celebrate your life and language Essex. So celebrating, we know that we re-call you in what is largely, to borrow from another visionary, a ‘giantless time.’ The sheer giantry of your breathing presence has passed. Now present and future warriors—ourselves and others—will be compelled to learn, as you did and made manifest, that all hauls toward truth—toward venality; ardor, not arrogance; forthrightness, not cowardice.

In 2014, Martin Duberman wrote the award-winning book, Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS, in which Duberman documents the life of Essex Hemphill, along with author and activist, Michael Callen.

In June 2019, Hemphill was one of the inaugural 50 American “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument in New York City’s Stonewall Inn.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

April 6, 1996
Dominican Actress-Activist Ilka Tanya Payán Dies

Ilka Tanya Payán, a Dominican-born actress and attorney who later became a prominent HIV/AIDS activist in the U.S., dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 53.

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Born in 1943 in Santo Domingo, Payán  immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 13 and became widely recognized for her role in the Spanish-language telenovela Angelica, Mi Vida.  From there, Payán moved on to roles in the film Scarface and the TV drama Hill Street Blues.  As an advocate of New York’s Latino theater community, she was a founder of the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA).

Payán studied law at Peoples College of Law in Los Angeles and became an attorney in 1981, practicing immigration law.  She also wrote a weekly column on immigration issues for El Diario/La Prensa, the largest Spanish-language daily in the U.S.  It was around this time she contracted HIV from a former lover, for which she did not test positive until 1986.

She still occassionally performed, such as her 1991 role in the video Sesame Street Home Video Visits the Firehouse as Delores, a kindly neighbor who offers Marge and Mr. Monster a place to stay while their house is repaired.

Payán did not publicly disclose her status until October 1993.  Payán’s announcement shocked many in the Hispanic community because she was one of the first Latino celebrities to disclose their HIV-positive status.

“I’m not Magic Johnson or Arthur Ashe,” Payán said at her 1993 press conference to announce her HIV status. “As a public person, I won’t devote myself to being an official spokesperson in the struggle for dignity for people with H.I.V. or AIDS.”

However, Payán scrapped this plan and quickly became “the new darling of AIDS conferences and events,” according to The New York Times.  In December 1993, she was a keynote speaker for a United Nations forum on World AIDS Day.

As a spokeswoman for the battle against AIDS, Payán made numerous public appearances and was widely interviewed by Spanish-language news organizations.  She also received numerous awards for her work, among them a Medal of Honor presented to her by President Joaquin Balaguer of the Dominican Republic.

Around March 1994, Payán had her first opportunistic infection, and subsequently underwent rounds of PCP (Pneumocystis pneumonia), MAC (Mycobacterium avium complex) and streptococcal pneumonia.  Within two years, she was hospitalized for three long stays.

”I remind myself that I am still me,“ Payán told POZ magazine in August 1995. ”Besides, think of all the clothes I can fit into now.”

In the 1990s, Payán worked in the legal department for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), a non-profit, community-based HIV/AIDS organization.

“Agencies like GMHC came out of white, gay, middle-class activism, because those are the people who know how to function in the system,” Payán said in her POZ interview.  “And there’s nothing wrong with that.  If this had been a disease which started with women, nothing would have been done.”

Payán died from AIDS-related complications at her Hell’s Kitchen home on April 6, 1996.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Connie Norman
July 15, 1996
Connie Norman, AIDS Activist and Trans Icon, Dies

Connie Norman, a trans activist known in the community as “the AIDS Diva,” dies of HIV-related illness at the Chris Brownlie Hospice in Los Angeles at the age of 47.

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Connie Norman became nationally known through her AIDS activism.  As the host of an LGBT-focused radio talk show on station XEK-AM (950), she was fierce in her criticism of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations for their lack of HIV support in the ’80s and early ’90s.  She also brought a unique and often-overlooked perspective to meetings of the Los Angeles chapter of ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.

Norman often spoke about her rough childhood.  In her teen years, she identified as gay, and left home to live on the streets of Hollywood, where she became addicted to drugs. In 1976, after therapy and becoming drug-free, she underwent M-to-F transition surgery.

“I found out that I am HIV positive in 1987,” she wrote in POZ magazine in 1995.  “The first drug I took was AL-721 — yes, the rotten egg thing. It was dreadful, like having to eat vomit every morning. I stayed on it for a couple of months. Then, as information started coming out that there ain’t nothing there, well, I was very happy to quit AL-721.”

Norman said that she and her husband, who also was living with HIV, “tried all the treatment du jour as they came up, especially anything alternative or holistic.”

She began attending the “Hay Rides,” a Wednesday night gathering held in a West Hollywood auditorium for people living with AIDS, their friends, partners, relatives and anyone else interested in attending.  The events were coordinated by Louise Hay, a metaphysical counselor who became famous in March 1988 after she promoted her book You Can Heal Your Life on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Phil Donahue Show.  The weekly Hay Rides were often described as joyful and filled with deep meaning for the hundreds of participants.

Norman’s activism often focused on the need to reform AIDS funding formulas that the federal government issued.  She also fought for HIV testing to be made part of routine medical visits, and for government and healthcare personnel to treat people living with HIV more humanely, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In the documentary AIDS Diva: The Legend of Connie Norman, the activist is seen linking arms with other ACT UP members in front of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, demanding that they address the epidemic. “We will not be silenced!” they shout while police move to arrest them one by one.

In October 1991, she helped to coordinate a rally and march in Sacramento to protest Governor Pete Wilson’s veto of Assembly Bill 101, legislation that would have added sexual orientation to the list of categories — such as race, sex, age, physical handicap and marital status — protected under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.  All day, demonstrators marched under the hot afternoon sun through downtown Sacramento chanting, “Wilson is a liar!” In the evening, the protest turned somber with a candlelight vigil.

Norman also worked with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) to campaign for services needed for people living with HIV.

“Connie Norman … was a prescient and powerful voice in the community,” Michael Weinstein, president and co-founder of AHF, told the LA Times. “Her outspokenness frequently made people uncomfortable, but she said things that needed to be said. Her efforts on behalf of gay and lesbian youth, the transgendered community, and people living with HIV and AIDS were extraordinary.”

In addition to her Monday-through-Friday radio show, Norman co-hosted a weekly show on cable television, wrote two columns (“Tribal Writes for San Diego LGBT newspaper Update and “Notes on Life” for Stonewall Speaks).  She also appeared in the film Wrecked for Life and performed on stage in An Evening with Connie Norman at Highways Theater in Santa Monica.

When Norman’s health began to decline in early 1996, she looked to her friend Valerie Spencer to continue her work.

“She knew she was dying — she was mindful of that,” Spencer, a Black woman who identifies as trans feminine, told The Body in 2019. “She wanted me to take care of our trans sisters. I was so young, I had no idea what that would entail, but she set me up to deliver this agenda. Even though she knew she was fighting time, she planned accordingly.”

About a year before Norman died, she wrote the following in POZ magazine:

“I live a day at a time. I can’t project into the future, because the future is frightening. And I can’t go by where I’ve been with my health, because I’m never going to be there again. My CD4 cells aren’t going to climb back to 500. You just have to be here now with your disease and deal with it that day for whatever the disease is that day. So my best health plan is doing what I want to do and having a rich, full and active life. That’s the single most important thing a person with AIDS can do for themselves — just get out there and live.”

Norman died at an AIDS hospice facility that just a few years before, she had fought to get funded.

Three months later, on October 13, 1996, David Reid marched with three hundred AIDS activists from the Capitol Building to the White House lawn, where he scattered Norman’s ashes in a protest action called “Ashes Actions.”

“The government had ignored their funerals,” Reid told VICE, speaking of the more than 49,000 people who died of AIDS to date.  “If you won’t come to the funeral, we’ll bring the funeral to you.”

* * * * *

Photo courtesy of Dante Alencastre, director of AIDS Diva: The Legend of Connie Norman” 

August 3, 1996
Dance Festival Launched on Fire Island to Raise Money

Under the leadership of Hernando Cortez, the organization Dancers Responding to AIDS starts holding the dance festival “Dancers from the Heart,” which would become an annual event to raise funds for the AIDS cause.

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Until then, Dancers Responding to AIDS (DRA) had been producing its benefit performances in various places along the East Coast, including Saratoga Springs, SUNY Purchase, Martha’s Vineyard, and Washington DC, according to the Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society.

Hernando Cortez and Denise Roberts Hurlin, both dancers with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, founded DRA in 1991, because members of the dance community did not have an AIDS service organization like the music and entertainment (LifeBeat) and design (DIFFA) industries did.  Once established, not only did DRA provide direct financial assistance and other services to all dance professionals with HIV/AIDS, but they extended its services to dance companies’ adminstrative personnel, stage crew members and domestic partners with HIV or AIDS.

At the 1991 NYC Pride Parade, Cortez met Rodger McFarlane, executive director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.  McFarlane presuaded Cortez to move DRA under the umbrella of BC/EFA, and the association has been a mutually productive one over the years.

By 1995, Cortez had been frequenting the Pines for years and saw the location a potentially good one for a DRA benefit.  Jack Schlegel agreed and offered to co-produce an event at The Pines.  The first festival raised almost $8,000, and it continues as an annual event today.

Born in Manila, Philippines, Cortez spent his early years in British Columbia, where he began his dance training at Vancouver’s Pacific Ballet Theatre and then graduated from Purchase College Conservatory of Dance in 1985. He was invited to join the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1987.

Cortez was featured in two PBS “Dance in America” specials, and his own choreography was showcased in the Taylor Company’s critically acclaimed hit Funny Papers. He performed with Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project in their 1998 national tour. As a choreographer, Cortez has created dances for the American Ballet Theatre, the Williamstown Theater Festival, and the Sands Hotel in Atlantic City.

James Sakakura
August 12, 1996
LA AIDS Activist & APAIT Leader James Sakakura Dies

James Sakakura, one of the most visible HIV-positive Asian Americans in the U.S., dies of AIDS-related illness in Los Angeles at the age of 37.

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Sakakura’s death shook the activist world in LA, according to Eric Wat, author of Love Your Asian Body: AIDS Activism in Los Angeles, the first book exploring the history of Asian American HIV/AIDS activism.  Wat dedicated his book to Sakakura and devoted an entire chapter to Sakakura’s story.

In a small community that had experienced thousands of AIDS-related deaths in more than 15 years, the loss of Sakakura was significant in that it had a great impact on many people.

“His death was probably the hardest on the Asian American AIDS movement in LA,” Wat wrote.  “As much as I talk about joy and resilience in movement building, grief is real. Grief is what makes the other two both necessary and possible.”

Sakakura was brazenly open about his sexuality, HIV status, and struggles with drug addiction and reckless behavior.  He often wore a cap emblazoned with “PWA” (“Person With AIDS”) stitched on one side, and “JAP” on the other.

He became widely known as someone who embodied the idea that someone with HIV could have an optimistic outlook on life, even though treatments at the time were largely unsuccessful.  His attitude also flew in the face of the stereotype of Asian-descended peoples as “immune” to HIV because they “lived clean lifestyles.”

So strong was his positive attitude, he was frequently sought out by clients of the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team (now known as Access to Prevention Advocacy Intervention & Treatment), where he worked on the outreach team.  His younger co-workers at APAIT saw him as a role model and many became close friends.  Joël Tran was one of them.

“[Sakakura] always told me to keep laughing, keep cooking, keep doing my thing,” Tran told Wat in an interview for Love Your Asian Body.  “There were others I buried.  He’s just the one that I’ve had the hardest time letting go of … I didn’t know how to process it.”

Another young APAIT staffer was novelist Noël Alumit, who wrote the following about Sakakura for Frontiers in 2011:  “My standard of beauty at the time was some white guy.  Seeing James, a well-built Asian man with a bald head and full lips, made my head spin. He challenged my concept of beauty.”

Born in 1958, Sakakura and his three siblings were raised in Orange County by hard-working parents.  He enrolled at the University of California – Irvine with plans to pursue a pre-med program, but dropped out in the early 1980s after being pulled into the Los Angeles nightclub scene.  He began a pattern of immersing himself in a drug-and-sex lifestyle, interspersed with moments of clarity and recovery, according to Wat.

Sakakura became infected with the virus, and his health began to decline in the early 1990s to the point where he had to be admitted to the San Pedro Peninsula Hospital for care.  Medical personnel there advised him to reach out to family and close friends and start building a support system he could lean on in the years to come.

His mother, Patricia, began to devote her time to his care, driving him to medical appointments and helping with errands.  When they realized there were no HIV resources in the local Japanese American community, Sakakura found APAIT and became a client.

As Sakakura’s health stabilized, he joined APAIT’s team as an outreach worker.  He also became more open about his HIV diagnosis and his path of addiction recovery.  Soon, Sakakura became “the face of AIDS” in the LA Asian community, according to Wat.

Sakakura accepted an invitation to speak at an AIDS Day event in Tokyo, and when he returned to the U.S., he was more enthusiastic than ever about AIDS advocacy.  Dean Goishi, APAIT’s Founding Executive Director, remembers Sakakura as an important member of the team.

“[He] was excellent, from the very start,” Goishi told Wat.  “He was empathetic, he was always there, he did his outreach without complaining.  He tried to exhibit the example of someone who could live with the virus and be healthy and not dwell on the negative side of things.”

Days before he passed, Sakakura told his friend Joel Tan, “This darkness is not your life.”

In 1997, when APAIT moved to a new location, Goishi announced that the gathering space where APAIT conducted HIV support groups would henceforth be known as the James Sakakura Family Room.

AIDS Quilt in Washington DC 1
October 1996
AIDS Quilt Covers National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is displayed in its entirety for the last time; it covers the entire National Mall in Washington, D.C.

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An estimated 1.2 million people come to view it, among them President Bill Clinton, First Lady Hillary Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Second Lady Tipper Gore.

In a 2005 interview with Frontline, Bill Clinton talked about walking on the Mall to view the quilt.

“We walked back and forth to see all the squares, and we were looking for people that we knew,” Clinton said.  “It was a personally emotional thing, seeing the love and devotion that those sections of the quilt represented for all those people who died prematurely, and knowing that now, with medicine, they didn’t have to die anymore, if we did the right things. It was a very emotional day.”

The Quilt was first displayed on the National Mall on Oct. 11, 1987, during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.  At that time, it consisted of 1,920 panels and covered a space roughly the size of a football field.

Today, the Quilt has grown too large to be displayed all at once on the National Mall.  It is an epic 54-ton tapestry that includes nearly 50,000 panels dedicated to more than 105,000 individuals.  It is the premiere symbol of the AIDS pandemic, a living memorial to a generation lost to AIDS and an important HIV prevention education tool.

Each year, the National AIDS Memorial works with hundreds of partners across the country to orchestrate more than 1,000 displays in schools, universities, places of worship, corporations and community centers. On World AIDS Day, December 1st, more than half of the Quilt goes on display around the nation.

New panels are still being made.

[photo by Sue Scheibler, West Hollywood activist]

Duke Comegys
February 1, 1997
Los Angeles Activist Duke Comegys Dies

Duke Comegys — an activist who helped raise considerable funds for AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center (now known as the Los Angeles LGBT Center) and many other LGBTQ+ organizations and causes — dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 55.

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Comegys’ skill as a national fund-raiser for AIDS and progressive causes was “matched only by his own generosity as a contributor,” Lorri L. Jean, then executive director of the LA LGBT Center, told the Los Angeles Times.

Comegys helped create the Center’s Philip Mandelker Clinic, forerunner of the current Jeffrey Goodman Special Care Clinic, and he served as co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign.

Comegys, who was born in Texas, graduated from the University of Texas, Columbia and Harvard Law School.  Along with judges Rand Schrader and Steve Lachs, University of California Regent Sheldon Andelson, and West Hollywood Councilmember Steve Schulte, Comegys was considered one of the most influential voices in the LA community.

“Luncheon invitation’s to the Hollywood Hills home of Duke Comegys were coveted, and Comegys would alternate social invitations with fundraisers, so his contributors felt they were getting their money’s worth,” wrote Dudley Clendinen and Adam Nagourney in their book Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America (2013).  “His parties … were certain to boast good food, a stocked bar, and handsome men by the pool.”

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

July 1, 1997
Mark Harrington of TAG & ACT UP Receives ‘Genius Grant’

Mark Harrington, the 38-year-old executive director of the Treatment Action Group (TAG), is named a 1997 recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, becoming the first AIDS activist to receive the “Genius Grant.”

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Harrington was awarded the $240,000 grant in recognition of 10 years’ service to the AIDS community, specifically for his work with TAG in overhauling the U.S. government’s AIDS research program.

“It’s a weird year to have gotten this award,” Harrington told POZ magazine.  “I’d had the sense, after Vancouver and all the hype about the protease inhibitors, that the national media think AIDS is over. This award is recognition that it’s not.”

In his POZ interview, Harrington said he tested positive for HIV in 1990 while living in New York and already two years into his work with ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).  In the activist community, Harrington was known for his uncanny grasp of medical information and for writing a series of white papers on topics ranging from the failings of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to problems with various HIV treatments.  He also wrote three editions of ACT UP’s National AIDS Treatment Research Agenda, according to TAG.

In January 1992, Harrington and 20 other members of the Treatment and Data Committee of ACT UP left the parent group to create TAG, a stand-alone nonprofit organization focused on accelerating treatment research.  Harrington became the group’s policy director.

That year, Harrington spoke before an audience of 25,000 at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, and described a new path for AIDS research and AIDS activism, characterized by cooperation rather than antagonism.

During his speech, he gave a call to action to people with HIV/AIDS to take part in clinical research.  And then, in a show of putting his words into action, he exhibited a slide show of HIV-infected cells taken from his own lymph nodes. In this way, many in the audience found out Harrington was HIV positive.

Also in 1992, Harrington coauthored with Gregg Gonsalves a groundbreaking report, AIDS Research at the NIH: A Critical Review, which led to critical restructuring of the AIDS research effort at the National Institutes of Health, then led by Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.

Throughout the ’90s, TAG worked with government scientists, drug company researchers, and FDA officials to expedite the development of new HIV treatment.  Following U.S. governmental approval of several effective antiretroviral drugs in 1995, TAG pressured federal agencies and pharmaceutical companies to conduct research to understand the long-term effects of the new drugs.

The academic community’s recognition of Harrington was not celebrated by everyone in the world of HIV/AIDS activism.  Some of Harrington’s former ACT UP colleagues, including Larry Kramer and George Carter, expressed disappointment in Harrington’s work with TAG and considered it colluding with “the enemy.”

However, many other activists agreed that Harrington was a force for the overall good of the community and that he was very effective at expanding HIV treatment options by working in cooperation with government officials.

In 2002, Harrington would expand his activism to include campaigning to raise awareness of the spread of tuberculosis (TB), a neglected disease with far fewer advocates.

In 2007, Harrington would receive a four-year, $4.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to train AIDS activists on the issues surrounding TB and to coordinate outreach with African activist groups, according to Nature Medicine magazine.

Harrington’s activism would be featured in the Academy Award–nominated documentary film How to Survive a Plague (2012). He would go on to co-author many articles for scientific journals, including “From HIV to Tuberculosis and Back Again: A Tale of Activism in 2 Pandemics” (Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2010); “Time for Zero Deaths from Tuberculosis” (Lancet, 2011); and “MSM, AIDS Research Activism, and HAART” (Lancet, 2012).

In 2018, his colleague Gregg Gonsalves would be named as a MacArthur Fellow and  become the second HIV/AIDS activist to receive the “Genius Grant.”

Red Dress Day
July 19, 1997
Red Dress Party Held at Gold Coast in WeHo

The inaugural Red Dress Party, which has inspired many gay men to don fiery frocks for the day, is held at the Gold Coast bar.  The event is a fitting tribute to a beloved bartender who died of AIDS-related illness.

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Mark Ferguson and Yves-Claude became close friends as they tended bar at the Gold Coast, the gay bar once located just east of West Hollywood City Hall.  As reported by Hank Scott in WeHoville, both were struggling to maintain their health as HIV-related illnesses routinely sent each to the hospital.

Sharing a dark sense of humor, Ferguson and Claude made a pact: When one of them died, the other would show up at the memorial service in a red dress.  This was during a time when effective treatment for AIDS and HIV was just starting to surface, but sadly these developments didn’t reach many in time.

Ferguson was the first to die, and his memorial was held before Claude could return home from a trip. But Claude was determined to make good on his promise.  With the blessing of Gold Coast’s owner, Bob Hastings, Claude threw a party to celebrate Ferguson’s life and asked all attendees to pay tribute to the late bartender by wearing a red dress.

“The bar was a sea of red,” Hastings later told WeHoville.

“That Ferguson would suggest showing up at a friend’s funeral in a red dress was no surprise to those who knew him,” former WeHoville editor Hank Scott wrote. “Known for his support of other people living with HIV, he visited them at the hospital dressed in drag as a nurse.”

The Red Dress Party was so popular (and successful in raising money for area organizations serving the needs of HIV-positive people), it became an annual event.  Sadly, Claude also died a few years later of AIDS-related illness.  But his Red Dress Party for his friend became an annual tribute to all those in the community who died of AIDS, according to WeHo Times.

What’s more, Red Dress fundraisers began springing up far and wide, from nearby San Diego and Sacramento to far-reaching cities like Seattle, Chicago and Toronto.  In 2008, the Red Dress Party in Portland was notably attended by Chelsea Clinton, the former “First Daughter” who was preparing to write her doctoral dissertation on global efforts to tackle the AIDS pandemic.

Meanwhile, in West Hollywood, the Gold Coast would host the event every July for 23 years.  The event even became a book — Drag Queen for a Day (2017) by Paul Joseph Hamel, who took photos of the Red Dress Party from 2003 to 2013.  Then another pandemic struck —  COVID-19 — and the bar closed.

In 2021, as bars and restaurants were permitted to re-open, the Gold Coast remained shuttered and was put up for sale.  Trunks Bar and Micky’s WeHo took up the red-hued mantle and jointly brought the Red Dress Party back to West Hollywood on November 14, 2021.

The next year, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence of Los Angeles assumed the role of event organizer and took the event to the next level, receiving financial and promotional support from the City of West Hollywood.  With the The Sisters at the helm, the event is now held in the fall at various businesses in West Hollywood’s Rainbow District and continues to raise money for people living with HIV.

AIDS Quilt - Fela Kuti
August 2, 1997
Afrobeat Star & Activist Fela Kuti Dies

Musician and activist Fela Kuti, a pioneer of Afrobeat music who was repeatedly arrested and beaten for writing lyrics that questioned the Nigerian government, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 58.

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Kuti was meant to be a doctor, an upstanding member of Nigeria’s elite like his parents, according to The Guardian.  At age 20, he studied pre-med in England, where his first cousin, playwright Wole Soyinka, was already making a name for himself.

“Instead, Fela Ransome-Kuti became infamous, an outlaw musician who declared himself president of his own ‘Kalakuta Republic,’ a sprawling compound in the suburbs of Lagos that housed his recording studio and offered sanctuary to the dispossessed,” writes Neil Spencer of The Guardian.

Rebelling against oppressive regimes through his music would come with a heavy cost for Kuti. Over his lifetime, he would be arrested 200 times and endure numerous beatings from government officials.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Kuti’s subversive song lyrics established him as political dissident, resulting in Afrobeat to be associated with making political, social and cultural statements about greed and corruption. One of Kuti’s most popular songs, “Zombie,” questions Nigerian soldiers’ blind obedience to carrying out orders.  Another, “V.I.P. (Vagabonds in Power),” seeks to empower the disenfranchised masses to rise up against the government.

At his club, the Shrine, his band played until dawn while dozens of singers and dancers writhed and glittered amid drifts of igbo smoke. Here, Nigeria’s corrupt dictators were denounced and ancient Yoruban deities honoured, all to a relentless backdrop of the “Afrobeat” that Fela had distilled from the musical collision of Africa and black America.

At his death from AIDS-related illiness in Lagos, Nigeria, Fela would leave behind seven children, 50-odd albums and a musical legacy that has been kept alive by his sons and former drummer, Tony Allen

Roughly 1 million people would attend his funeral procession, which began at Tafawa Balewa Square and ended at Kuti’s home, Kalakuta, in Ikeja, Nigeria, where he is laid to rest in the front yard.  Belatedly, Afrobeat would become a cause célèbre among young European and American music fans.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

July 18, 1998
Thomas Steel, Bay Area Civil Rights Lawyer, Dies

Thomas Steel, a San Francisco lawyer who champtioned free speech, freedom of religion, LGBT rights, and the civil rights of minorities, dies at a San Francisco hospital of AIDS-related complications.  He was 48 years old.

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One of the first of Steel’s cases to be followed widely was his 1978 defense of Huey P. Newton, a leader of the Black Panthers, on assault charges in Alameda County, according to The New York Times.  In his cross-examination of a key witness, Steel was able to get the witness to admit that he didn’t know who was responsible for the assault.  Newton was acquitted.

In perhaps Steel’s most celebrated case, he won a $920,000 settlement for a Vietnam War veteran who was nearly killed by a U.S. Navy munitions train while he sat on the tracks to nonviolently blockade a weapons shipment to El Salvador.  The man, whose legs were severed in the incident, used the settlement money from the federal government to be fitted with artificial limbs.

Steel was known for taking on unpopular causes and controversial cases.  He successfully sued the City of San Francisco in several police brutality cases.  Even his opponents couldn’t help but admire him.

San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne said, “He was always for the underdog. He fought very hard for his clients. He was an excellent attorney who cared very much about people and civil rights.”

Senator Barbara Boxer from California said, “He devoted much of his life to fighting for the disadvantaged, and he will be sorely missed.”

Steel grew up on a peach ranch north of Sacramento.  Both his grandfather and father were County Superior Court judges.  According to the San Francisco Examiner, his father would conduct mock court at the dinner table, using forks and knives to map property lines, and challenging his children to determine fair resolutions to cases.

In 1975, Steel earned his law degree from Hastings College of the Law, where he joined the National Lawyers Guild, a progressive attorneys’ group, and formed the Gay Caucus, the guild’s first LGBT committee. He later helped found the nation’s first gay and lesbian bar association, the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom.

After opening his own firm, Steel he agreed to represent the Mitchell Brothers and other adult entertainment businesses against the City of San Francisco’s efforts to curtail them, successfully arguing for the business owners’ First Amendement rights.

In 1979, Steel pushed the San Francisco district attorney to prosecute and convict a police officer for battery after he and several drunken friends invaded a local lesbian bar.  He then sued the city over the incident on behalf of the injured patrons, which at the time was unusual.

In the last few years of his life, Steel continued to fight for the rights of others.  In 1995, he helped the city’s Board of Supervisors craft Proposition G, which fortified the rights and purview of the Office of Citizen Complaints and its investigations of reports of police misconduct. He also brought suits over the course of 15 years under the federal Freedom of Information Act on behalf of journalists and others seeking FBI records.

In 1996, Steel won a federal appeals court ruling that the City of San Francisco’s ownership and display atop a hill of the 103-foot Mount Davidson cross violated the constitutional separation of church and state. A lower judge permitted the cross to stay, saying it was mainly historical, not religious, and it was often shrouded by fog. The appeals court reversed his decision, saying, “Constitutional guarantees should not depend on weather, especially in San Francisco.”

The Pride Law Fund has named its most prestigious fellowship award after the late civil rights icon.  The Tom Steel Post-Graduate Fellowship provides a $30,000 award for a new lawyer to work in the U.S. on an innovative, public interest law project that serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

denise stokes
October 28, 1998
HIV+ Presidential Advisor Speaks at White House

Denise Stokes, a 29-year-old advisor to President Bill Clinton and a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, spoke at the White House announcement of a new initiative to address AIDS in racial and ethnic minority communities.

Learn More.

Here is the speech that Stokes delivered at the event:

“When we talk about AIDS, we talk a lot about numbers. Numbers that can be overwhelming or intimidating. But we need to look more closely at the numbers … until we begin to see the real lives they represent.

“Today, I’d like to share a few personal numbers with you. The first numbers are 13 and 16. I was infected with HIV at 13 and diagnosed at 16. While my peers were planning their futures, I was being harshly told that I would not live to see 21. That was the year I realized some children die before they have a chance live.

“The next number is 3. That’s how many years it took for me to get the information I needed to combat my disease. I didn’t learn that HIV was a sexually transmitted disease until I was almost 20. No one in my community was willing to talk to someone else’s child about sex – or about AIDS. I suffered greatly with a severe case of unanswered questions. Many youth today are being tragically diagnosed in the prime of their lives because we are too timid to talk candidly about AIDS. We are too afraid to keep our children alive long enough to make healthier choices.

“13. That’s how many pills I take each day to help sustain my health. Pills that are not easy to take and that leave me feeling nauseated and tired. But they are all I have right now – and they keep me alive, I am happy to have them. But they are pills that are not easy to come by. Many of my peers have no access to the latest medicines. Therefore, they have no access to the hope experienced by many – with each new improvement. They sit by and watch people live longer, healthier lives while they still suffer with preventable infections.

“5. That’s how many hours I sat on a hospital curb in my own urine while trying to get treatment for an allergy to an AIDS medicine. 5 hours of suffering when I was only a hundred feet from the source that could alleviate the fierce itching and burning was ravaging my swollen body. But no one had the time to help me. It wasn’t in anyone’s job description to escort a patient to the pharmacy. Especially an undesirable looking patient like I was that day. I experienced the same indifference that many people in my community experience when seeking care. We are not able to walk into hospitals waving insurance cards or cash. We are not able access the good, quality healthcare that all human beings deserve. While we muster the strength and courage to take an active role in our care, we are being stripped of our dignity by the system that’s supposed to help us.

– Look into the eyes of one person being diagnosed with HIV for the 1st time.
– Tell a homeless young man with HIV that he has to wait one more year to get housing because the resources are not yet available.
– Tell one young woman that you can’t fill her prescription for the medicine that will give her life – because she has no money.
– Tell one child this his mother won’t be coming home anymore because she died today of AIDS related complications.

“Do any one of these things and you will understand what this 156 million dollars means to black and other minority communities. This initiative is important because the moneys allocated and the commitments made here today will positively impact communities in dire need of support services. And just maybe, not one more of these travesties will occur on my home-front.

The last number I want to share with you today is Zero. I demand that we be liable until there are no new infections. That we do what’s necessary to save lives and not what’s popular. Until there are no more people desperately seeking care only to find the doors closed. Until there are no more people suffering with AIDS, we have to stay committed. Just as committed as the President, The Vice President and The Congressional Black Caucus. Just as committed as Sandra Thurman, Secretary Shalala, Dr. Satcher, The Advisory Council on AIDS and many others who worked tirelessly on this important issue.

“Zero is our goal. Because no more can we sit idly by and watch AIDS consume minority communities. We must maintain the momentum that we have gained today – because HIV is maintaining its momentum.

“No more addicts needlessly infected with one disease simply because they have another one. Addicts should have the services AND the tools they need for effective prevention.

No more lives thrown carelessly aside
No more memorial services
No more screaming mothers
No more broken spirits … or broken hearts.
No more disparity in minority communities.
No – more – AIDS.

November 30, 1998
Simon Tseko Nkoli, South African Activist, Dies

Simon Tseko Nkoli — whose activism extended to the anti-apartheid, gay rights and AIDS awareness movements — dies of HIV-related illness in Johannesburg at the age of 41.

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“His enduring legacy is that he brought black people and the tenets of liberation ideology into the gay SA subculture, thus providing a pre-emptive strike against the ‘Homosexuality is Un-African’ arguments of people like Robert Mugabe, and paving the way for the ANC’s understanding of gay equality as a human rights issue,” wrote Mark Gevisser for the South Africa Sunday Times.

Born in Soweto, Nkoli became a youth activist against apartheid, joining the Congress of South African Students and the United Democratic Front.

After joining the Gay Association of South Africa in 1983, Nkoli became disenchanted with the mostly white membership when he found scant support for anti-apartheid activism.

Nkoli spoke at rallies in support of rent-boycotts in the Vaal townships, and in 1984 was arrested and faced the death penalty for treason with 21 other political leaders in the Delmas Treason Trial.  While under arrest, he came out publicly and, by doing so, helped raise awareness of the fight for gay rights. He was acquitted and released from prison in 1988.

He founded the Gay and Lesbian Organization of the Witwatersrand (GLOW) in 1988. GLOW was both a reaction to GASA’s white apolitical standpoint and a way Nkoli could combine both sides of his activism, according to South African History Online. With LGBT activist Beverley Palesa Ditsie, he organized the first Pride parade in South Africa held in 1990. 

Nkoli was one of the first gay activists to meet with President Nelson Mandela in 1994. He campaigned for the inclusion of discrimination protections in the 1994 South African constitution’s Bill of Rights.

In 1996, Nkoli was presented with the Stonewall Award in the Royal Albert Hall in London.

After becoming one of the first publicly HIV-positive African gay men, he founded the Positive African Men group in Johannesburg.

In the last year of his life, he campaigned to repeal South Africa’s sodomy law, which was successfully abolished in May 1998.

In a memoir published in Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa, Nkoli  wrote: “If you are black in South Africa, the inhuman laws of apartheid closet you.  If you are gay in South Africa, the homophobic customs and laws of this society closet you.  If you are black and gay in South Africa, well, then it really is all the same closet, the same wardrobe.  Inside is darkness and oppression.  Outside is freedom.  It is as simple as that.”

At his funeral, Nkoli’s coffin was draped with the Pride Flag, a symbol of his unique struggle and incredible perseverance.

Canadian filmmaker John Greyson made a short film about Nkoli titled A Moffie Called Simon in 1987.  Nkoli was also the subject of Robert Colman’s 2003 play, Your Loving Simon, and Beverley Ditsie’s 2002 film Simon & I.  John Greyson’s 2009 film Fig Trees, a hybrid documentary/opera includes reference to Nkoli’s activism.

December 17, 1998
Gugu Dlamini Killed by Neighbors in South Africa

After speaking about her HIV-positive status on Zulu-language radio and television, activist Gugu Dlamini is stoned and stabbed to death by men in her South African community.

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Dlamini, a volunteer for a local HIV/AIDS organization, disclosed her HIV-positive to raise awareness about the prevalence of the disease in her community in an attempt to curtail its spread.  She lived in KwaZulu-Natal (now known as Ntuzuma B), a province just outside the city of Durham, South Africa that at the time had the highest incidence of HIV infection (30% of adult residents).

After Dlamini announced her HIV status in the media, neighbors threatened her and told her to stop disparaging their community.  A week before she was murdered, Dlamini was physically attacked by a local man who ordered her to “keep quiet” about her illness.

According to a report in a local newspaper, Dlamini reported the assault to police, but they did not respond.  Shortly afterward, a group of men broke into her house and beat her in front of her 12-year-old daughter.  She died the next day.

News of Dlamini’s death brought worldwide attention to the level of stigma in South Africa and the world in general for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Twelve years later, Dlamini’s daughter, Mandisa Dlamini, founded the Gugu Dlamini Foundation to maintain the fight against HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence.  Mandisa Dlamini also returned to KwaZulu-Natal and turned the house where her mother was murdered into an AIDS museum where “women and girls stigmatized and discriminated can find sense of belonging. “

John Thomas of Dallas
January 20, 1999
Victory Fund Co-Founder John Thomas Dies

John Thomas, the founding executive director of the Resource Center of Dallas and later a founder of the Victory Fund, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 51.

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As a founding board member of the Victory Fund, John Thomas helped to create in 1991 what would become one of the most powerful and influential LGBTQ organizations in the country.  Through its efforts to develop grassroots support of LGBTQ candidates running for public office, the Victory Fund raises money for political campaigns.

Thomas emerged in the late 1970s as an important member of the Dallas LGBTQ community when, as an openly gay man, he was hired as vice president of human resources at the Dallas Times Herald.  Thomas also was head of the membership committee for the Dallas Gay Alliance (later known as the Dallas Gay & Lesbian Alliance).

“John’s magnetism was a tour de force.  He could enter any room, gathering, or event and be immediately recognized and admired,” said William Weybourn, a 20-year friend who followed Thomas into a life of activism.

Thomas convinced Weybourn to join the Dallas Gay Alliance, which soon expanded from being a purely political organization to a service agency.  As the AIDS epidemic hit the Dallas community, the DGA created a food bank, health clinic, and legal hospice to help with last-minute wills.

“The various committees of the DGA were like tentacles that reached out into the community, organized events, and held fundraisers,” Weybourn recalled in a 2021 article for the Dallas Voice.

After Thomas’ death, Weybourn was provided with Thomas’ journals, and he shared the following passage Thomas wrote on January 19, 1985:

“1984 – the year AIDS seriously hit Dallas. I began to scan the death notices in the newspaper. The severity and desolation is matched only by the apathy and fatalism within our community and the minimal, nominal concern and resources from the government.”

With the AIDS crisis escalating, Thomas left his corporate job to become executive director of the newly formed Foundation for Human Understanding and its AIDS Resource Center.  Meanwhile, Weybourn became president of the Dallas Gay/Lesbian Alliance.

“John’s leadership in those early days was instrumental in creating one of the nation’s largest community-based organizations and, along with others, helped lead our response to AIDS,” Weybourn wrote in 2020 for The Dallas Way.  “There are no words to describe the devastation [AIDS] imposed on our community, friends, and families, but John’s ‘hugs’ always seemed to provide much needed solace.”

The AIDS Resource Center’s future was threatened on February 23, 1989, when a 26-year-old man set fire to the building, resulting in the near-complete destruction of the center and adjacent businesses.  But Thomas made sure the organization continued to deliver food and services to clients in spite of the loss of the center, and then he immediately spearheaded the fundraising and construction of a new center, according to Weybourn.

Just a few weeks later, Thomas appealed to the Dallas City Council for help, saying, “I am here speaking on behalf of my best friend, Mike Hearn, who died on January 4, 1986. Do not allow AIDS to be dehumanized by mere numbers or statistics. People with AIDS have names and faces and jobs and families.”

The AIDS Resource Center would eventually become known as the Resource Center, and today continues to provide programs of interest to LGBTQIA+ community members and critical assistance to people living with HIV and AIDS.

When Weybourn moved to Washington, DC in 1991 to head the newly founded Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, Thomas remained in Dallas to oversee the AIDS Resource Center but served as a Board Member of the new organization.

In 1992, Thomas was one of the plaintiffs in Texas vs. Morales, in which the Court of Appeals of Texas held that a state statute criminalizing private sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex was unconstitutional.  This pivotal ruling declared Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code invalid under the Texas State Constitution.

Meanwhile, the Victory Fund was becoming known as a political powerhouse in the U.S.  Among the earliest beneficiaries of the organization’s support was Tammy Baldwin, who in 1992 won a seat in the Wisconsin State House of Representatives.  In 1994, the Victory Fund endorsed candidate Sheila James Kuehl and helped her become the first openly LGBTQ person in the California state legislature, according to the organization’s website.

In an April 1995 speech, Thomas said, “What I say to myself and to you: Take control of your own life and make a difference for others with integrity and dignity.  Stop hiding and lying, and start being responsible for your own life and world.  My symbols are rainbows and butterflies, as they represent hope and transformation.”

In the late 1990s, Thomas called Weybourn to tell him that he had tested positive for HIV.

“His fear that day was not about himself, but how it would look in the media for the head of the AIDS Resource Center, a leading advocate for AIDS prevention, to become HIV positive,” Weybourn wrote in 2021.

According to Weybourn, Thomas had contracted a particularly virulent strain of HIV and, by 1998, was very sick.  The latest treatment, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), was proving to not be effective for him.

“I flew to Dallas almost every weekend, relieving caretakers and friends,” Weybourn recalled.  “Some weekends, when he felt like it, we would go to a nearby movie theater — it didn’t matter what was playing. We walked in the middle of some movies and walked out of many others because he was just too tired … Mostly we just talked, covering every subject imaginable.”

Weybourn said that Thomas decided to stop taking his medications in May 1998 – “essentially taking himself off life support.”

Of Thomas’ final moments, Weybourn wrote:  “John was so pale. I put my hand on his chest and said, ‘John, I’m here.’  I held his hand, and he took one look at me. Instead of taking another breath, he just exhaled.  That was his last breath.”

At a rally to honor the memory of Thomas, Weybourn said:

“While John is at rest, his work is not.  With John’s passing, we may believe today that there is no one who can do the work with the force and effectiveness that he did.  We may think there is no equal.  But there will be but a brief shortage of the someone else’s to put things right.  Who knows?  Because of his legacy, the next John Thomas may be in this room today.  It can even be you.”

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

February 7, 1999
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Raises Visibility

The first National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is launched as a grassroots-education effort  to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS prevention, care, and treatment in communities of color.

Reggie Williams
February 7, 1999
Bay Area AIDS Activist Reggie Williams Dies

Reggie Williams, a longtime AIDS activist and former head of the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention, dies in Amsterdam, where he had lived for the last five years.  He was 47.

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Williams was an early leader in calling for public awareness of the problem in the Bay Area’s Black community.  Through his job as founding director of the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention, he advanced the public’s understanding of the challenges facing HIV-infected minorities.

Launched in 1985, the San Francisco-based National Task Force on AIDS Prevention developed culturally sensitive research and training programs and shared them with HIV/AIDS advocates and organizations working across the country.

“You need to look at a different model from one that works for gay, white men,” said Williams in the late 1980s. “There is a host of other issues we gay men of color deal with on a daily basis. We have to deal with impoverishment, homophobia in our own community, and pervasive racism in society.”

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Williams graduated from Withrow High School in 1969 and enrolled to be trained as an X-ray technician at Cincinnati General Hospital.  In the late 1970s, he moved to Los Angeles, where he took and job at Cedars-Sinai Hospital and first encountered patients severely ill with the disease that years later would become called AIDS.

In the early 1980s, Williams and his partner, Tim Isbell, moved to San Francisco.  At a time when AIDS was already approaching epidemic proportions, he started working as an x-ray technician at University of California San Francisco’s Moffitt Hospital.  It was in this environment that Williams realized that information and prevention efforts were not reaching the gay and bisexual Black community.

Williams called a meeting at his home to take action, and soon he and others founded the AIDS Task Force of the San Francisco chapter of Black and White Men Together.  The organization would quickly expand and rebrand as the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention (NTFAP).

The groundbreaking work of NTFAP’s early years included the first national survey of more than 900 Black men who had sex with men, collecting data on knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.  The first national data collection of its kind, the survey showed that a full third of Black gay and bisexual men were privately homosexual but publicly involved with women, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“These men go into a relationship with a woman because they need to feel accepted within the ranks of the black community. As a result, there’s greater risk that the virus will spread not only among them, but among women and the family when they go home,” Williams told The Chronicle.

In 1986, at the age of 35, Williams was diagnosed with HIV.  Eight years later, he moved to Amsterdam to be with his partner, German-born Wolfgang Schreiber, whom U.S. law prohibited from moving to the U.S. because he had tested positive for HIV.

Williams and Schreiber officially registered their partnership in Amsterdam  on October 20, 1998, and in December, they took what would be Williams’ last trip to California, according to the National Black Justice Coalition’s tribute to Williams.  They visited the San Francisco AIDS Office to see a new project that had been named in his honor, Project Reggie, a computerized client registration and information/referral system for city residents.

Williams and Schreiber returned to their home in Amsterdam, and on February 7, 1999, Williams died peacefully at the Academisch Medisch Centrum Hospital. His funeral service was held at Westerveld Crematorium in Driehuis, Netherlands, and his ashes were buried at his mother’s grave in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In Amsterdam, San Francisco, and Cincinnati, memorial services were held to celebrate Williams’ life and honor his achievements.  National Black AIDS Awareness Day is now observed each year on February 7, which coincides with the anniversary of Williams’ passing.

A room at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center is dedicated in his honor. Williams also is featured in a photo exhibit sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society, featuring photographic portraits of people living with AIDS in the early years of the epidemic.

* * * * * * * *

Photo of quilt panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt

May 1, 1999
Black AIDS Institute Founded

In May, activist Phill Wilson founds the Black AIDS Institute. The Institute’s mission is “to stop the AIDS pandemic in Black communities by engaging and mobilizing Black institutions and individuals in efforts to confront HIV.” Its motto: “Our People, Our Problem, Our Solution.”

August 21, 1999
Singaporean Activist Paddy Chew Dies

Paddy Chew, the first Singaporean to go public with his HIV status, dies of AIDS-related illness at Singapore’s Communicable Disease Centre.  He was 39 years old.

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On December 12, 1998, Chew publicly disclared his HIV-positive status during the first National AIDS Conference in Singapore.

For 13 years, Chew worked for Singapore Airlines as a flight attendant, after which he joined the Boom Boom Room, Singapore’s first drag cabaret.  He said he was not aware of AIDS or HIV during the first half of his career as a flight attendant.

As a result, Chew did not start using a condom and adopting other safe sex techniques until 1986.  Two years after leaving his airline job, be came ill.  Inexperienced medical personnel failed to recognize Chew’s condition of oral thrush as a possible byproduct of HIV/AIDS, and he was put through a battery of standard medical tests before being administered an HIV test at his request.

After his diagnosis, Chew travelled to Brussels to begin receiving treatment unavailable in Singapore, but by 1996, he had lost 45% of his body weight and his health was failing rapidly.

He left the Boom Boom Room, and in 1998, he began performing Completely With/Out Character, an an intensely personal one-man show exploring prejudice against people with AIDS and the lack of support from the Singaporean government.

With dark humour, Chew told anyone who would listen about what it was like to shop for his own coffin and get his funeral portrait taken.  He shared his regret for not taking more care of his mother, and he describes other people with AIDS who he felt were less fortunate than he was.  He told the story of how he risked infection.

Chew was invited to speak at the National AIDS Conference in Singapore, and became a public figure overnight.  He granted many interviews, wishing to raise awareness about the spread of HIV, and his photo was published in local and foreign publications.

When Chew was attacked in the media as a promiscuous bisexual and publicity-seeker, he responded by saying:

“Who wants to be famous for having AIDS? For goodness sake … I have seen too many AIDS patients die. Most die alone. There is no warmth, no care for them. They are not ready to die — you can see it in their eyes. I told myself I had to do something worthwhile for myself and for the cause, to clear the path for future patients, so that they will not die like that.”

The final version of Completely With/Out Character was produced by The Necessary Stage and staged at The Drama Centre in May 1999. At the end of each performance, Chew would strip to his shorts and raise his arms to better allow the audience to see his emaciated frame.  This was followed by a frank question and answer session.  All proceeds from the play were donated to Action for AIDS, a service organization for which he was an outspoken volunteer.

Chew planned to write a book and take a last trip to Europe, but in June 1999, his illness began to rapidly progress and he admitted himself to the Communicable Disease Centre, where he would die surrounded by family two months later.

January 1, 2000
Dick Pabich, AIDS Activist & Harvey Milk Campaign Manager, Dies

Dick Pabich, a long-time political consultant who helped to elect San Francisco gay icon Harvey Milk, dies of AIDS-related illness.  He was 44.

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Pabich campaigned for Milk for State Assembly in 1976 and then for Milk’s successful campaign in 1977 for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

“Dick towered over everyone, especially with his big poof of permed, bleached-blond hair.  He was 20 years old and couldn’t have weighed more than 120 pounds. It was as if a snowy egret had landed among us sparrows,” friend Jim Rivaldo recalled in his tribute to Pabich in POZ magazine.

“Dick’s effete, imperious demeanor might have seemed out of place, but it was soon understood that he had the instincts of a bare-knuckle fighter for the disenfranchised,” Rivaldo wrote.

When Milk won his supervisor’s race, he made Pabich his political aid.  Pabich leveraged his new position to organize the LGBT-fueled campaign to defeat State Senator John Briggs’ Proposition 6, which would have banned gay teachers from California’s public schools.

Following Milk’s assassination on November 27, 1978, Pabich co-founded with Rivaldo the first gay political consulting firm.  Pabich and Rivaldo collaborated on various campaigns, including those for Harry Britt (who succeeded Milk on the Board of Supervisors) and Carole Migden (who in 1996 would go on to become the second openly gay lesbian state legislator).

Pabich served on the University of California AIDS Research Advisory Committee, according to the San Francisco Examiner.  He has been credited with playing a primary role in shaping AIDS policies across the U.S.

After working on Willie Brown’s campaign for mayor of San Francisco, Pabich retired but still remained active on LGBTQ and AIDS issues, according to AP News.

“When AIDS caused Dick’s health to fail, his powerful sense of duty wouldn’t let him step aside completely,” Rivaldo wrote.  “He organized [Mayor] Brown’s Summit on AIDS and established the Mayor’s Office of HIV/AIDS Policy in 1998 as an unpaid volunteer. As his final act of community service, he poured his waning energy into ensuring that Harvey’s long-delayed dream of a gay community center would be realized.”

In the 2008 feature film Milk, the role of Dick Pabich was played by Joseph Cross.

April 2000
Randy Krivonic, San Francisco Dancer, Dies

Randy Krivonic, a dancer who performed with Dance Spectrum, San Francisco Opera Ballet, and Falcon Dance Theater in San Francisco, dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 47.

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After his performing career, Krivonic became a dance writer for several local publications. He also participated in many AIDS fundraisers and contributed generously to groups struggling to bring the HIV/AIDS losses in the dance community to light.

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Krivonic Krivonic is memorialized in the project Dancers We Lost: Honoring Performers Lost to HIV/AIDS.

Kiyoshi Kuromiya.jpeg (2)
May 10, 2000
AIDS Activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya Dies

Kiyoshi Kuromiya — who dedicated his life to LGBTQ activism, AIDS healthcare expansion, civil rights, and anti-war efforts — dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 57.

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Born in 1943 in a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming known as Heart Mountain, Kuromiya would go on to devote his life to the struggle for social justice.

During the 1960s, Kuromiya became a prominent opponent of the Vietnam War.  In 1967-68, he was an assistant to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and he took care of King’s children following his assassination.  He then moved to New York City, and in July 1969, following the rebellion at the Stonewall Inn, Kuromiya was among the gays and lesbians who founded the Gay Liberation Front.

“GLF tapped into the radical sentiments brewing among young, countercultural, and political gays and lesbians in New York City — and mobilized the energy and eagerness for political action that many felt in the days following Stonewall,” according to OutHistory.  In the ways that the GLF organized (patterned after the the women’s movement) and conducted meetings, the organization can be seen as a direct predecessor to ACT UP.

Kuromiya was diagnosed with AIDS in 1989 and immediately researched everything he could about HIV/AIDS. He became a self-taught AIDS expert who believed that patients fared best when they understood the disease, explored treatment options, and actively participated in medical decisions.

Kuromiya became involved in all aspects of the AIDS movement, including radical direct action with ACT UP Philadelphia and the ACT UP network, People With AIDS empowerment, national and international research advocacy, and the mentorship and care for hundreds of people living with HIV.

Kuromiya was the editor of the “ACT UP Standard of Care,” the first standard of care for people living with HIV produced by PWAs.  He also ran a community medicine chest to help patients get free drugs and ran a 24-hour hotline for patients needing information — even prisoners calling collect.

Kuromiya is perhaps best known as the founder of the Critical Path Project newsletter.  Published by the service organization Philadelphia FIGHT and containing information gathered by Kuromiya, the newsletter was one of the earliest and most comprehensive sources of HIV treatment information.  It was routinely mailed to thousands of people living with HIV all over the world, including hundreds of incarcerated individuals.

Kuromiya understood science and was involved locally, nationally and internationally in AIDS research as both a treatment activist and clinical trials participant.  He fought for research that involved the community in its design – particularly people of color, drug users, and women.

In the last years of his life, Kuromiya turned his attention to the struggle to maintain freedom of speech on the Internet, participating in the successful lawsuit against the Communications Decency Act.  He was also the leading plaintiff in the 1999 Supreme Court case Kuromiya vs. The United States of America, which called for the legalization of marijuana for medical uses.

July 19, 2000
Stephen Gendin — Iconic AIDS Activist — Dies

Stephen Gendin, an AIDS activist and writer who founded a nationally known mail-order prescription service for people infected with HIV, died of AIDS-related illness in New York’s Roosevelt Hospital. He was 34.

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Firmly planted at the center of AIDS activism for 15 years, Gendin is credited for having promoted constructive changes in government policy that would improve the lives of HIV-positive people. His activism was pivotal in reforming the FDA drug approval process to expedite HIV and AIDS patients’ access to more effective anti-retroviral treatments.

He was involved with ACT UP (New York and Rhode Island chapters), Sex Panic!, Community Prescription Service, and the Radical Faeries.  He also wrote a widely read column in POZ magazine. In this column, he shared the toll AIDS took on his body in graphic details and other personal experiences.

“Stephen was a willing guinea pig, his body a non-stop experimental laboratory for new treatment strategies.  His curiosity and courage contributed to what we have all learned about anti-retroviral treatment,” wrote Sean Strub, POZ Magazine’s founder and advisory editor.

Strub said he met Gendin in 1988, shortly after Gendin graduated from Brown University.  In ACT UP/New York, they worked together on the fundraising committee.  In 1990, Strub hired Gendin to work for his company, and for ten years they collaborated on various projects, including fundraising for community non-profits, publishing POZ magazine and launching the Community Prescription Service.

As a co-founder and the chief executive of the Community Prescription Service, Gendin oversaw the organization’s mail-order pharmacy service that distributed medication and information for people with HIV and AIDS, according to the New York Times.

Following Gendin’s death, POZ posted this video tribute to the legendary activist.

March 8, 2001
‘Barbara Lee Day’ Celebrated in San Francisco

San Francisco Mayor Willie L. Brown proclaims it is “Representative Barbara Lee Day” in honor of the Congresswoman’s considerable work on HIV/AIDS.

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Mayor Brown presented the proclamation at a University of California at San Francisco AIDS Research Institute event honoring Congresswoman Lee.

“This is truly an honor, and I am very grateful and humbled to receive this proclamation on International Women’s Day,” Congresswoman Lee said.  “The U.S. Congress is finally realizing that the HIV/AIDS pandemic is not a Republican or Democratic issue, but a disease that threatens the entire human family.”

Lee was instrumental in making the Congressional Black Caucus’ Minority AIDS Initiative a growing source of funding for the cities hit hardest by HIV/AIDS, such as her constituent areas of Oakland and San Francisco.”

Congresswoman Lee was also honored as the first recipient of the annual Auxillia Chimusoro Award, given by the UCSF AIDS Research Institute’s Center for Global Research on Women’s Health.  The award is named after Auxillia Chimusoro, the first woman in Zimbabwe to declare openly her positive HIV status.

Upon returning from the 2001 AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, Congresswoman Lee successfully authored an amendment that increased by $42 million the Foreign Operations Budget for international HIV/AIDS programs.

She also co-authored the Global AIDS and Tuberculosis Act of 2000, which was signed into public law on August 19, 2000, by President Clinton. That bill created the World Bank AIDS Trust Fund.

August 8, 2001
Activist Campaign Forces Chinese Officials to Stop AIDS Denial

Years after two female doctors began campaigning about the spread of AIDS in villages, Chinese leaders finally acknowledge the large scale of the epidemic.

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In 1991, Dr. Wang Shuping was a young medical researcher just starting her career in the study of blood-borne viruses, according to Kathleen McLaughlin’s account in The Guardian.

Dr. Wang, who was stationed at a blood collection center which received plasma obtained from paid donors, became concerned about transmissible viruses lurking the Chinese blood bank when she discovered that several donors tested positive for hepatitis C.  She was well aware of the unhygienic practices of commercial blood bank operators.  When the so-called “bloodheads” extracted plasma from poor villagers, they would often use dirty needles, and then they would pool the leftover blood for future transfusions.

When Dr. Wang warned local health officials about hepatitis C being spread in these conditions, she was told that it would be too expensive to change procedures. With her own money to fund testing equipment, Dr. Wang began evaluating samples of donated blood for HIV, according to The Washington Post, and in 1995, she found the virus present in plasma.  Again, local health officials told her it was too costly to do anything about it.

Dr. Wang escalated her concerns to the Ministry of Health in Beijing, and was met with accusations of producing shoddy medical work.  One day, a “retired leader of the Health Bureau” arrived at her clinical testing center and smashed her sign with a baton, Dr. Wang told The Washington Post. When she tried to stop him from destroying her equipment, he struck her with the baton.  Later, local communist party officials cut the power to her laboratory, resulting in the destruction of her blood samples.

“Because of my whistle-blowing, I was kicked out by the station leaders,” Dr. Wang wrote in 2012 for China Change.  “Plasma collection was for-profit, and my actions impeded the business.”

In April 1996, all the donation clinics in China were abruptly shut down, without any notice to donors that they had been exposed to HIV through the clinics’ unhygienic practices.  Later that year, clinics reopened with HIV testing for previous donors.  And still, Chinese leaders refused to acknowledge the prevalence of HIV in the country’s blood supply or the existence of an AIDS crisis among its rural citizens.

Around the same time, retired gynecologist Dr. Gao Yaojie was providing medical care in a small village a few hundred miles away.  Dr. Gao was alarmed when one of her patients, a woman who was exhibiting advanced AIDS symptoms, tested positive for HIV.  She already had doubts about the ruling party’s insistence that China had successfully prevented HIV from entering the country.

Drs. Gao and Wang joined together to launch a campaign to educate the public about HIV and AIDS, which was a very dangerous endeavor.  While Dr. Wang worked behind the scenes gathering facts and information, Dr. Gao became the public face of AIDS awareness in China, daring to publicly challenge China’s health system and government.

Dr. Gao travelled to remote villages from her home in Zhengzhou, providing rudimentary medicine for fever, diarrhea and other symptoms of AIDS.  According to The New York Times, her stops included a village school where 20 children were left without parents due to AIDS.  She said she once came across a toddler who was clinging to the feet of his mother, who had hanged herself after her husband died of AIDS.  Dr. Gao also spent considerable time leafleting bus stations, health clinics and sex parlors with educational material about HIV/AIDS.

While Dr. Gao’s work on AIDS education in rural China later earned her international acclaim from world leaders including Hillary Clinton, her rising profile meant she also came under close state surveillance.  Chinese officials forbid her to grant interviews, but she would still find ways to share her experiences dispensing healthcare and information in rural China.

Her cohort Dr. Wang also found ways to continue their work.  After party officials shut down her research clinic, Dr. Wang took on a new job in Beijing as assistant to the chair of China’s National Committee on HIV/AIDS.  Her position allowed her to continue her medical research on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in China and keep Dr. Gao up-to-date on the latest information to share with rural residents.  Dr. Wang also secretly shared information with a U.S. Foreign Service officer assigned to the U.S. embassy in China.

“[Dr. Wang] provided rock-solid, highly sensitive internal information about the HIV epidemic and the Chinese leadership’s disappointingly weak response,” wrote retired U.S. Foreign Service officer David Cowhig. “That in turn seized the attention of the Clinton White House.”

The AIDS epidemic in rural China had become an international scandal and associated with the “Bloodhead controversy,” named for the for-profit plasma donation sites that proliferated in China after its 1986 ban on the importation of blood products.  The act of whistle-blowing often comes with great personal sacrifice, and amidst her work on HIV/AIDS, Dr. Wang and her husband (who was an employee of the Ministry of Health) divorced.

On August 8, 2001, Chinese officials finally acknowledged that the country had been unsuccessful in quarantining itself against HIV, and announced a publicity campaign to educate its citizens about HIV and AIDS.

The same year, Chinese officials refused to issue Dr. Gao a passport to travel to the U.S. to be honored by the Global Health Council with the “Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights.”

2001 was also the year that Dr. Wang immigrated to the U.S., settling in Salt Lake City with her daughter and taking a position as a research worker at the University of Utah.  She remarried in 2005 and had two more children.  On Sept. 21, 2019, Dr. Wang died of a heart attack while hiking; she was 59.

In August 2009, at the age of 82, Dr. Gao fled China with the help of the Chinese rights watchdog China Aid Association, and received political asylum in the U.S.  She settled in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, where she restored her writings to their pre-censored state and arranged to have them published. Dr. Gao died on December 10, 2023 at her home in New York City; she was 95.

November 26, 2001
Paul Starke, West Hollywood Leader, Dies

West Hollywood community leader Paul Andrew Starke dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 38.

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Starke worked in social services throughout his life, helping at-risk youth, individuals with substance abuse problems, and people with HIV/AIDS. He was also involved in the distribution of HIV/AIDS medical updates by Being Alive, AIDS Project Los Angeles, and the Positive Images Consortium.

Starke was a member of the West Hollywood HIV and Substance Use Services Providers Consortium and an employee of Being Alive, an organization by and for people with HIV/AIDS, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The City of West Hollywood would memorialize Starke by creating the Paul Starke Warrior Awards, awarded each year on World AIDS Day to recognize employees and volunteers of local agencies who have done exemplary work in providing prevention, education and direct HIV/AIDS services.

Herb Ritts photo by Richard Gere
December 26, 2002
Fashion & Celebrity Photographer Herb Ritts Dies

Herb Ritts, one of the top photographers to emerge from the 1980s, dies in Los Angeles of AIDS-related illness at age 50.

(Photo by Richard Gere)

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A photographer whose subjects ranged from Madonna to the Dalai Lama, Ritts relied on clean, graphic compositions that often portrayed models and celebrities in the visual language of classical Greek sculpture.

”He shot exquisite, iconic photographs,” said Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, a magazine to which Ritts contributed dozens of cover images.

Born in Los Angeles in 1952, Ritts grew up in a prosperous family and graduated in 1975 from Bard College in upstate New York with a degree in economics (he also majored in Art History).  He returned to Los Angeles to work for his family’s furniture company but was sidetracked when he started taking photography classes.

In the late 1970s, while waiting for a tire to be changed, he took pictures of a young actor friend who was with him that day.  The actor was Richard Gere, and the photographs were ultimately published in various national magazines and served as the catalyst for Ritts’s career as a portraitist.

”His purpose was always to make you look good,” Gere told The New York Times shortly after Ritts’ death. ”He had an extremely elegant aesthetic. Some photographers are working so hard to be elegant that they pummel you with it, but to Herb it came effortlessly.

”Some photographers embalm their subjects, but he enlivened them.”

Listen to Richard Gere tell his story about Herb Ritts.

Unlike many other contemporary commercial photographers, Ritts imposed little of his own sense of artistry onto his pictures.  One of Ritts’s most memorable photographs in this vein was a Vanity Fair cover that featured fashion model Cindy Crawford pretending to shave the face of singer K.D. Lang, who was in drag.

Ritts’s work extended beyond celebrity portraiture to fashion photography, artful nudes and the direction of television commercials and music videos.  He captured the 1980s era of the supermodel with Amazonian images of Crawford, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell.

For a year from 1996, his work was showcased in Boston at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that was attended by around 250,000 people or more. In 2003, he was given space for a solo exhibition in Japan’s city Kyoto at the Daimaru Museum.

Ritts directed some music videos. In 1989, he directed Cherish by Madonna.  Two years later, he received MTV Video Awards for making videos for Chris Isaak and Janet Jackson.

Ritts was committed to HIV/AIDS-related causes and contributed to many charitable organizations, among them amfAR, The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation , Project Angel Food, Focus on AIDS, APLA, Best Buddies, and Special Olympics. He was also a charter member on the Board of Directors for The Elton John AIDS Foundation.

In December 2002, Ritts was admitted to a Los Angeles hospital with pneumonia.  According to Ritts’ publicist, “Herb was HIV-positive, but this particular pneumonia was not PCP (pneumocystis pneumonia), a common opportunistic infection of AIDS.  But at the end of the day, his immune system was compromised.”

Prior to his death, Ritts communicated his desire to create a foundation that would carry on his passion for photography and his longstanding charitable support for HIV/AIDS research, advocacy, and care. In 2003, in accordance with his wishes, the Herb Ritts Foundation was established.

Ritts’ photographs continue to be displayed, enjoyed and celebrated across the world.  In 2007, Ritts’ photograph, Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood, 1989, was sold at the Elton John AIDS Foundation Benefit Auction for $190,000.  The sale of the photograph set a record price for a Herb Ritts limited edition Silver Gelatin photograph, and raised awareness around the Herb Ritts Foundation’s key role in raising funds for HIV/AIDS research.

In 2011, the Getty Museum acquired from the Herb Ritts Foundation a collection of 69 photographs consisting of nudes, portraits, and images made for high-fashion ad campaigns.  The Getty considers this acquisition to be the most significant body of the artist’s work on the West Coast.  The museum’s Ritts exhibit in 2012 drew 364,656 visitors.

In 2015, 20 years after The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston showcased the exhibit Herb Ritts: WORK, the museum presented a collection of his major works.  Even more recently, Ritts’ images have been incorporated into snowboards and his artwork has been displayed in exhibitions in Berlin, Milan, Seoul, Montreal, Lisbon and London.

January 19, 2003
LGBTQ Rights Pioneer Morris Kight Dies at 82

Morris Kight, longtime leader in Southern California’s gay rights movement, dies at the age of 83.

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Kight, who served for more than 20 years on the LA Human Rights Commission as its most senior member until his retirement in 2002, dies in his sleep at the Carl Bean Hospice.

He was hospitalized last month in declining health with a variety of ailments, including liver cancer, heart problems and eventually pneumonia. His health was further compromised by a series of strokes suffered late in life.

The co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Community Service Center of L.A. (now called the Los Angeles LGBT Center), Kight also was a key organizer of the West Coast’s first gay pride parade and celebration in 1970, which effectively galvanized the modern gay rights movement in Los Angeles. The parade has drawn nearly 500,000 people in recent years.

In 1983, Morris helped found Aid for AIDS, a community organization that raised money to give to people with AIDS for emergency payment of rent, mortgages and utilities to enable them to die with dignity at home.

Later a friendship developed between AIDS activist Michael Weinstein, who went on to co-found the Chris Brownlie Hospice in 1987 and subsequently, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, writes the Blade Los Angeles.

His memorial at Metropolitan Community Church in West Hollywood would draw scores of dignitaries and old friends.

October 15, 2003
1st National Latino AIDS Awareness Day

The first annual National Latino AIDS Awareness Day in the U.S.

October 23, 2003
Clinton Foundation Secures Generic Drug Price Reductions

The William J. Clinton Foundation secures price reductions for HIV/AIDS drugs from generic manufacturers, to benefit developing nations.

April 2004
South Africa Advances Treatment Options after Long Fight

Antiretroviral treatment is made available to South African residents living with HIV, marking a reserval in a policy based in AIDS denialism held by the country’s leaders.

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For about 10 years, antiretroviral (AVR) drugs for HIV were not accessible by the public in South Africa, due to erroneous beliefs put forth by President Thabo Mbeki and Health Minister Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

President Mbeki questioned the link between HIV and AIDS, and the official treatment recommendation for AIDS by Dr. Tshabalala-Msimang was taking beetroot, garlic and other herbal alternatives.  Their delay in rolling out HIV/AIDS treatment is estimated to have needlessly caused the death of millions.

However, South African activists ultimately won their decade-long fight to bring modern HIV/AIDS treatment options to the people in their country.

“There was a sense, especially for those of us living with HIV, that we might not be the ones that benefited from the struggle and that we were perhaps really doing this for the next generation,” said Vuyiseka Dubula, former general secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a South African group founded in 1998 to fight for access to HIV treatment.

Born in the former Transkei province of South Africa, Dubula was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 22 in 2001, at the height of AIDS denialism in her country.

“When I first learned of my HIV status, science had already gifted humanity with drugs to treat the virus,” Dubula wrote in The Guardian in 2021.  “However, South Africans like myself, and many other people living in poverty, continued to die in the millions. The highly effective antiretroviral therapy cost nearly $10,000, well beyond our reach.”

During its first decade, TAC focused on challenging government health policies that were not evidence-based and were putting multinational profits above people.  The organization’s leaders also forged alliances with activists in Brazil, India, Thailand, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries, creating a global movement to fight drug company profiteering.  TAC went to court to challenge the patents of drug companies that sold essential HIV/AIDS medication without competition, according to Debula.

By gathering affidavits of people living with HIV and health care workers, together with evidence of prices from the generic drug industry, TAC was able to expose the drug companies’ profiteering methods and pressure South Africa’s Competition Commission to open the market to allow more drug companies to compete.

As a result, South Africa adopted a more competitive market and the price of HIV drugs drastically fell.  TAC activists then pushed the government to expand access to HIV treatment, but they were countered by an extremely hostile political environment.

“Under the leadership of former President Thabo Mbeki, the Health Ministry focused on making excuses for why government was unable to provide HIV treatment,” recalled Dubula.  “It eventually became clear that we were dealing with a denialist government that went so far as to publicly refute the crisis in the health system.”

TAC organized volunteers to create and manage grassroots branches across South Africa that educated, organized, and mobilized communities.  Human rights and the science behind HIV were the subjects of TAC campaigns in all these newly activated locations.  Over time, TAC’s efforts led to a new awareness about HIV/AIDS and treatment options, and that’s when things began to change.

With ARVs’ introduction as the recommended treatment for HIV, thousands of patients immediately began a course of recovery, according to Dr. Francois Venter, deputy executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Centre in South Africa.

For Dubula, the victory meant she could live a normal life.  She would go on to marry an HIV-negative man and give birth to two HIV-negative children.  She completed her Ph.D. at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and left TAC to become Program Director at Sonke Gender Justice, which strives to
advance gender justice and women’s rights, prevent gender-based violence and reduce the spread of HIV and the impact of AIDS.

May 17, 2004
First Legal Same-Sex Marriage Performed in U.S.

Marcia Kadish and Tanya McCloskey marry at Cambridge City Hall in Massachusetts, becoming the first legally married same-sex partners in the U.S.  The legalization of same-sex marriage has been linked to the cultural impact of the AIDS crisis.

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Over the course of the day, 77 other same-sex couples in Massachusetts were married, and hundreds more applied for marriage licenses.

On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court found the state’s ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional, citing the state constitution’s ban on the creation of second-class citizens. The court then gave the state 180 days in which to change the law. Efforts by some legislators to amend the state’s constitution with a same-sex marriage ban were defeated, and on May 17, 2004, the state adopted a policy of marriage equality.

Same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states on June 26, 2015, after the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

Many scholars in the field of gender and sexuality studies have said that marriage equality is directly linked culturally, socially, and legally to HIV/AIDS activism.

“It is impossible to look at the 22-year-long fight for marriage equality outside of the framework of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and equally impossible to look at today’s attitudes toward HIV/AIDS as unconnected to the cultural impact of the fight for marriage equality,” Harvard professor Michael Bronski wrote one year after the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage to be a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution..

Bronski’s view was that granting marriage rights to same-sex couples was fueled by prejudicial ideas around the need to “civilize” gay men — “a deeply conservative argument that preyed on fear and loathing both within and outside of the LGBT community.”

Others saw the link between the AIDS crisis and marriage equality to be a more positive one.  In “Creating & Curating Change: AIDS Activism & the Fight for Same-sex Marriage in Hawai‘i” at the UH-Mānoa Hamilton Library, the exhibit explored the connection between AIDS activism and the campaign for marriage equality.  A theme of the exhibit is how the activism in the 1980s and 1990s around HIV/AIDS healthcare and legal rights fueled the campaign for marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“Unbeknownst to many, the HIV and AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and ’90s sparked the fight that led to the victory for marriage equality in America,” wrote Kelsey Louie and Jordan Sang for POZ magazine shortly after the Supreme Court decision.

Louie and Sang pointed out that during the worst years of the AIDS crisis, the immense death and loss was compounded by the harm caused by the lack of legal recognition of same-sex partners.  One example was hospitals’ policy of not allowing gay men to visit their dying partners, because they were not “family members.”

Gay men were also also excluded from important medical decisions concerning their partners and given no legal standing in wills, leases, and other matters.  Much of the activism and advocacy about AIDS and HIV focused on securing legal rights for people living with AIDS and their partners.

On the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, NBC News produced a news feature that explored how the AIDS crisis “accelerated gay rights in America” and helped to make marriage equality the law of the land.

January 6, 2005
Son of South African Leader Nelson Mandela Dies

Makgatho L. Mandela dies of AIDS-related illness at the age of 54.  On the day of his son’s death, Nelson Mandela announces the cause of the death to help raise awareness about the disease and reduce the stigma associated with it.

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Nelson Mandela holds a press conference to announce that his son had died of AIDS in a Johannesburg clinic.  Makgatho Mandela had been seriously ill for more than a month, but the nature of his ailment had not been made public before his death.

The elder Mandela says he was disclosing the cause of his son’s death to focus more attention on AIDS, which is still a taboo topic among many South Africans.  South Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV (~6.8 million) in the world.

“That is why I have announced that my son has died of AIDS,” he says. “Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS, and people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary.”

May 19, 2005
1st National Asian/Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

This day marks the first annual National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in the U.S.

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This day would be observed annually on May 19 to raise awareness about the impact of HIV and stigma among Asian and Pacific Islander communities.

In years to come, organizations around the country would observe the day by hosting community events.  The Banyan Tree Project – a national campaign to end silence and shame about HIV/AIDS in Asian and Pacific Islander communities — leads this day with the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center in collaboration with national partners APAIT Los Angeles, Life Foundation (Honolulu) and MAP for Health (Boston). The campaign includes capacity building assistance, leadership development and HIV awareness promotional events and marketing.

Life Group LA
June 2005
POZ Life Weekend Seminars Begin in LA Area

Life Group LA launches its POZ Life Weekend Seminar, a place HIV+ men, women, youths and family members can come be themselves, feel comforted and receive support in their effort to live a long, healthy life.

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The POZ Life event is free and focused on the spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of people living with HIV and those who support them through education, empowerment and emotional support.

The goal of the program is to empower people to make informed choices and decisions regarding their healthcare and personal well-being.  The POZ Life Weekend Seminar is also open to those seeking to help someone HIV-positive and overcome the fears associated with HIV.

At the event, which still is held four times a year in the LA area and also in major cities across the U.S., a team of facilitators lead emotional support groups.  These facilitators have been trained in the art of active listening and conduct themselves with empathy and compassion.

A minimum of 10 workshops are offered during each weekend seminar, dealing with but not limited to: HIV Drug Treatment Options, Insurance and Public Benefits, U=U, PreP, Stress Management, Alternative and Complementary Therapies, Nutrition, Women and HIV, Medication Adherence, Recreational Drug Use, Clinical Trials, Sex and Intimacy and HIV Disclosure. Workshops at the event are known to be extremely interactive, with presenters welcoming questions and comments from attendees.

For more information about the Life Group LA and its events, please go to http://thelifegroupla.org/

January 5, 2006
Bono & Bobby Shriver Found (RED) Initiative

At the 2006 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Switzerland, musician and activist Bono and former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver announce the launch of (RED), an initiative to engage businesses in the fight to end AIDS.

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Bono and Shriver founded PRODUCT (RED) in an effort to fight the Africa AIDS epidemic.  With a plan to engage the producers of “world-class consumer goods” and consumers, the two sought to transform commercial profit to fundraising gold.

Each time someone buys a (PRODUCT) RED product, up to 50% of the profit goes to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which provides AIDS medicine funding to African countries.

Based in New York, (RED)’s focus is on eliminating HIV/AIDS in eight African countries: Swaziland (formerly Swaziland), Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia,

(RED) is currently licensed to companies including Apple Inc., Nike, The Coca-Cola Company, Starbucks, Converse, Electronic Arts, Primark, Head, Buckaroo, Gap, Armani, FIAT, Hallmark, Beats Electronics, and Supercell. The Global Fund is the recipient of Product Red’s money, according to the (RED) website.

(RED) is a division of The ONE Campaign, a global movement to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030.  ONE pressures governments to increase their efforts to fight extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.

While (RED) focuses on raising awareness and contributions for the AIDS fight, ONE advocates the public sector to garner both support and government funding for all three preventable diseases the Global Fund supports: AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Working in tandem, (RED) and ONE work to achieve their shared goals of economic empowerment and disease prevention.

In late 2021, Apple reported raising nearly $270 million for the (RED) initiative through the sale of products to its customers.

“Apple-supported grants have enabled care and support services for over 11 million people, provided over 192 million HIV tests, and allowed over 13.8 million people access to lifesaving antiretroviral treatments,” Apple’s report states.  “In 2020 alone, Apple’s support for (RED) helped prevent over 145,000 HIV-positive mothers from passing the virus on to their babies.”

June 24, 2006
Ric Weiland, Microsoft Employee #2, Dies

Richard “Ric” Weiland, a programmer who founded computer giant Microsoft with Bill Gates, commits suicide after battling HIV and depression.  He was 53.

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At the age of 35, Weiland retired from Microsoft in 1988 and turned his attention to philanthropy.  He made donations of $21.5 million before his death, and bequeathed an additional $170 million.

His donations supported 11 different LGBTQ nonprofits, including Stanford UniversityUnited Way of King CountySeattle Children’s HospitalFred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center,  the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), and Lamba Legal.  The money for Weiland’s philanthropy came largely from his Microsoft stock, which grew in value from $4 million to $100 million by 1999, according to Lisa Stiffler of Geek Wire.

“His R&D was exhaustive, and he did a lot of the due diligence,” Kris Hermanns, CEO of the Pride Foundation, told Geek Wire.

The Pride Foundation, Seattle’s gay umbrella organization, received more than a third of Weiland’s fortune, $65 million, to share with the groups it oversees.  It was the largest single-donor gift ever made to an LGBTQ organization, according to Kevin Phinney’s article in Seattle Met.

GLSEN was another recipient of Weiland’s generosity.  The organization, which advocates for LGBTQ students, used the donation to help thousands of high schools across the country create new Gender and Sexuality Alliances (formerly called Gay-Straight Alliances). A 2015 GLSEN survey showed that fully half of all students now have such an alliance at their school.

Weiland also left trust funds for his friends, relatives and ex-lovers, with incomes ranging from $40,000 to $100,000 a year for the rest of their lives.

After creating his will, Weiland decided to end his life.  He was being treated for chronic depression and was coping with the recent deaths of his father and sister.  His belief that HIV was starting to adversely impact his health, after years of lying dormant, contributed to the despair he felt, his partner, Mike Schaefer, told Nina Shapiro of The Seattle Times.

Bob Hattoy
March 4, 2007
Activist & Clinton Advisor Bob Hattoy Dies

Bob Hattoy, an activist who spoke about AIDS at the 1992 Democratic Convention, dies of AIDS-related illness at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento at the age of 56.

[Portrait by Greg Loudon, for an art series for the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine]

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Hattoy quit his decades-long job as regional director of the Sierra Club in Los Angeles to join Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign during the 1992 primary.  Shortly thereafter, he learned that he had AIDS-related lymphoma and began chemotherapy treatments.  That didn’t stop him from stumping for Clinton in front of AIDS and gay and lesbian communities all over the nation.

Political activist and author David Mixner remembered well Hattoy’s groundbreaking speech to the delegates of the 1992 Democratic Convention, made shortly after receiving his diagnosis.

“The hall was in the usual hubbub that passes for normal even when speeches are going on. But as Bob Hattoy mounted the podium, stillness fell over the entire place,” Mixner recalled.  “One by one, the delegates stood up, until all 5,000 people were on their feet in respect.”

Hattoy then said the opening words of his speech: “This is difficult.”

“There was not a dry eye in the nation that night,” said Mixner.  “Those of us in the hall had black armbands to honor those we knew who had died of ADIS and held onto each other as he spoke.  It was as if at last we were finally being heard after a decade of horror, death and abandonment.”

Jackie McCort of the Sierra Club said of watching her former colleague at the convention: “We gathered around the TV together that night, so thrilled and touched that ‘one of our own’ was speaking so eloquently to the American people.  Doggone, we were proud!”

Beginning in 1993, Hattoy worked in the Clinton administration as a deputy in the White House Office of Personnel.  In the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House was Hattoy’s office, which he shared with a colleague.  On his desk was a rainbow pride flag and on the walls were photos of he and his boyfriend.

There, he spent most of his days overseeing the search and screening process for potential hires for midlevel posts in agencies like the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency.  But Hattoy also saw his role as largely that of internal agitator, checking up almost every day on the progress of issues with more senior officials and sharing those developments with key members of his network.

“I never think of Bob as someone on the White House staff,” said activist Larry Kramer.  “I think of him as our mole.”

In March 1993, when President Clinton said he was considering restrictions on the roles gays and lesbians might be allowed to take in the military, Hattoy compared that to “restricting gays and lesbians to jobs as florists and hairdressers” in civilian life.  This public outburst branded Hattoy as unpredictible and potentially problematic to the Clinton administration.

In a June 1993 wine-fueled interview with The New York Times, Hattoy said, “Basically, I’m an activist first and a White House employee second.  If they fire me, I’ll go to work in a lesbian bakery. But they won’t fire me. We’ve been in too many wars together.”

The next year, to decrease his visibility, the administration appointed him to the position of White House liaison on environmental matters at the Interior Department, where he remained until 1999.  He also served as chairman of the research committee of the Presidential Commission on HIV/AIDS.

“Having been a lobbyist and activist for 20 years, I’d be perfect on the Hill or with community groups or other political coalitions they need to maintain relationships with and keep going — I mean with the progressive community,” Hattoy told POZ magazine in April 1994.  “I originally wanted to do that. That didn’t happen, I think, because — well, I know why.”

“For 25 years, I’ve been an outspoken activist, outspoken about what I’ve believed in and cared about. And for a while that fit perfectly into helping to identify who Bill Clinton was as a human being, to show that he meant it when he talked about how there’s no such thing as Them and Us in America,” he explained.  “When I continued to speak out after the election, it became off-message, I think a lot of people in the White House didn’t know what to do with me.”

A few years after the White House job ended, California Governor Gray Davis appointed him to the California Fish & Game Commisison, which Hattoy promptly joked he would work to rename the “Swish and Fish Commission.”  The post was unpaid and required hundreds of hours of work, with more than a dozen public hearings each year, site inspections, lobbying and other responsibilities.

In the months before his death, he worked on the California Marine Protection Act, creating huge expanses of sea that are like protected state parkland, only underwater.  For environmentalists and preservationists, the legislation was an historic victory, for which Hattoy deserved much of the credit.  Soon after, he was elected Chairman of the commission.

Throughout the years, Hattoy battled recurrent pneumonia and other complications several times and suffered a bone marrow infection a few weeks before his death, but was generally healthy and extremely productive throughout his years with AIDS.

Following Hattoy’s death, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a joint statement:

“We have lost a pioneer, a leader, and a friend. Bob Hattoy devoted his life to the fight for civil rights and social justice for the gay community and people living with AIDS.  We will always be grateful for his courageous and moving speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention and afterward, for his years of dedicated service in the administration. He gave hope to a community that feared their voice would never be heard at the highest levels of government.”

June 4, 2007
AIDS Activist Jean O’Leary Dies at 57

Jean O’Leary, a former nun who became a leading AIDS activist, dies at her San Clemente home of lung cancer. She was 57.

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A pioneering lesbian activist, O’Leary helped raise discussion of gay equality to a national level in 1977 through a historic White House meeting during which she brought delegation of gay and lesbian advocates to meet with members of the Carter administration.

“Jean O’Leary was a link of kindness and humanity and inclusive politics who helped the women’s movement to recognize the universal cost of homophobia and the gay movement to see that marginalizing the voices of lesbians would only diminish its power,” feminist icon Gloria Steinem told the Los Angeles Times.

Born in Kingston, N.Y., and raised in Cleveland, O’Leary attended Catholic school from third grade through high school, and decided to enter a convent upon graduation.  She joined the Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary, a liberal order of teachers and nurses based in Ohio, and became a nun.

“I thought that if I dedicated my life to God, I could get rid of my feelings for women,” she said in Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence, a 1985 book by Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan that devoted a chapter to O’Leary’s story.

Instead, her feelings intensified and she began having intimate relations with another nun, according to O’Leary’s account in Lesbian Nuns.  She decided in 1971, nearly five years after entering the convent, to rejoin the outside world and moved to New York City, where she “jumped right into the [gay rights] movement with both feet.”

She became a member of the Gay Activists Alliance, but decided to start her own organization — Lesbian Feminist Liberation — when she became frustrated with the dismissive behavior of the male leadership.  When activist Bruce Voeller, a former colleague, founded the National Gay Task Force (later renamed the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force) in 1975, she joined him as co-executive director.

At the 1976 Democratic convention, O’Leary tried unsuccessfully to incorporate gay rights language into the party platform, but the effort resulted in a friendship with political operative Midge Costanza, who became a special assistant to the newly elected president, Jimmy Carter.

Soon after, O’Leary contacted Costanza to request a meeting on gay rights in the White House.  On March 26th, 1977, members of the Carter administration met with O’Leary and other activists to discuss LGBTQ+ issues, including healthcare needs, the military ban on homosexuality, and other discriminatory laws.

“It’s difficult now to imagine what a breakthrough moment the White House meeting was, but at the time it was national news,” wrote Eric Marcus in Making Gay History.

In 1981, O’Leary moved to Los Angeles to became executive director of the National Gay Rights Advocates, a nonprofit law firm which took on cases that would set legal precedents in the protection of gay and lesbian rights.  NGRA also provided legal representation for people living with HIV/AIDS facing discrimination. Before leaving that post eight years later, she helped establish “National Coming Out Day” on Oct. 11, 1988 with Rob Eichberg, the founder of The Experience, a program designed to develop self-esteem in gay men and lesbians.

In 1998, she served as co-chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Gay and Lesbian Caucus and a member of the DNC Executive Committee, according to Lisa Rapp of the LGBT Archives. Together with fellow Gay and Lesbian Caucus member Jeff Soref and California Assemblywoman Carole Migden, O’Leary put forward an amendment to party rules requiring the inclusion of gay men and lesbians in all state delegations — a measure that was unanimously adopted.

Upon hearing about O’Leary’s death, activist and writer Sean Straub wrote, “I’ve considered Jean’s activism unique in that she achieved credibility, respect and had a big impact in four distinct arenas: the women’s movement, gay and lesbian rights movement, Democratic Party activism, and AIDS activism.”

Straub, who had been friends with O’Leary since 1985, said that she tended to downplay her role in the AIDS crisis.  But under O’Leary’s leadership, NGRA’s AIDS Civil Rights Project was critical in establishing the legal rights of people with HIV/AIDS in the mid-to-late 1980s, Straub said.

November 8, 2007
Dr. R Scott Hitt, AIDS Specialist on Presidential Advisory Council, Dies

Dr. R. Scott Hitt, an AIDS specialist who was the first openly gay person to head a presidential advisory board, dies at his West Hollywood home of colon cancer. He was 49.

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Dr. Hitt was chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) in President Bill Clinton’s administration in the 1990s.

In 1996, when President Clinton called for a cure for HIV, a vaccine and a guarantee of quality care for AIDS patients, Dr. Hitt turned his focus to the rapid spread of the disease among intravenous drug users and pressured federal agencies to develop more ways to address the issue, such as programs funding free clean needles, according to The New York Times.

In April 1998, President Clinton’s administration followed PACHA’s recommendation to lift the ban on federal funding of needle exchange programs.  However, the president simultaneously announced that these programs would not receive federal funding.

“At best this is hypocrisy, at worst, it’s a lie,” Dr. Hitt said at the time.  “And no matter what, it’s immoral.”

After leaving office, Clinton acknowledged that he had pulled his punches on needle exchange, and he wished he had had the political courage to release federal funds for the programs.

John Duran, the then-mayor of the City of West Hollywood and a longtime friend of Dr. Hitt, told POZ magazine, “I think Scott’s legacy was drawing AIDS to the attention of the president. He was uncompromising.  He was not afraid of challenging the president about what would make good public policy.”

Dr. Hitt “took the fight against AIDS to a whole new level,” HIV/AIDS activist and political strategist David Mixner told the Los Angeles Times.

With Dr. Hitt, Mixner co-founded Access Now for Gay and Lesbian Equality (ANGLE), a Los Angeles-based political organization that raised considerable funds to advance LGBT and AIDS issues.

“As the epidemic changed,” Mixner said, “he was one of the leaders who insisted on changing the face of the fight against AIDS to include people of color. That was one of his greatest contributions.”

Dr. Hitt began practicing medicine in 1983, just as the full force of  the AIDS crisis was devastating the lives of many Los Angeles County residents.  According to the Bay Area Reporter, he was a member of the Pacific Oaks Medical Group in Beverly Hills, one of the largest private HIV practices in the country.  He practiced as an HIV/AIDS doctor until 2000, about a year after he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Dr. Hitt was survived by his longtime partner, Alex Koleszar, a Los Angeles artist who has had exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and in Florence, Italy at the Biennale, according to Matt & Andrej Koymasky’s website.  Hitt was in medical school when he met and fell in love with Koleszar.

“I was so happy,” Koleszar said about the day Hitt proposed to him. “It couldn’t have been more romantic. I was waiting for the lightning bolt to strike.”

June 2008
Uganda Hosts HIV/AIDS Implementers Meeting; Activists Arrested

HIV/AIDS implementers from around the world gather in Kampala, Uganda for the 2008 HIV/AIDS Implementers’ Meeting, where three activists were arrested by Ugandan police.

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In recognition of the rapid expansion of HIV/AIDS programs worldwide, the focus of the meeting was building the capacity of local prevention, treatment, and care programs; enhancing quality; and promoting coordination among partners.

A total of 1,700 attendees convened at the meeting, representing governments, nongovernmental organizations including faith- and community-based groups, multilateral organizations, the private sector, and groups of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Cosponsors of the four-day conference include the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR); The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS); the World Health Organization (WHO); the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); the World Bank; and GNP+ (the Global Network of People Living with HIV).

During the conference, three Ugandan LGBT activists were arrested as they protested the statements made by a Ugandan government official who refused to direct funds toward HIV programs that targeted men who have sex with men.

The Uganda Police Force arrested and detained Pepe Julian “Patience” Onziema, Valentine Kalende and Usaam “Auf” Mukwaya — all members of the LGBT organization Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) — when the three activists took the stage at the conference to distribute leaflets and hold up small placards demanding attention to HIV vulnerability among the LGBT community.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission immediately issued a press release condemning the arrests of the activists and calling for their immediate and unconditional release.  The commission expressed concern for the safety of the activists, and noted the Ugandan government routinely discriminated against those speaking up for the LGBT community.

On July 25, a few hours after the activists attended their hearing for their arrest, Kampala police officers abducted one of the activists, Usaam “Auf” Mukwaya, as he returned his hotel.

A patrol car stopped the taxi he was riding in and four men identifying themselves as police officers abducted him and took him to a location where he was held for more than 24 hours without access to a lawyer or any reason provided for his arrest.

Mukwaya told Human Rights Watch that his abductors asked him questions in Luganda, a local dialect, about SMUG’s funders and supporters, and about his own role “among the homosexuals.” They also demanded he give them information about other individuals involved in LGBT rights.

According to Mukwaya, three police officers pushed him through a dark corridor to a room where they sat him on a chair.  Mukwaya reported seeing four other men in the room; they were close to his own age and appeared to have been beaten.  One appeared to have a broken leg.

One of the abductors scraped his knuckles with a razor-like object.  Another tied him to a machine that stretched his arms.  After forcing Mukwaya to strip to his underwear, they asked him if he was a man or a woman, and made him walk around the room unclothed.

The following day, they released him, dropping him on the streets of central Kampala.

Human Rights Watch would issue a statement decrying the treatment of government officials of Mukwaya and noting that “torture and ill-treatment is a pervasive problem” for the LGBT community in Uganda.

January 23, 2009
Martin Delaney, Crusader of HIV Treatment, Dies at 63

Martin Delaney, an activist who successfully challenged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to expedite the testing and approval of potentially life-saving HIV drugs, dies of liver cancer at his home in San Rafael, California. He was 63.

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Delaney was among the most influential HIV treatment activists in the United States, according to Elaine Woo’s obituary of Delaney in The Los Angeles Times.  Although not HIV-positive himself, Delaney was passionate about speeding up the development of HIV therapies, and forged productive relationships with federal agencies as well as with pharmaceutical companies and researchers.

“Millions of people are now receiving life-saving antiretroviral medications from a treatment pipeline that Marty Delaney played a key role in opening and expanding,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who led early AIDS research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Without his tireless work and vision, many more people would have perished from HIV/AIDS…. He was a formidable activist and a dear friend.”

Delaney’s death was announced by Project Inform, the San Francisco-based education and advocacy group he founded in 1985 with psychotherapist Joe Brewer.  Delaney also helped to establish the National HIV Treatment Hotline, which fielded thousands of calls a year from people in need of information about HIV and AIDS.

Project Inform was launched in response to Delaney’s frustration with the bureaucratic delays around the testing of new treatments.  The organization created controversary in 1989, when it conducted its own clinical trial of an experimental drug called Compound Z.  Although several patients died during the trial, the medication proved effective enough to eventually be approved.

A year later, largely through Delaney’s actions and advocacy, the U.S. Public Health Service adopted a policy allowing patients with HIV and AIDS to receive experimental drugs while they were still in research studies.

Although the policy initially addressed the need for people living with AIDS to access experimental treatment, thousands of people facing other life-threatening diseases have benefited.

Dr. Fauci was among the top scientists who initially opposed the policy change, but it was Delaney who eventually changed his mind, he told the LA Times.  In the mid-1980s, Delaney arranged for the doctor to meet gay men with HIV and AIDS who desperately wanted access to experimental treatments.

“A lot of activists were promoting it.  But it was Marty who convinced me by bringing me face to face with people who actually needed it,” said Dr. Fauci, who said he considers Delaney a public health hero.

Delaney was also close to Robert Gallo, MD, who helped discover the AIDS virus. Hearing of Delaney’s passing, Dr. Gallo issued a letter praising the activist as the rare lay person who possessed “an uncanny understanding of the science of HIV/AIDS,” and was the singular person who could succeed in “bridging the gap” between the research community and patients.

Delaney was born in 1945 in Chicago. He trained to become a Roman Catholic priest but dropped out of seminary to teach elementary school. He later became a management consultant with clients including IBM and Bank of America.

In 1978, after learning that he had Hepatitis B and had been given only months to live, he moved to California to participate in a Stanford University clinical trial of the drug interferon.  When the treatment put him into remission, he began to ask why more patients couldn’t have access to the experimental treatment.

“He said it was better than dying,” his sister, Lois Delaney-Ogorek, told the LA Times.

Delaney, who was gay, was living in Sausalito in the early 1980s when many of his friends began dying of a mysterious disease. He began to help smuggle drugs from Mexico and China — including ribavirin and isoprinosine — that were thought to have immune-boosting properties crucial to fighting AIDS.  So deep were his convictions, that he was willing to risk arrest and jail time to provide people living with AIDS with access to the drugs.

Through Project Inform, he began holding town hall meetings across the country to share information about the effectiveness of various treatments. He also launched what he described as “medically supervised guerrilla trials” of promising drugs that AIDS patients were using despite the lack of FDA approval.

Explaining his rationale on a 2004 episode of the PBS show Frontline, he said: “It struck us as very clear and very simple that people with a life-threatening illness should have a different rule book than people in general when it comes to accessing new drugs.”

In the Frontline interview, he said that AIDS took the lives of 80% of his friends and many more were living with HIV.

“There were times in the early 1990s where I swear that not a single day would go by in which someone I knew somewhere in the country didn’t die,” Delaney said.  “It’s meant, for a lot of us, devoting our lives to this work, because how could you not do so?”

Freddie for a Day
September 5, 2010
‘Freddie For A Day’ Event Starts in England

The fundraising event “Freddie For A Day” is launched by Mercury Phoenix Trust, a nonprofit created in memory of Freddie Mercury by Queen band members Brian May and Roger Taylor with their manager Jim Beach to support the global fight against HIV/AIDS.

[photo courtesy of MPT/Hard Rock Cafe Piccadilly Circus]

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“Freddie For A Day” celebrates the life of music icon Freddie Mercury by encouraging fans to dress as Freddie on his birthday — September 5 — to raise money for the Mercury Phoenix Trust (MPT).

MPT was started in 1992 to raise money to fight HIV/AIDS worldwide, according to The Guardian.  The “Freddie For A Day” initiative was started almost 18 years later to encourage people to raise money for MPT and show them how to use the new online donation platform.

From the donations received, the organization issues grants to programs that focus on HIV/AIDS education and awareness in areas around the world.  The projects funded range from educating grandparents looking after their grandchildren orphaned by AIDS in Cambodia, to preventing mother-to-child transmission in South Africa, to HIV awareness theater in Papua New Guinea and educating sexually active youth globally.

MPT donates to some large, well-known charities, but dedicates the greater part of its funding to small, grassroots organizations that are often overlooked.

“We are proud of the fact that more that 93 [pence] in each pound we raise goes to funding projects spread across the globe,” states Mercury Phoenix Trust on its website.  “In total, the MPT has funded well over 1,500 projects in 57 countries, giving away over UK$17 million in the global battle against AIDS.”

Since its 2010 launch, the “Freddie For A Day” event has been held every year in England and has grown to include the participation of fans in countries all around the world.  Hard Rock Cafes in Europe have partnered with MPT to create “Freddie” festivals at many of their locations.

“Young and old, people have donned a moustache and gone out for drinks, gone to class, gone shopping, taken the train, taken the plane, put on a concert or run a mini-marathon dressed as Freddie,” according to Mercury Phoenix Trust.  “Some go the whole hog by wearing full costume for the entire day. Some just decide to support the cause by wearing something yellow or putting on a moustache. The main thing is to have fun, raise awareness and try and get sponsored to raise funds.”

September 27, 2010
Activist Brian Bond Discloses HIV+ Status on White House Blog

Brian Bond, who is the deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, discloses his HIV-positive status in a blog for National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

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“Gay and bisexual men make up roughly 2% of the U.S. population, but we account for 53% of new HIV infections,” Bond wrote on the website for the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy.  “We are the only group where HIV infection rates are rising.”

In his blog post, Bond announced he had been living with HIV since 2001, and discussed how he was invested in the success of the White House’s new HIV/AIDS Strategy, released under President Barack Obama.

“I want to share a personal perspective on the importance of the recently released National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States that was issued by the Obama Administration in July,” Bond wrote.  “While I work closely with the Office of National AIDS Policy, I was not directly involved in writing the plan, but I clearly have a personal stake in the mission.”

When Bond was appointed in January 2009 as the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, he became the first openly gay person to hold this position.

“From day one of President Obama’s administration, he encouraged people to push collectively to do better,” Bond told Philadelphia Gay News reporter Mark Segal in 2016.  “It is activists’ job to bring issues to the forefront and push. I think that’s an important component of this. We have to have people both working on the inside and the outside to bring about real change, which is what this community has done very effectively.”

Prior to working in the White House, Bond served as the National Constituency Director for the Obama for America Campaign in Chicago and the Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee’s Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council, according to The Advocate.

He also served several years as the Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, an organization committed to training and electing Out LGBT candidates for public office.  Bond got his start in politics as the executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party, according to CBS News‘ “11 HIV-Positive Icons You Should Know.”

He was born in Jaspar County in rural Missouri, where his mother was a notable leader in the Missouri Democratic Party. He came out to his parents in high school and, inspired by his mother’s involvement in local politics, he left home to study Public Administration at Missouri State University in Springfield.

At almost 40 years old, Bond discovered he was HIV positive.  About this time in his life, he said, “For some of us, we don’t come out once, but twice.”

In 2019, Bond would become Executive Director of PFLAG, an LGBTQ advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

October 27, 2010
Actress & Early AIDS Prevention Advocate Zelda Rubinstein Dies at 76

Zelda Rubinstein, the diminutive character actress who used her fame from the 1982 movie Poltergeist to advocate for AIDS awareness, dies of natural causes at Barlow Respiratory Hospital in Los Angeles at the age of 76.

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“She was one of the very first Hollywood celebrities to speak out on HIV and AIDS,” said Craig E. Thompson, then-executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles.

“It was the first AIDS education and prevention campaign in Los Angeles and one of the very first in the United States,” added Thompson, who said calls to the HIV/AIDS hotline “skyrocketed after the campaign came out.”

Rubinstein told the Los Angeles Times in 1985 that she was looking for a way to get involved in the fight against AIDS when she was approached to play the mother in the campaign L.A. CARES (Los Angeles Cooperative AIDS Risk-Reduction Education Service), which was launched by the organization now known as the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

In TV spots, she played the mother pleading with an unseen son to “play safely.”  In videos that were shown in gay bars, the sons appeared as bare-chested young men.  The campaign featuring Rubinstein’s “mother” character also included a series of ads in newspapers and on billboards and buses.

In one ad, Rubinstein is seen wearing an apron and talking to her “son,” who is clad only in shorts and holding an umbrella.  At the bottom, it says, “L.A. CARES . . . like a mother.”

In addition to her scene-stealing turns as the psychic Tangina in the Poltergeist horror films, Rubinstein also had roles in the movies Frances, Sixteen Candles, Teen Witch, Anguish and Southland Tales, and the TV series Picket Fences (1992-1996), on which she was a regular.

Elizabeth Taylor
March 23, 2011
AIDS Activist Elizabeth Taylor Dies at Age 79

AIDS activist and award-winning actress Elizabeth Taylor dies of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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In the mid-1980s, Taylor became the most prominent celebrity to back what was then a very unfashionable cause: AIDS research, prevention and care.  It started with a 1984 dinner benefit for the nonprofit AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), for which she began calling her A-list friends to solicit their support.

“She took this energy that she used to have a career, and she put it into AIDS, for no other reason than her friend [Rock Hudson] had gotten ill,” AIDS activist and comic writer-performer Bruce Vilanch said at a 2021 event hosted by the Foundation for The AIDS Monument.  “The reason Elizabeth was so successful was everybody in the world would take her call — even the Pope — if only to discuss jewelry.”

Over the years, Taylor reportedly was responsible for raising more than $270 million and influencing countless elected officials to support the cause.

In 1985, she, along with Dr. Michael Gottlieb and Dr. Mathilde Krim, founded the non-profit American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR).  Immediately, Taylor began lobbying then-President Ronald Reagan and members of Congress to address the epidemic by allocating funds to research the treatment and prevention of the virus.  In 1986, she appeared in amfAR’s first public service TV ads to heighten AIDS awareness and encourage compassion for people with AIDS.  Taylor was instrumental in expanding amfAR’s operations to other countries.

In 1991, she founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF), a non-profit organization that took a more personal approach to the AIDS epidemic.  With ETAF, Taylor sought to advocate for and provide direct care to those who faced the highest levels of stigma, marginalization, and discrimination.  Today, ETAF continues to carry forward Taylor’s mission, with heart and hope, until the end of HIV/AIDS.

Taylor testified before the Senate and House for the Ryan White Care Act in 1986, 1990, and 1992.  She persuaded President Reagan to acknowledge the disease for the first time in a speech in 1987, and publicly criticized presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton for not doing enough to combat the disease.

Taylor also founded the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center to offer free HIV/AIDS testing and care at the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, DC, and the Elizabeth Taylor Endowment Fund for the UCLA Clinical AIDS Research and Education Center in Los Angeles.

For her advocacy work, Taylor was honored with several awards; she was made a Knight of the French Legion of Honour in 1987, and received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1993, the Screen Actors’ Guild Lifetime Achievement Award for Humanitarian service in 1997, the GLAAD Vanguard Award in 2000, and the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001.

After her death, GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios issued a statement saying that “Dame Taylor was an icon not only in Hollywood, but in the LGBT community, where she worked to ensure that everyone was treated with the respect and dignity we all deserve.”

According to Paul Flynn of The Guardian, she was “a new type of gay icon, one whose position is based not on tragedy, but on her work for the LGBTQ community.”[140] Speaking of her charity work, former President Bill Clinton said at her death, “Elizabeth’s legacy will live on in many people around the world whose lives will be longer and better because of her work and the ongoing efforts of those she inspired.”

Since Taylor’s death, her estate has continued to fund ETAF’s work, donating 25% of royalties from the use of her image and likeness to the foundation.

June 8, 2011
HHS Commemorates 30 Years of Leadership in Fighting HIV/AIDS

HHS Secretary Sebelius hosted “Commemorating 30 Years of Leadership in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS”.

January 24, 2012
Josh Robbins Invites World to Witness His HIV Test Results

Josh Robbins receives nationwide attention, raising awareness about HIV, when he records the interaction with his doctor as he receives the results of his HIV test (he tested positive).

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In the opening of the video, which can be seen on YouTube, Robbins says, “If the news is that I am positive, then I’m going to get a plane ticket, jump on a plane, and go and tell my family.”

Next, we see him walking to Roosevelt Hospital in Nashville and taking an elevator to the third floor, where the clinic is located.  The camera is turned off, but we could hear Robbins’ conversation with the doctor, who tells him, “Your viral load right now is at 5,517,000.”

We then see Robbins coming out of the clinic, looking stunned as he mutters, “Alright … positive.”

Once outside the hospital, he makes an attempt to collect himself, announcing his HIV-positive status and his plans to return home to Jacksonville, Tennessee, so he can “tell my mom face-to-face.”

Robbins posted the video on his Facebook page and then on YouTube.  He was motivated to do this, because he was struck by the fact that he didn’t know anyone else in Nashville who was HIV-positive and he felt he needed to warn the men in his city “that we are not invincible.”

Less than a month after being told he tested positive for HIV, he started a blog called “I’m Still Josh” to help start a dialogue about living with HIV in the South.  He would help spread the word to his peers that an epidemic of new infections was occurring, and he would offer advice about prevention.  He also sought to create a simple message to break down the stigma attached with HIV in Nashville:  “I’m still Josh. You still be YOU!”

He would go on to be a frequent contributor to POZ magazine and win awards for his advocacy work about sexual health and HIV.  Robbins’ work also has been featured on The Advocate, Human Rights Campaign, Healthline, and a myriad of additional publications.  Robbins was named to the POZ 100 List in 2013.

In 2014, Robbins created an iPhone application called Ask HIV, described by Product Hunt as “an HIV/AIDS hotline on your iPhone.”  During the Obama administration, Robbins helped lead the White House’s social media plan for the update of the President’s National HIV Strategy.

From 2013 to 2000, Healthline.com elected Robbins’ blog to its list of Best Blogs List for HIV for eight consecutive years).  He supports local HIV/AIDS organizations, including Nashville CARES and the HIV Vaccine Trials Network.

July 21, 2012
AIDS Memorial Quilt Displayed in its Entirety

During AIDS 2012, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is displayed in its entirety in Washington, DC, for the first time since 1996.

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Volunteers have to rotate nearly 50,000 panels to ensure that the entire work is displayed. Microsoft Research, the University of Southern California, the NAMES Project Foundation, and a handful of other institutions collaborate to create a zoomable “map” of the Quilt

August 6, 2012
John Grant Discloses HIV+ Status at UK’s Meltdown Festival

Musician John Grant takes the stage to sing as a part of the Hercules and Love Affair collective as a part of the Meltdown Festival in the U.K. and announces that he is HIV positive.

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Grant, who is openly gay, was diagnosed as HIV+ in 2011, after being contacted by a former lover who tested positive for HIV.

In an interview for The Sydney Morning Herald, Grant spoke candidly of his diagnosis:

“I was messing around with my life and indulging in destructive behaviors and ended up getting a disease that could have totally been avoided.  When I look at the fact that there are millions of children in Africa with HIV, who never got to choose, it makes me need to figure out why I let that happen to myself.”

Born in a small Colorado town, the singer-songwriter decided to break with his band the Czars in 2010 and embarked on a solo career.  His debut solo album Queen of Denmark was named the best album of 2010 by Mojo, and his third studio album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (2015), received widespread critical acclaim

In addition to music, Grant has a strong interest in languages and can speak fluent German, Spanish and Russian, as well as conversational French and Swedish.  He currently lives in Reykjavik, Iceland and is in a long-term relationship with an Icelandic graphic designer.

November 26, 2012
AIDS Activists Protest in Nude in U.S. House Speaker Boehner’s Office

Three female AIDS activists are arrested after taking off their clothes in the office lobby of the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner.

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The women had the words “AIDS cuts kill” painted on their bodies and had linked arms with four men, who also removed their clothes.  They were joined in Speaker Boehner’s office by dozens of other clothed demonstrators chanting: “People with AIDS are under attack! What do we do? Fight back!”

The protesters were demonstrating against Republican-led budget cuts to federal funding for HIV/AIDS treatment and care, according to Business Insider.

Capitol Police arrested the three women, including two organizers for Queerocracy, according to NBC News.  The four men that had also disrobed left the scene without being detained.  The protest was coordinated by a coalition of AIDS activist groups gathering in Washington for Saturday’s World AIDS Day protest, according to The Guardian.

“People with AIDS are sick and tired of being pushed over the cliff,” said Jennifer Flynn, 40, of New York City, who was among those arrested. “We need to make sure they stop going after people with AIDS.”

Michael Tikili, 26, of New York City, told the New York Daily News that he was HIV-positive and depended on Medicaid for treatment.

“Just the idea of these programs being cut is horrible,” Tikili said.

The protest occurred as congressional leaders and President Barack Obama sought to come to a deal on spending cuts scheduled to go into effect in January 2013.

Spencer Cox (2)
December 18, 2012
NYC Activist Spencer Cox Dies

Treatment Action Group founder Spencer Cox died in New York of AIDS-related illness at the age of 44 after he stopped taking his HIV medications.

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As an activist during the height of the AIDS Crisis in New York, Cox helped facilitate the production of protease inhibitors, which revolutionized AIDS care in the 1990s.

In 1992, Cox joined with other ACT UP members to form the Treatment Action Group, which worked to further treatment advances in HIV.  Along with other TAG colleagues, Cox schooled himself in the science of AIDS, the workings of drug trials and the government approval process.

While still in his 20s, he represented people with AIDS in high-level meetings with the Federal Drug Administration to hasten the approval time for new HIV medications, including the new drug class of protease inhibitors.

In addition, Cox designed a clinical trial to examine the effectiveness of ritonavir, which was initially controversial because no one wanted to receive a placebo.  Cox’s design, however, allowed for both speedy data gathering and a relatively accelerated approval process so that those receiving a placebo could quickly be upgraded to the medication.  The quick study and approval of ritonavir, along with the rival drug indinavir, had a dramatic effect on HIV treatment.

Cox continued to be an HIV/AIDS advocate into the 2000s.  Concerned with issues faced by gay men, including loneliness, depression and substance abuse, he founded the Medius Institute for Gay Men’s Health in 2006.  However, Cox was forced to abandon the project when funding was not made available, and he returned to his home town of Atlanta.

In 2012, Cox returned to New York and, shortly thereafter, was featured in the documentary film How to Survive a Plague.

“One of the visceral things the film brought back for me is the rage that is still almost as fresh as the days when I first discovered it,” he wrote in a blog post for POZ magazine.

“Footage of virulently homophobic North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms reminds me even today of how much I hate (present tense) this man,” he wrote.  “His colleagues, including New York’s John Cardinal O’Connor, Mayor Ed Koch, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, Patrick Buchanan, even the low-level Reagan press staffer who, in a transcript of an early White House daily briefing, is asked about AIDS, and reduces it to a smutty joke worthy of a quick chuckle.  Karma be damned — I hate these men, and probably will until the day I die.”

A few months after his blog post, Cox was found severly ill in his apartment by his roommate, Mark Leydorf, upon his return home after a couple days away.  Leydorf called an ambulance, which took them to the Allen Hospital, a branch of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, on 220th Street and Broadway. There, doctors found that Cox’s T-cells were virtually gone and that his viral load was through the roof.

Less than a week later, Cox died at the hospital.  Afterward, on The Huffington Post and other Web sites, a furious debate ensued about just what Cox’s death represented.

“Was it ‘pill fatigue,’ a term applied to patients who grow exhausted taking a variety of medications daily and then become noncompliant?  Why would Mr. Cox devote his life to obtaining lifesaving medications for people all over the world, only to stop taking them himself?” wrote Jacob Bernstein in The New York Times.  “Was Mr. Cox trying to kill himself after several years in which the side effects had been nearly as bad as the disease?  Or could crystal meth have been to blame?”

Mark Harrington, the executive director of TAG, said Cox had been struggling with an addiction to methamphetamines and had stopped taking his HIV medication some months ago.

“He saved the lives of millions, but he couldn’t save his own,” Harrington said.

However, David France, director of How to Survive a Plague, said, “There was some temptation to conclude Spencer was doing drugs at the end of his life, but there’s no evidence of that that we know of.”

According to Walt Odets, a clinical psychologist in Berkeley who knew Cox and has written extensively about the aftereffects of HIV on long-term survivors, the epidemic did not end for the veterans of Act Up when therapeutic drugs came along.

“It was an extraordinary trauma comparable to a wartime experience,” Dr. Odets said. “For many gay men, after the epidemic was over, there was a loss of energy and vitality.  It’s like going from a car that runs on rocket fuel to one that runs on gasoline.  And it had to be bewildering for Spencer.”

The year after Cox’s death, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center (now Mount Sinai Morningside) memorialized the activist by renaming their long-time HIV clinic the Spencer Cox Center for Health.


October 13, 2013
National Latino/Hispanic HIV/AIDS Action Agenda Published

The National Latino AIDS Action Network (NLAAN)—a diverse coalition of community-based organizations, national organizations, state and local health departments, researchers and concerned individuals—publishes the National Latino/Hispanic HIV/AIDS Action Agenda to raise awareness, identify priorities, and issue specific recommendations to address the impact of the epidemic in Hispanic/Latino communities.

Steve Moore
May 24, 2014
‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ Steve Moore Dies

Comedian Steve Moore, best known for his 1997 HBO comedy special Drop Dead Gorgeous (A Tragi-Comedy): The Power of HIV-Positive Thinking, dies of AIDS-related illness two weeks shy of his 60th birthday.

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Moore starred in the HBO special Drop Dead Gorgeous about living with HIV.  Part of his act included imitating his mother, Wilma, whose malapropisms included saying that when she was cold, she wrapped herself in a couple of “Africans.”

“I’ve been there, Mother,” he quipped.

Although gay, Moore was in a lavender marriage to Canadian comedian Lois Bromfield from 1980 to 1995.  In the 1990s, Moore frequently performed as the warm-up comedian for tapings of the TV sit-com Roseanne, on which Bromfield was a writer.

“That mouth got him hired and fired five times by Roseanne Barr from the set of Roseanne,” wrote Rich Griset in his Style Weekly tribute to Moore.

But it also endeared him to Ellen DeGeneres, according to local comedian and theater critic John Porter.

“Steve was losing his health benefits, because he didn’t have enough work under his SAG card, so Ellen DeGeneres would hire him when she had her sitcom,” Porter said.  “It kept him employed long enough so that his benefits couldn’t be denied.”

In a Los Angeles Times review of Moore’s HBO show, Daryl H. Miller characterized Moore as “a little Joel Grey, a lot Bette Davis.”

“What makes his story so compelling is the generosity of spirit that he finds in himself and in those around him,” Miller wrote of Moore.

In the show, which was shot before an audience at the Comedy Store in West Hollywood, Moore covers his whole life, from growing up in Danville, Virginia to living the fast life in Los Angeles, and then moving back to Danville.  The show concludes with a story about returning to Los Angeles to receive free HIV medication from a Beverly Hills doctor who reallocates drugs from patients who died, and then throwing himself a life-affirming 40th birthday party.

After the release of the HBO show, Moore continued to support himself with smaller-scale comedy touring, including performing at HIV/AIDS and LGBT conferences and events, and as a speaker on AIDS and HIV issues.

Moore died at his home in Danville, Virginia.  The Byrd Theatre in nearby Richmond would host a public memorial service for Moore on what would have been Moore’s 60th birthday.

December 2, 2014
AIDS Activist Gregg Gonsalves Co-Founds Yale Program

Gregg Gonsalves, co-founder of the Treatment Action Group for AIDS research, becomes a founding co-director of the Yale Law School/Yale School of Public Health Global Health Justice Partnership.

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Yale names Gonsalves as a co-director of its new Global Health Justice Partnership (GHJP), which focuses on social medicine at the School of Public Health.  He served in this position concurrently with pursuing his PhD in the study the epidemiology of microbial diseases, according to Yale University.

In 2008, Gonsalves was accepted into Yale’s Eli Whitney Program for Nontraditional Students with a $100,000 grant honoring his two decades of advocating for people with AIDS.

Gonsalves joined ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in Boston after a friend tested positive for HIV.  After moving to New York, he joined the ACT UP chapter there and in 1993 co-founded the Treatment Action Group, a non-profit organization that fought to reform the U.S. government’s inadequate HIV/AIDS research and treatment program.

Remember, our government didn’t respond to the epidemic at the requisite scale for many years, so the response to the AIDS crisis had to come from the communities themselves,” Gonsalves told Yale. “We also had to take to the streets, to the NIH, the FDA, to the White House to force them to act. The AIDS epidemic in the U.S. is still terrible — 50,000 new infections each year and 15,000 deaths — but it would be a lot worse without the efforts of ordinary people living with the disease and their friends and families who stepped up when our leaders failed to do so.”

In 2000, Gonsalves became policy director for AIDS research, treatment, and prevention at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the world’s largest and oldest AIDS service organization. In 2003, he founded the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, which advocated for AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) treatment on a global scale. In 2006, he coordinated regional programs for the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa in Cape Town, educating communities about AIDS and TB.

In 2018, Gonsalves would go on to receive the MacArthur grant for his activism and advocacy in the area of epidemic diseases.  After Mark Harrington, Gonsalves would be the second HIV/AIDS activist to receive the “Genius Award.”

His articles have appeared in such journals as Health Affairs, the New England Journal of Medicine, PLoS One, and Lancet, among others.

Marilyn Gunnell
January 18, 2016
Glendale Activist Marilyn Gunnell Dies at 73

Marilyn Gunnell, a community leader who founded Glendale Leaders for AIDS Awareness in 1993, dies at Glendale Adventist Medical Center at the age of 73.

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Gunnell said she founded Glendale Leaders for AIDS Awareness to fulfill a pledge she made to longtime friend and early AIDS educator Judy Ritchie.

Ritchie lost her then-11-year-old son, Alan, to AIDS in 1992, after he contracted the disease through a blood transfusion when he was 2 days old, according to the Glendale News-Press (a subsidiary of the Los Angeles Times).

Gunnell said she told Ritchie, “Judy, I will give you my promise that something good will come out of this.  Alan’s life will not be in vain.”

Gunnell’s first efforts to bring AIDS education into the Glendale community were met with opposition, according to the Glendale News-Press.  At the time, Gunnell was a prominent member of the Glendale Sunrise Rotary Club and the advisor to the group’s Interact student club at Herbert Hoover High School.  She and a group of Hoover students organized a campus AIDS awareness week in 1993, in spite of resistance from school administrators.

Following the awareness-raising event, Gunnell and the Interact club angered the school board further by hosting an HIV/AIDS information booth at an annual fundraising tour of homes.  When a high school student returned home from the event with a pamphlet she picked up at Interact’s  booth, the student’s mother complained to school administrators about the pamphlet, which included information about how HIV is transmitted sexually.

Soon, Gunnell was wrongly portrayed by critics as a zealot who sought to fill “the children’s minds with rubbish,” she told the News-Press.

To continue the work she started with the Glendale Rotary, Gunnell founded Glendale Leaders for AIDS Awareness in 1993.  Soon, the organization had about 100 members, all working to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in the Glendale community.

Through the organization’s tenacious efforts, the City of Glendale became receptive to the need for raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.  The city created a mandatory AIDS education program for its employees, a milestone that Gunnell was particularly proud of.  Glendale Leaders for AIDS Awareness also established a book collection at the Glendale Central Library.

“Glendale had come from being frozen in the ice age to being on the cutting edge,” she said.

But by late 1999, membership in Glendale Leaders for AIDS Awareness had fallen to about 10 active members.

“Many people do not find the issue to be as fashionable at it was three or four years ago,” Gunnell told the News-Press in December 1999.  “A lot of people are saying, ‘It’s not a problem anymore. I don’t have to worry about this.’  They think if you can take a pill, it’s not a problem … but it’s not true.”

Gunnell was a 43-year resident of Glendale who had a career as nurse and then private investigator, according to the Glendale News-Press.

Born in Boston, Gunnell had been a member of the Glendale Sunrise Rotary since 1989, and was also a member of the Los Angeles County Medical Association Alliance, District 4, serving as president for three years.

Among the many community efforts she spearheaded were “Not Even For A Minute,” part of national campaign to prevent child deaths from being left unattended in a car; “Bully Me Not,” an antibullying education effort with expert training for local educatorsy; “Shaking Shocker,” an education campaign to prevent shaken-baby syndrome; and “Glendale Safe Place,” which designated safe havens for runaway or homeless youth.

In addition, she was involved with the Glendale Youth Coalition, Glendale Human Relations, Safe Place National Advisory Board, Committee for a Clean And Beautiful Glendale, Glendale Healthy Kids, Glendale Chamber of Commerce, Glendale Latino Association, and Glendale Healthier Community Coalition.

Among the awards she received were the Glendale Adventist Cancer Care Guild 2015 Courage Award, the Service Above Self Award from Glendale Sunrise Rotary in 2011, the Glendale YWCA Heart and Excellence Award in 2008, the Glendale YMCA Harold Prugh Award in 2002, and Glendale News-Press Woman of Achievement in 2001.

March 11, 2016
Candidate Hillary Clinton Chided for Crediting Nancy Reagan for AIDS Work

Following the death of Nancy Reagan at the age of 94, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton credited the former First Lady with “starting a national conversation about AIDS,” unleashing a torrent of criticism from LGBTQ+ activists.

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“In fact, the Reagans spent most of the 1980s silent on the issue,” wrote Dan Zak in The Washington Post.

Clinton apologized hours later on Twitter, saying she “misspoke” — but she had already re-ignited an antipathy toward the Reagans long held by those who witnessed the neglect and demise of so many people from HIV/AIDS during the Ronald Reagan presidency from 1981 to 1989.

Longtime activist Cleve Jones wrote on Facebook: “Hillary Clinton is praising Ronald and Nancy Reagan for ‘starting a national conversation’ about HIV/AIDS. Utter bullshit. Disgusting. Really, just stop it.”

Chad Griffin, president of LGBT nonprofit Human Rights Campaign, tweeted, “While I respect her advocacy on issues like stem cell & Parkinson’s research, Nancy Reagan was, sadly, no hero in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”

April 7, 2016
AIDS Activist Wins Suit Against NYC Realtor

The New York City Commission on Human Rights orders a real estate brokerage firm to pay $5,000 in damages to David Goode, 28, an AIDS activist who was illegally denied housing.

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In early 2015, Goode was staying on a friend’s couch while looking for a place to live in New York City, according to The New York Times’ coverage of Goode’s lawsuit.

Goode spotted a Craiglist rental ad that looked perfect: a one-bedroom apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn that was newly renovated and on the first floor.  Most importantly, it was affordable enough that his subsidy from the HIV/AIDS Services Administration would cover it.  Goode tested positive for HIV in 2006.

Goode submitted an application for the apartment unit and the rental process proceeded until an agent from the brokerage firm, Nooklyn, asked about Goode’s source of income. When he informed the agent that he was disabled and would be paying his rent with a city voucher, the realtor rejected his application, texting him the message, “That landlord doesn’t accept HASA.”

So Goode filed a lawsuit in the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn against the landlord, Goldfarb Properties, accusing it of violating a city law prohibiting discrimination based on the source of a tenant’s income.  Then Goode reported Nooklyn to the city’s Commission on Human Rights, which agreed to investigate the matter.

In January 2016, more than 26,000 people in the city qualified for rental assistance from the HIV/AIDS Services Administration.  Source-of-income discrimination is illegal in New York, but many landlords and rental agencies routinely rejected applications from people who pay their rent with Section 8 or other rental assistance subsidies, according to the Times.

While waiting for the matter to be resolved, Goode moved to Miami.  Then the New York City Commission on Human Rights notified Goode that he had won his complaint, and that Nooklyn would be ordered to pay him $5,000 in damages.

In addition to compensating Goode, Nooklyn agreed to adopt companywide reforms, according to the Times.

Goode recommended that anyone on disability who is seeking housing should text or record their conversations with landlords and realtors.

“People on HASA are so used to being told ‘no’ that we often just accept it,” said Goode. “That’s what realtors and landlords are banking on.”

Alexis Arquette 1
September 11, 2016
Actress Alexis Arquette Dies

Transgender trailblazer Alexis Arquette dies at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles of AIDS-related illness at the age of 47.

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Arquette was born into an acting family that includes siblings David, Rosanna, and Patricia, the latter who would famously memorialize her sister in a speech at the 2019 Emmy Awards.

In the earlier years of her career, Arquette primarily performed as a female impersonator, frequently under the name “Eva Destruction.”  She debuted on the big screen in 1986 in an uncredited role as Alexis, the androgynous bandmate of Max Whiteman (Evan Richards) inDown and Out in Beverly Hills.  Arquette would go on to star in more than 40 movies, the majority of them low-budget or independent films.

Diagnosed with HIV in 1989, Arquette chronicled her gender affirmation surgery in a 2007 documentary, Alexis Arquette: She’s My Brother, but returned to presenting as a man in 2013 as her health failed.

In her final hours, Arquette is surrounded by her famous brothers and sisters.  Alexis had left specific instructions for her death: David Bowie’s “Starman” was to play as her final moments approached.

And when the final breath passed her lips, she asked that everyone cheer “the moment that [s]he transitioned to another dimension,” reports The Hollywood Reporter.

Her family would go on to found the Alexis Arquette Family Foundation, which works with the LA County / USC Medical Center to provide medical and mental health support to LGBTQ residents in the county.

December 27, 2016
APLA Founder Matt Redman Dies

Matt Redman, one of the cofounders of AIDS Project Los Angeles, dies at the age of 66. Instrumental in spurring the LA community to action during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, Redman dedicated his life to the fight against HIV.

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Redman began his HIV/AIDS advocacy work in 1982, when he helped to create the first hotline in Los Angeles to share verified medical information about the disease.  In early 1983, he would found AIDS Project Los Angeles with Nancy Cole Sawaya, Max Drew, and Ervin Munro.

In the beginning, APLA had five clients, which would grow to 100 by the end of the year, and by the middle of 1984, APLA would serve 200 clients — and the numbers kept growing.  Redman served on APLA’s Board of Directors and volunteered throughout the years.

Redman also served on the Board of Directors for the Federation of AIDS-Related Organizations (later renamed AIDS United).  He was honored in June 2015 by the LA City Council during LGBT Heritage Month for his work to advance equality.

Redman apparently started feeling ill in mid-December and cancelled a party planned for Dec. 18, according to journalist Karen Ocamb in The Pride.  After a friend begged him to see a doctor, Redman went to the emergency room at Southern California Hospital at Culver City and was immediately rushed to Urgent Care.

An upper respiratory infection had traveled to his heart and lungs, and medical personnel determined he didn’t have enough T-cells to fight the infection.  He “coded” and was placed on life support while his family and former partner were notified and flew in to be with him in his last moments.

Pride FLAG
March 31, 2017
Gilbert Baker — Creator of Pride Flag — Dies

Gilbert Baker, the artist who in 1978 created the iconic rainbow flag symbolizing LGBTQ pride, dies in his sleep in New York at the age of 65.

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In the early years of the AIDS crisis, the rainbow flag would emerge as a symbol for LGBTQ rights around the world.  Baker initially designed an eight-color flag for San Francisco’s gay freedom day in 1978, the precursor to the modern pride parade.  Each of the eight colors represented a different aspect of humanity:

  • Pink – sexuality
  • Red – life
  • Orange – healing
  • Yellow- sunlight
  • Green – nature
  • Turquoise – art
  • Indigo – harmony
  • Violet – human spirit

LGBT icon Harvey Milk, who was a friend of Baker’s, marched under the first rainbow flag in the June 1978 Gay Freedom parade, just months before he was assassinated.

By 1979, Baker dropped two colors — pink and turquoise — largely because fabrics and dyes in those shades weren’t always readily available, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.  The six-color flag — red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple — is what became globally recognized.

Baker was born in Kansas in 1951 and served in the U.S. Army from 1970 to 1972, which stationed him in San Francisco in the early days of the gay liberation movement.  His story as a soldier is told in the book Conduct Unbecoming by Randy Shilts.

After Baker was honorably discharged from the Army, he taught himself to sew and began a career in flag-making which would include creating designs and displays for several world leaders including the presidents of France, Venezuela and the Philippines.

In June of 1994, Gilbert achieved a world’s record when he created a mile-long Rainbow Flag to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot 1969 in New York City. The banner measured 30 x 5,280 ft. and was carried by 5,000 people. The project was underwritten by Stadtlander’s Pharmacy, a California pharmacy which was a principal distributor of a variety of HIV/AIDS medications.

Former San Francisco Supervisor Jeff Sheehy wrote about his recollection for the Bay Area Reporter of how the Rainbow Flag came to be installed at Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco:

“In 1997, at the Castro Street Fair, I was standing with Baker in Jane Warner Plaza and then-mayor Willie Brown was approaching with his entourage. Baker was keenly aware that the mayor was promoting public art … Baker and I approached the mayor and Baker, with all of his glorious and passionate energy, pitched the idea for his work of art, the installation of a giant flagpole flying the rainbow flag — an idea he had spent 10 years developing.”

Baker never made money on the Rainbow Flag. With the help of a young lawyer named Matt Coles, he blocked the Pride Foundation’s attempt to trademark the flag, insisting that the flag belonged to everyone.

“Gilbert was our own Betsy Ross,” said Sheehy, who worked with Baker in the 1990s on political causes. “He was a genius at political theater, at political art. He’s one of these heroes who never sought attention for himself. But he was relentless.”

One of his last works shortly before he died was the creation of concentration camp uniforms with pink triangles foreshadowing then-President Donald Trump’s march toward a fascist regime. Baker presented these in a gallery in the Castro, and they were also included in the Pink Triangle installation during San Francisco Pride in 2017.

After Baker’s death, the rainbow flag was raised in his honor near Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco.  A candlelight vigil was held for him at Castro and Market streets, beneath his flag.

In 2021, a segment of Baker’s original Rainbow Flag, which was thought to be lost since 1978, was recently rediscovered and donated to the San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society Museum and Archives.  The hand-stitched and dyed 28-foot-long banner was been permanently installed in the museum.

August 27, 2017
Muslim American Faith Organizations Take Stand Against Stigma

Muslim-American organization RAHMA (Arabic for “mercy”) launches the first national Faith HIV & AIDS Awareness Day.

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The goal is to rally U.S. faith communities (including Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and Baha’i) to take a public stand against stigma in their congregations and raise awareness of HIV and AIDS.

Elton John
November 6, 2017
Harvard Honors Elton John as Humanitarian of the Year

Harvard University honors singer and HIV activist Elton John as Humanitarian of the Year.

[photo by Lauren A. Sierra, courtesy of The Harvard Crimson]

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Elton John was recognized with the university’s Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award for his decades of work in support of HIV/AIDS research and awareness.  Since founding the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992, he has raised more than $385 million to support HIV/AIDS-related programming around the world.

About 1,000 cheering Harvard affiliates attended the award ceremony and gave John a standing ovation, according to Samuel W. Zwickel’s story in The Harvard Crimson.

In his speech to the crowd, John said dedicated the award to the people working at the front lines of tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, calling them “the bravest and most compassionate people I have ever met.”

Antron-Reshaud Olukayode
November 12, 2017
Performance Artist & HIV Educator Antron-Reshaud Olukayode Dies

Atlanta performance artist, writer, and HIV educator Antron-Reshaud Olukayode dies of AIDS-related illness at age 33.

[photo from Olukayode’s blog]

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Olukayode was an accomplished poet, author, HIV/AIDS activist, blogger, self-taught multidisciplinary artist, vocalist, music producer, creative director of BOS+AROS, and Buddhist practitioner.

Born on April 26, 1984 in Gainesville, Florida as Antron Reshaud Brown (he later changed his surname to Olukayode, which is Yoruba for “God brings happiness”), he didn’t speak until the age of four, according to the National Black Justice Coalition in its tribute to Olukayode.

He showed an early interest in the arts, and his grandmother and mother encouraged his artistic expression, supplying him with craft supplies.  He learned to play the piano as a child from his grandmother, and in the second grade, he won a local writing contest based on a story about going to the grocery store with his mother. When he was 15, Olukayode started working with children at his local Boys and Girls Club, leading them in arts and crafts projects.

During his teen years, Olukayode was constantly teased, bullied and physically abused due to his effeminate appearance and mannerisms.  At the age of 17, he was raped and assaulted in a field near his neighborhood by two young men.  Afterward, Olukayode considered suicide, but heard a voice telling him to write.  He began writing in his journal to keep himself sane.

Olukayode was infected with HIV while in an abusive relationship with a basketball player at his college.  When he learned of his diagnosis, he was overwhelmed with shame and dropped out of college.  He worked in a series of meaningless jobs, continuing to live with his mother until he decided to leave Gainesville to seek a better life.

In 2006, Olukayode boarded a Greyhound bus to Atlanta with with four boxes of belongings and $200 in cash,  A new friend, Kelvin Barlow, read some of Olukayode’s written work and introduced him to AID Atlanta’s program manager Craig Washington, who invited Olukayode to recite poetry at a Black Gay Pride event called Phyre!

Olukayode said that it was at this event that he knew he had found his calling as a poet.  He also became involved with AID Atlanta, which led to his first HIV/AIDS prevention job at National AIDS Education & Services for Minorities (NAESM), under the supervision and guidance of executive director Adolph St. Arromand.

In 2007, Olukayode released his first collection of poetry, “Bohemian Rebel: Naked and Exposed Vol. 1.”  A week later, he became homeless and began spending his nights couch surfing or sleeping in Piedmont Park.

Over the next three years, Olukayode wrote while experiencing homelessness, producing The Rising Vol. 2, a collection of poems and prose about his years being homeless.  He also wrote his first stage play, TRANS-ition, the story of a teenager transitioning from male to female, and his first one man show, Evicted, about enduring homelessness while HIV positive.

Olukayode’s third collection of poems and prose, Fearless Revolution, Vol. 3, drew on his experience from a relationship with a soldier.  In 2012, he contributed the essay “Afraid of My Own Reflection” to the anthology For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Still Not Enough: Coming of Age, Coming Out, and Coming Home.  He also produced a blog and vblog, With Love ATL, for thebody.com.

In addition to poetry and prose, Olukayode wrote songs, influenced by the music of the Baptist church of his childhood.  In 2013, following the traumatic end of a relationship, he produced his first EP, Oluka Oluka.

In his work as a self-proclaimed “artivist,” Olukayode participated in the Centers for Disease Control’s initiative “Let’s Stop HIV Together” campaign.  He also lobbied in Washington, D.C. for AIDS Watch, urging Congress to increase funding for HIV services.  As a youth representative from the State of Georgia, Olukayode met Congressman John Lewis and shared his story.

He also worked on the project DA CRIBB for the National AIDS Education & Services for Minorities and The Evolution Project for AID Atlanta. He was a member of Lifting Our Voices for Equality (L.O.V.E) Coalition and Common Ground Ministries.

Olukayode was creative director of BOS+AROS, a vehicle for change with an avant-garde approach to empower the masses about HIV/AIDS, using art to connect with people and spread awareness. He premiered his multimedia exhibition, ANTRONICA, in 2016.

Olukayode spent the last years of his life in Atlanta, where he practiced Buddhism, and enjoyed the independent and avant-garde art scene.

According to a tribute posted by friend Mark S. King, Olukayode “had developed Kaposi sarcoma, a dangerous cancer that spread from his skin to his other organs during a month-long hospital stay before his death. AIDS caused Antron’s cancer.”

A few weeks before he died, Olukayode wrote: “Having my mother here in the hospital with me is healing. She came all this way to be by my side. I am so grateful and grateful for my friends who have been nothing but supportive. Having her witness my friends lavishing the love and meeting her and is extraordinary. A blessing and fills me with joy.”

You can view Olukayode’s work on his personal blog.

Archival Photos; amfAR Archive; Dr. Mathilde Krim
January 15, 2018
AIDS Pioneer Dr. Mathilde Krim Dies at Age 91

Dr. Mathilde Krim, a geneticist and virologist who founded the AIDS Medical Foundation (AMF), dies at age 91.

[photo courtesy of amfAR]

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Dr. Krim turned from studying cancer to studying AIDS in the early 1980s, she founded AMF in 1983, creating the first organization dedicated to raising funds for scientific and medical research on AIDS.

In 1985, AMF merged with the National AIDS Research Foundation to form the American Foundation for AIDS Research.  As the founding chair of amfAR, Dr. Krim raised hundreds of millions of dollars for AIDS research, prevention, treatment, and advocacy.

In announcing her passing, The New York Times calls her “America’s foremost warrior in the battle against superstitions, fears and prejudices that have stigmatized many people with AIDS.”

Dr. Krim, a geneticist and virologist, as well as an advocate, has a long history of notable contributions to science and social justice.

After receiving her Ph.D. from the University of Geneva in 1953, she studied cytogenetics at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.  Six years later, she moved to New York and made a name for herself as a researcher of cancer-causing viruses. But in the early 1980s, her focus turned to a growing epidemic that almost no one else had yet sought to address.

Less than a year after the publishing of a 1982 paper in which the disease was first called by that name, Dr. Krim founded the AIDS Medical Foundation, the first privately funded AIDS research organization, which originally operated out of a storage room in her husband’s Manhattan office.

The stigma at that time was overwhelming: A former staff member recalls that “The mail guy was scared to come up to our office because it said ‘AIDS’ on our envelopes [which often contained hate mail anyway].”

AmfAR credits Dr. Krim as being a pivotal figure in moving Washington to belatedly provide significant funding for both research and treatment regarding the epidemic, after nearly a decade of neglect.

AmfAR grew out of Dr. Krim’s collaboration with Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, who in New York in the early 1980s pioneered a community-based approach to studying and responding to AIDS. With other allies, they formed the AIDS Medical Foundation in 1983, which two years later merged with a California-based group to form amfAR.

In addition to her scientific credentials and her impassioned advocacy, Dr. Krim also brought a connection to New York society life and its deep pockets, with her marriage to Arthur B. Krim, an entertainment lawyer who had chaired both United Artists and Orion Pictures. Dr. Krim was able to bring on board Elizabeth Taylor, who became the group’s founding international chair and lent Hollywood glamour and universal visibility to an epidemic that in its earliest years was ignored by public officials and other leading figures .

In 2006, ACT UP Founder Larry Kramer said of Dr. Krim, “One can only be filled with overpowering awe and gratitude that such a person has lived among us.”

March 7, 2019
Longtime AIDS Survivor Jim Chud Dies at 62

Jim Chud, who may have been among the first people in the U.S. to exhibit symptoms of HIV/AIDS, dies of sepsis, most likely after a bacterial pneumonia, at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles at the age of 62.

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A longtime resident of West Hollywood, Chud had served on the city’s Disabilities Advisory Board and on the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV.  He was also a prolific writer, having been published by publications like Huffington Post, among others.  In 2015, he was included in the “POZ 100” for his advocacy for appropriately designed housing for disabled people.

In late 1977, while a sophomore at Yale, Chud was hospitalized with symptoms that would become familiar to medical personnel in just a few years: night sweats, a rash, swollen lymph nodes, and thrush.  At the time, however, Chud’s medical team was unable to come to a diagnosis.  When his symptoms subsided in about two weeks, the doctor discharged him, saying, “You probably had some sort of virus.”

The official beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is often cited as June 5, 1981, the day the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its first warning about a rare pneumonia called pneumocystis circulating among a small group of young gay men.  However, according to Science Magazine, a 2016 study indicated that in 1981, when Dr. Michael Gottlieb presented the first five cases  to the CDC, there were already 250,000 people living with the virus.  Chud was one of them.

By 1985, Chud was living in Washington and had already watched many of his friends get sick and die.  In 1989, his own illness had advanced to full-blown AIDS.

“I thought I was going to die,” Chud told CNN in 2010. “I didn’t think I would see 30.”

He started volunteering for drug trials. One, a National Institutes of Health study, studied the combination of drugs AZT and DDC, a new drug by Roche Pharmaceuticals.

“DDC, while effective in the test-tube against HIV, was very toxic, and put all 80 of us study participants through a whole host of side effects,” recalled Chud in 2017 article he wrote for Plus. “The mouth sores were legendary. Eating required first gargling with Lidobenelox, a thick pink emulsion of lidocaine, benadryl, and Maalox. It resembled the hand soap in public restrooms, but it provided 20 minutes of pain relief.”

Chud was pulled from the drug trial when he began experiencing partial paralysis and lockjaw.  While these symptoms dissipated after a few days, Chud had unknowingly sustained long-term damage to his body’s cartilage.  By 2003, he was in so much pain, he sought treatment from an orthopedic surgeon, who uncovered extensive damage to Chud’s spine.

Between 2003 and 2015, Chud underwent over 80 operations on his spine, neck, and major joints.  Through all this, he lost 7 inches in height because of destroyed disks, leaving less room for his lungs, bowel and stomach.

In 2009, he began using a four-wheeled walker to be able to walk.  Prior to that, he had given little thought to what it was like to live with a disability, but this new experience motivated him to become an advocate for himself and other long-term HIV survivors who live with disabilities.

“My drive to do something for other disabled people shifted into hyper-drive from that moment on,” Chud wrote.

Chud was aware of his place in AIDS history and felt a responsibility to share his experience with younger generations.

“While the trajectory of AIDS has changed immensely, I think that knowing my tendency for feeling invincible until something happens to me, there is great peril that the current generation will never know how terrible the AIDS epidemic has been in gay America, let alone the world,” he wrote in the Huffington Post.

September 21, 2019
Chinese AIDS Activist Shuping Wang Dies

Shuping Wang, a Chinese doctor who braved the loss of her job as well as ostracism and assault to expose the spread of AIDS in rural China, dies in Salt Lake City at the age of 59.

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Dr. Wang died of a heart attack while on a canyon hike with her husband.  She lived in Salt Lake City in recent years after settling in the U.S. in 2001.

Her death came just over two weeks after the world premiere in London of stage play based on Dr. Wang’s experience as a whistle-blower.

In the 1990s, she stood up to Chinese officials who had tried to conceal an AIDS epidemic in rural China.  The rapid spread of HIV in some of the country’s poorest villages had been attributed to facilities that bought blood from poor farmers and sold it to pharmaceutical companies, known as the “blood plasma economy.”

Dr. Wang was one of a group of Chinese doctors, researchers, activists and journalists who took great risks to spread information about the hidden epidemic.  As a doctor working in a rural province, she was the whistle-blower who marshaled evidence of the HIV spread through blood-draw facilities.

In Dr. Wang’s province of Henan, commercial blood harvesting facilities recruited hundreds of thousands of poor farmers to sell blood for a few dollars. In 1992, Dr. Wang began noticing high levels of hepatitis C among the people selling blood, and she wondered if HIV might also be spreading through the blood business.  Her suspicions proved to be correct.

When Chinese officials refused to fund comprehensive testing for HIV, saying it was too expensive, Dr. Wang used her savings to buy three HIV test kits and randomly tested 408 samples for the virus. She found that 13% the samples collected from blood sellers had the AIDS virus, an alarmingly high rate of infection.

“She had the courage to keep collecting and sharing evidence even when officials didn’t want information revealed,” Zhang Jicheng, a former Henan journalist who helped uncover the spread of AIDS there, said in an interview with The New York T. “She had no official support; this was her personal choice, and she suffered for it.”

Her activism drew condemnation and sometimes violence from Chinese authorities.  A former medical official used a club to beat Dr. Wang and destroy the contents of her testing lab.  The local government shuttered her lab, leaving her without pay. Her marriage to an official who worked in the medical administration cracked under the pressure and left her.

“Wang Shuping was the earliest medical worker to enter the fray in the war against AIDS,” Dr. Gao Yaojie, another doctor who worked in Henan, wrote in a tribute to Ms. Wang. “For this, she suffered the most grievous attacks and pain of her life.”

Eventually — far too late, in Dr. Wang’s view — the Chinese authorities closed the commercial blood stations that had spread HIV and offered medical help to villagers who had become infected, often with full-blown AIDS.  But tens of thousands of people — and possibly many more — had been infected through the blood trade, and Chinese officials tried to keep the epidemic secret.

“Countless families were broken apart and ruined by AIDS, leaving many AIDS orphans,” Dr. Wang wrote in 2014. “They had no one to turn to.”

Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, the play was attacked by

“Speaking out cost me my job, my marriage and my happiness at the time, but it also helped save the lives of thousands and thousands of people,” Dr. Wang said in a question-and-answer exchange on the theater’s website. “I wanted to prevent disease, I didn’t care about power and position.”

Even as her life was celebrated onstage, Dr. Wang could not escape intimidation. Chinese state security officials confronted her family and former colleagues in Henan to press her to cancel the London production of the play about her, she said. She refused, and received a standing ovation at a performance.
April 7, 2020
Garry Bowie of Being Alive Dies of COVID-19 Disease

Garry Bowie, the head of the HIV nonprofit Being Alive in West Hollywood, dies of complications from COVID-19.  He was 59 years old.

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Bowie dedicated his life to compassionate advocacy for those living with HIV/AIDS and for the local homeless community. In 2004, he served as a founding board member and executive director of the Long Beach AIDS Foundation, and was named 2008 “Man of the Year” by the Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club.

In 2014, Bowie was named executive director of Being Alive Los Angeles, a non-profit dedicated to fighting HIV by ending stigma and restoring dignity while increasing access to care. He served at Being Alive Los Angeles until his death.

Bowie was born on Jan. 24, 1961, in Portland, Maine. His father was a civil engineer for the military and moved the family many times, eventually settling in Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley. He graduated from Fountain Valley High School and moved to Long Beach, where he started work in video editing and music videos.

Bowie contracted HIV at the age of 22 in 1983, in the early days of the epidemic, before there was effective treatment.  He and his mother drove to Mexico to buy AZT, an early antiretroviral medication reported to treat HIV, and brought doses back for others who also needed it, according to his obituary on EverLoved.

He was inspired to become an activist in 1991 after watching Magic Johnson disclose his HIV status, telling his fans that he still had a long life to live.

“What Magic Johnson did is bring it into the public dialogue and bring a sense of normalcy to living with HIV,” Bowie said in a newspaper interview. “It just gave a new face to what HIV looks like in our communities.”

On March 19, 2020, Bowie started showing flu-like symptoms, and he was transported to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Downey when his condition worsened, said Jeff Wacha, Bowie’s husband of 20 years, to the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

Wacha said that when Bowie, who had HIV, arrived at the hospital, tests showed his immune system to be normal.

To the end, Bowie was thinking of and fighting for the welfare of others.  On March 25, he posted the following on Facebook:

“The CDC needs to fix the way we count COVID-19 cases.  For instance, my staff and I all have COVID-19, a presumptive case because our doctors know us and ask the right questions.  However, our status is not counted.

“If it weren’t for Facebook, nobody would know each of us added one more to our neighborhood count.  All because we haven’t had testing.  Here’s my problem: CA currently has 2,853 confirmed cases, but because of testing shortages, and by order of our illustrious LA Public Health Dept., hospitals were told until the patient is seriously ill and ready to be admitted, no testing.”

On the day Bowie died, Wacha posted on Facebook:

“We had one last set of ‘I love you’ before they sedated him so they could intubate and put him on a ventilator. This was about 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 28. I had no idea it would be the last time I spoke to my husband; my reason for living; the man who has supported me emotionally the previous 20 years and kept me alive; the man who made me laugh every day that we were together; the man who made each day together even more beautiful than the day before; the man who always knew what to do to help me see the light at the end of the tunnel when I started spiraling into the abyss; the man who surprised me with deliveries of flowers just because he ‘knew you needed it right now and to remind you how much I love you.’”

In the days following Bowie’s death, Wacha received hundreds of messages of condolences.

“He was an incredibly kind and compassionate person who fought for wellness and health in the gay community,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said. “He was a leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS and impacted many, many people in Long Beach. Our hearts go out to his family and friends.”

May 27, 2020
Activist-Playwright Larry Kramer Dies at 82

Outspoken activist, changemaker and author of The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer dies of pneumonia at the age of 82.

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Witnessing the spread of the disease later known as AIDS among his friends in 1980, Kramer was among the first to call his peers to action.  In 1981, Kramer gathered about 80 people in his NYC apartment and formed the Gay Men’s Health Crisis — the first organization for those infected with HIV and now the world’s largest private organization assisting people living with AIDS.

Kramer grew frustrated with bureaucratic paralysis and the apathy of gay men to the AIDS crisis.  This frustration was channeled into his 1985 play The Normal Heart, which debuted at The Public Theater in New York City and ran for a year.

In 1987, Kramer was the catalyst in the founding of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), a direct action protest organization that chose government agencies and corporations as targets to publicize lack of treatment and funding for people with AIDS. ACT UP was formed at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Services Center in New York City.  At ACT UP’s speaker series, thousands came to hear Kramer speak about taking action to fight AIDS.

“Larry’s singular combination of political vision, fiery passion, and eloquent anger were the fuel that sparked our organization – and the start of the global AIDS activist movement — in March of 1987,” reads ACT UP NY’s statement following Kramer’s death.

“Over the next thirty-plus years, Larry was our beacon, our inspiration, and sometimes our nemesis. But through good times and bad, we moved forward in our quest to end the AIDS crisis and to identify and defeat the villains in power whose crimes or apathy allowed a disease to become a worldwide plague. His uncompromising honesty moved us to greater achievements.”

In 2011 — 26 years after its yearlong run at The Public Theatre — The Normal Heart made its Broadway debut, directed by Joel Grey and starring Joe Mantello, Ellen Barkin, Lee Pace and Jim Parsons.  Then Ryan Murphy optioned the rights to the play and eventually turned it into a 2014 HBO movie with an all-star cast including Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Alfred Molina and Parsons.

Kramer’s works also include The Destiny of Me (1992), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

And at the time of his death at the age of 82, he was still doing what he did best: sound the alarm on pandemics with a new play about the gay community having to live through three plagues, including COVID-19.

June 24, 2020
San Francisco Activist Harry Britt Dies at 82

Political activist Harry Britt, who assumed Harvey Milk’s position on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors after his assassination, dies after a long illness at Laguna Honda Hospital.  He was 82.

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Britt worked with Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official, on his campaigns, according to the Los Angeles Times. Britt, who was also openly gay, had a storied career as a political operative who fought for progressive and gay rights.

“Harry was progressive before the word became vogue,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein told the LA Times.  When Sen. Feinstein was mayor of San Francisco, she appointed Britt as Supervisor to succeed Milk. “He was a powerful advocate for the gay community who never took no for an answer.”

Britt served on the Board of Supervisors until 1993 and was the board’s president from 1989 to 1990, according to The Advocate.  He brought to the city his strong brand of progressive politics, advocating for rent control, neighborhood preservation, and domestic partnership during the AIDS epidemic.

He was instrumental in the effort to defeat California Proposition 64, a 1986 ballot measure to quarantine people living with HIV/AIDS, according to Los Angeles activist Torie Osborn.

In a statement on Facebook, the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club issued a remembrance of Britt:

“Harry Britt would not have wanted to be memorialized as a ‘legend’ or a ‘hero.’ But for all of us, he will always stand as a queer legend …  Harry believed that tepid liberalism kept the powerful satisfied with the status quo, and that none of us should rest until there is a fundamental transfer of that power to queer and trans folks, women, people of color, and those most damaged by the ills of our society. His fight lives on in all of us.”

January 6, 2021
Rabbi Allen Freehling, AIDS Activist, Dies at 88

Rabbi Allen Freehling, who in 1987 was named the founding chair of the Los Angeles County Commission on AIDS, dies at his Los Angeles home at the age of 88.

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Rabbi Freehling was a civil rights activist who became a prominent fighter for AIDS treatment and care programs in the 1980s.  He served on the Board of Directors of APLA Health (formerly AIDS Project Los Angeles) and later became the founding chair of the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC) from 1995 to 2014.

“I cannot overstate how much Rabbi Freehling’s caring and thoughtful leadership meant to IAPAC and, personally, to me.   Suffice it to say that he personified the definition of a ‘mensch,’” said Dr. José M. Zuniga, IAPAC President.  “His honor and integrity were invaluable assets to IAPAC and our senior leadership in our continuous efforts to curb new HIV infections, avert AIDS-related deaths, and eliminate stigma and discrimination perpetrated against people living with and affected by HIV.”

Craig E. Thompson, Chief Executive Office of APLA Health, said, “Rabbi Freehling was a ceaseless advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS during the onset of the HIV pandemic in the 1980s.”

Rabbi Freehling was also considered a giant in the Jewish community.

As the Senior Rabbi at the University Synagogue in Los Angeles, he grew the congregation from a membership of over 200 families to more than 1,000. according to Jewish Journal.

“Under his guidance, the synagogue emerged as a dynamic proponent of Reform Judaism,” Rabbi Freehling’s wife, Lori, wrote in Jewish Journal.  “Rabbi Freehling worked tirelessly as a community activist to improve the lives of all people in Los Angeles. He helped the burgeoning homeless populations. He co-created interfaith dialogues between all faith groups. He was the among the first to officiate at interfaith and same-sex life cycle events.”

The rabbi also coordinated a historic meeting in 1988 between 30 Jewish leaders and then-presidential candidate and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson to help resolve concerns about Jackson’s past association with Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader who notoriously promoted anti-Semitism.  Jackson also made anti-Semitic remarks a few years before, referring to Jews as ”Hymies” and New York as ”Hymietown,” comments he apologized for rather ineptly.

Jackson was willing to meet with LA Jewish leaders largely because he knew Rabbi Freehling to be friendly and open-minded, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Rabbi Freehling was born in Chicago and raised in Miami, according to the LA Times.  Rabbi Steven Jacobs, a longtime friend, told the LA Times that Freehling’s childhood was “painful,” but he managed to graduate from the University of Miami and then take on various nonrabbinical leadership roles at two local temples.

This was a time when the civil rights movement was gaining force, and Freehling decided he could do the most good by becoming a rabbi in the progressive Reform practice and dedicate himself to radical freedom.

As a new rabbi, Freehling served for five years at a temple in Ohio before moving to Los Angeles and becoming the senior rabbi at University Synagogue.  With his passion for social justice, he turned the struggling, nearly bankrupt congregation into a thriving, active community.

“The force of his commitment to social justice really matched the time in the early ’70s and began to really grow the congregation — and really not only to grow it, but to excite it,” said then-LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

January 24, 2021
Joseph Sonnabend, Pioneering AIDS Doctor, Dies at 88

Joseph Sonnabend, M.D., arguably the world’s first AIDS doctor, dies at a London hospital following a heart attack. He was 88.

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While Dr. Sonnabend never claimed to be the first AIDS doctor, he is looked to by many as the first doctor who from the start recognized that a new disease was causing the deaths of young, previously healthy gay men in the largest city in the U.S.

“Fate placed him in New York City immediately before the start of the epidemic, where his training as a researcher gave him tools that others lacked, and his compassion created a loyal patient following,” wrote Bob Roehr for the British Medical Journal.  “He was a bit of a curmudgeon, familiar with but not dependent on the hidebound strictures of the medical establishment, comfortable in the role of an outsider.”

Dr. Sonnabend was also openly gay, which earned him the trust and openness of young men seeking treatment for ailments associated with an active sexual lifestyle.   Trained in infectious diseases, the doctor was practicing medicine at a time and place and for a specific clientele that allowed him to be among the very first to see and treat the unusual illnesses associated with HIV and AIDS that were plaguing many of his clients.  Because he was also a researcher, Dr. Sonnabend was among the first doctors to collect data and report his case studies to federal health officials.

“The other doctors who were treating AIDS didn’t have the research experience or the instincts,” Dr. Sonnabend told Sean Strub of POZ magazine in 1998. “And the academic researchers — the top immunologists, virologists and so on — who had the expertise, didn’t have the patients. I had both the background and the patients.”

During the 1980s and 1990s, he treated hundreds of HIV-positive people and conducted some of the earliest research into AIDS, often at his own expense, according to The New York Times.  He pioneered the methods of community-based research, designed to address a quickly-spreading disease that could not wait for the medical establishment’s planning processes that typically ran six months to years.

In the 1980s, Dr. Sonnabend pioneered and promoted the use of an inexpensive sulfa drug to prevent a type of lethal pneumonia that people with HIV commonly developed, according to the NY Times. Despite his persistent advocacy, the federal government took more than two years to recommend this treatment as a standard of care.

During the height of the AIDS crisis and long before effective treatments were widely available, Dr. Sonnabend helped create several AIDS organizations, including the AIDS Medical Foundation (now amfAR) and the PWA Health Group, the first buyers’ club for medications for people living with AIDS.  He was also a key founder and organizer of the Community Research Initiative (now ACRIA), the first organization to fast-track treatment studies for HIV and AIDS with a network of doctors, most of whom were in private practice.

When Dr. Sonnabend publicly urged gay men to change their sexual behaviors to avoid sexually-transmitted infections, he became a figure of controversy in the gay community, which was in its heyday of a sexual revolution that championed freedom, experimentation and acceptance.  He was a consultant on the 1983 booklet, How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach, which was distributed widely in New York City and recommended that men use condoms and avoid exchanging bodily fluids.

“Many people in the gay community took his message of safe sex as anti-sex,” said David Kirschenbaum, a friend of Dr. Sonnabend and co-executor of his estate.  “They thought he was putting limits on sexual freedom.”

He also faced the derision and scorn from academic scientists who considered private doctors unaffiliated with universities to be technically ineffectual and lacking the resources and training to gather scientifically valid data, according to the NY Times.  But when his research and treatment methods proved to be effective in meeting the urgent need of an infected population that was growing exponentially, academic researchers and federal health officials began to seek out his input.

Dr. Sonnabend was born on Jan. 6, 1933, in Johannesburg and grew up in Bulawayo, in what was then Rhodesia, according to the NY Times.  He received his medical training at the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh and the National Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill, a suburb of London, specializing in the research of interferons (naturally occurring proteins that interfere with viruses).

In the late 1960s, he moved to New York City to continue his research at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.  When he opened his private practice and began treating people with HIV and AIDS, he was served with an eviction notice from the co-op board in his building, which claimed his patients entering through the lobby were lowering the property values.  Dr. Sonnabend and five of his patients sued and won what became one of the first AIDS-related civil rights cases.

After 35 years in New York, Dr. Sonnabend retired and moved to London.  Throughout his life, he played piano and composed music as a hobby.  In 2018, at the age of 85, Dr. Sonnabend made his public debut as a composer when selections of his music were performed at London’s Fitzrovia Chapel at two concerts, both of which were filled to capacity.

British Medical Journal
The New York Public Library, the Joseph A Sonnabend Papers
POZ Magazine
The New York Times

September 6, 2021
ACT UP Philly: HIV Care is Failing to Reach People of Color

HIV infections are rising among LGBTQ+ people of color in Philadelphia, and the City is missing opportunities to help the most vulnerable populations, according to an organizer with ACT UP Philadelphia.

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According to Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s report, HIV in Philadelphia, “Non-Hispanic Blacks have the highest burden of HIV compared to any other race/ethnicity group.”

In 2019, Black people represented almost 64% of all new HIV cases in Philadelphia, with men making up three out of every four cases.  The remaining new HIV cases were Hispanics/Latinx at 17.5% and and non-Hispanic whites at 16.6%.

The data in the report showed that another population, Hispanics, were over-represented in different category: concurrent diagnoses of HIV/AIDS.  More than 22% of Hispanics newly diagnosed with HIV also received a concurrent diagnosis of AIDS, reflecting a failure to reach Hispanics with opportunities for early HIV diagnosis  This number had been steadily increasing each year since 2015, when the percentage was about 12%.

The report does not distinguish between people who are CIS or transgender, and so these statistics are not available.

“Why are infections going up in certain communities and being lowered in our white counterparts?” José de Marco, an organizer for the AIDS activism group ACT UP, said to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

Out of ACT UP Philly, de Marco founded the organization Black and Latinx Community Control of Health, a group for QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color) who are most affected by HIV.

De Marco said that HIV/AIDS programs are failing to reach queer and trans people of color, particularly those experiencing homelessness or incarceration, struggling with addiction, or relying on survival sex work to sustain themselves.

“You get a script, take the meds, and you won’t be able to transmit HIV, is what that basically boils down to,” de Marco said. “But that’s with the caveat you can access the medicines and you can consistently take them.”

For de Marco, the solution is straight-forward:  “I believe housing is a common denominator for everything.  You need a safe, clean place for your meds to take them daily, even if it’s no bigger than a single room and a bathroom.”

Through ACT UP, de Marco and their fellow activists have been advocating for safe permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.  They have also been working with the city’s Public Health staff to recommend smaller, Black and Brown-led HIV service organizations that they think should be priorities for program funding.

“When this [Ending the HIV Epidemic] money became available, I said, ‘Wait a minute!  This money should not go to these large organizations again.  It has to come to communities that are serving us,'” de Marco said.  “I think they’re realizing that what’s been going on in the past in Philadelphia has not been working.”

October 17, 2021
AIDS Activist Shawn Lang, of AIDS Connecticut, Dies at 65

Shawn Lang, a longtime AIDS activist in Connecticut who also championed LGBTQ equality, dies unexpectedly at the age of 65. A cause of death is not released.

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Already active in the fight for LGBTQ equality in the early 1980s when AIDS first struck, Lang became deputy director of AIDS Connecticut and used her position to improve the state’s public policy and programs regarding HIV/AIDS.

“I guess the phrase that comes to mind is passionate warrior, just a real warrior for justice and for the underdog,” John Merz, CEO of AIDS Connecticut told NPR’s Weekend Edition.  “She was maybe five-foot-two.  But whenever she walked into the room, she commanded an audience, especially when she was passionate about the issue on the table.”

Lang’s warrior spirit was evident early on in her work with AIDS Connecticut, when she successfully shut down a measure that would have violated the confidentiality of an already vulnerable population by requiring the collection of names of state residents living with HIV/AIDS, Merz said.  At around the same time, Lang helped to secure $1.1 million from the state legislature for housing programs for those living with HIV/AIDS.

Lang, a lesbian who lived in Hartford, originally worked as a nurse’s aide, and then attended the University of Lowell, where she became involved with the campus gay rights group, according to The Advocate.

“I found my people,” she told Hartford Magazine in 2016. “I found a niche around organizing and agitating.”

Lang served on the boards of the National AIDS Housing Coalition and the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS at Yale University, was a member of the Connecticut Alcohol and Drug Policy Council, and founded the Statewide Opiate Overdose Prevention Workgroup.

In 2017, Lang was honored for her work at the White House as a “Champion of Change for Advancing Prevention, Treatment and Recovery.”  She was also an activist with the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, which successfully fought for inclusion of sexual orientation in Connecticut hate-crimes and antidiscrimination laws.

A few months after Lang’s death, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy held an event on World AIDS Day to commemorate Lang and her achievements.  Murphy told Forbes magazine that, back when he was a young state senator in 2003, it was Lang who informed him about the ongoing needs of those living with HIV and AIDS.

Shawn Lang was a great, great friend of mine, somebody who taught me a lot about the importance of doing prevention, work and treatment work around the AIDS population in Connecticut. And she was a hero to me,” Murphy told Forbes. “I thought it was important to recognize her legacy, but also have a conversation about what more we need to do here in Connecticut and what more we need to do around the world.”

Scott Robbe
November 21, 2021
Scott Robbe — Founder of Out in Film — Dies

Scott Robbe, a TV-film-theater producer who created LGBTQ programs and a long-time AIDS activist who participated in ACT UP protests, dies after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 66.

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Robbe’s life was devoted to progressive activism, beginning in his teen years, when he took part in 1960s marches for the environment, for civil rights, and against the Vietnam War.  Over the four decades that followed, his endeavors included both community organizing and producing dozens of works in theater, film, and television.

“Scott was a fearless activist, always on the front lines, whether he was protesting pharmaceutical company greed or homophobia at the Oscars,” ACT UP New York veteran Ann Northrop said in a statement released by Robbe’s estate. “And he was a total sweetheart.”

Robbe joined ACT UP after seeing the group protest at the White House in October 1987 during the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. He joined the group’s Media Committee and took part in numerous protests.  Years later, in the early 1990s, he would become HIV positive.

According to the Facebook group ACT UP NY Alumni, Robbe helped to found two direct-action groups in New York City: ACT UP and Queer Nation NY.  In September 1989, he and other ACT UP members secretly gained access to the New York Stock Exchange and were subsequently arrested.  The action was a big success, bringing media attention to the exorbitant price of AZT, then the only approved treatment for HIV/AIDS, and forcing its manufacturer, Burroughs Wellcome, to lower the price by 20%.

While in New York City, Robbe produced numerous theater projects, including several with actor Harvey Fierstein.  Robbe moved to the West Coast in 1990, where he worked on TV and film projects, many of which promoted LGBTQ visibility.  These include the first LGBTQ comedy special for Comedy Central in 1993, called Out There, hosted by actor Lea DeLaria. Robbe was also part of the creative team behind the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy series in 2003.

Robbe cofounded Out in Film, a Los Angeles-based group that protested representations in movies it found stereotypical and homophobic, such as Silence of the LambsJFK and Basic Instinct.

In 2005, Mr. Robbe was named executive director and film commissioner for Film Wisconsin Inc. During his tenure, Mr. Robbe brought 28 TV and film projects to the state, including the 2009 film Public Enemies by Michael Mann, starring Johnny Depp and Channing Tatum.

During the COVID pandemic, Robbe worked with activists in Cuba to bring pressure on the American government to distribute the COVID vaccine in the country.  Robbe was also involved in grassroots activism in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he had a second home.

In April 2021, Robbe underwent stem cell treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston for myelodysplastic anemia, a blood cancer.  Later that year, he entered hospice care at the Wisconsin home of his sister, Angela.

December 4, 2021
Dallas Activist & Longtime PWA Bruce Monroe Dies

Bruce Monroe, former President of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, died in Dallas of HIV-related illness. He was 65.

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During his tenure as President of the DGLA, he partnered with the Foundation for Human Understanding to create Resource Center, which remains an important resource for HIV/AIDS treatment and care.

The gay community in Dallas was hit early and hard by the AIDS crisis, and Monroe responded by organizing local resources and demanding funding for HIV/AIDS programs, according to KERA, the National Public Radio station in Dallas.

“Bruce and others in the community insisted on speaking up for our rights and making sure that people got the care that they needed, and finding a way for funding and keeping people in their homes and getting them food and getting education out to individuals,” recalled Cece Cox, CEO of Resource Center.  “He was also an incredibly clever and kind person who uplifted many of us, and I will miss him a lot.”

Friend and fellow activist William Waybourn told KERA how Monroe was also an accomplished artist who used his creativity in his activism.

“When we would have demonstrations he would help do the graphics and make it appealing. That will not only entice volunteers but get the media’s attention as well as get across the message that we were trying to deliver,” said Waybourn.

At the height of the AIDS epidemic, Monroe brought national attention to Texas by taking part in chalking outlines in front of Dallas City Hall and displaying crosses on a potter’s field in a vacant lot in Oak Lawn to symbolize the number of AIDS cases in Dallas.

Monroe said in his oral history that he and others from the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance formed an activist branch called the Gay Urban Truth Squad (GUTS) to organize these demonstrations and others.

He was particularly proud of the potters field demonstration, because it did such a great job of illustrating how low a priority HIV/AIDS funding was for the Dallas City Council.  The city had recently spent $500,000 to fill a hole in the vacant lot, he said, while in the same year, the council members approved only $55,000 in funding for HIV education.

“So once the hole was filled and started growing grass again, we constructed and erected, in that newly created field, over 500 white crosses to represent the number of HIV cases in Dallas at the time,” Monroe said. “It was very effective symbolism and drew a great deal of attention from all sectors.”

In 2020, Monroe was honored with the Dallas Black Tie Dinner Kuchling Award for his service to the Dallas community. While he was unable to attend or speak, some of his close friends delivered an acceptance speech that he had typed out one letter at a time with his thumb on his cell phone, according to The Dallas Way.

HIV is not a crime
February 28, 2022
Awareness Day Launched to Decriminalize HIV

HIV is Not a Crime Awareness Day is launched by the Sero Project in collaboration with the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

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The criminalization of HIV transmission or exposure dates back to the 1980s, when states began passing HIV-specific criminal exposure laws out of fear and unfounded beliefs about HIV’s transmission routes and risks.

Created by the Sero Project in collaboration with the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation,  HIV is Not a Crime Awareness Day is now recognized annually on February 28 as an opportunity to amplify the voices of those who have been criminalized based on their HIV status.

Like the HIV epidemic itself, HIV criminalization laws disproportionately affect marginalized communities such as people of color, transgender women, and sex workers. These groups are more likely to be affected by social determinants of health and racial inequities, which increases their likelihood of coming into contact with the criminal justice system and also increases the possibility that their HIV status will be used against them in a legal context.

In 2020, 92 countries reported that they criminalized HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission through either specific or general laws, according to UNAIDS.

“Such laws are counterproductive because they undermine, rather than support, efforts to prevent new HIV infections. They also breach human rights, including the rights to equality and non-discrimination,” UNAIDS stated on the subject.

California has no statute explicitly criminalizing HIV transmission or exposure, according to CHLP. However, the courts may apply sentencing enhancements to people living with HIV who commit an underlying sexual assault crime in California.  Also, people living with an infectious communicable condition (including HIV) may be charged in the state with a misdemeanor for specific intent to transmit disease.

In 2017, California reformed its HIV-specific laws. Prior to 2017, defendants were occasionally convicted for HIV-related exposure crimes under general criminal laws.   For an overview of the legal updates, see HIV Criminal Law Reform, Before and After: California.

CHLP has developed a resource resource for lawyers and community advocates seeking information on punitive laws, policies, and cases affecting people living with HIV in all 50 states, the military, federal prisons, and U.S. territories.   Click here to access CHLP’s HIV Criminalization in the United States: A Sourcebook on State and Federal HIV Criminal Law and Practice.

May 14, 2022
Urvashi Vaid, Pioneering AIDS Activist, Dies at 63

Social justice activist Urvashi “Urv” Vaid, an attorney and author who led the nation’s oldest LGBTQ advocacy organization during the height of the AIDS crisis, dies of breast cancer in her New York City home at the age of 63.

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As executive director of the Washington-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (which later was renamed the National LGBTQ Task Force), Vaid arrived at President George H.W. Bush’s 1990 address on AIDS with a large sign that read “Talk is Cheap — AIDS Funding is Not.”

Vaid’s well-publicized action caused her to be left out of future White House events, but that single moment in the media was credited with causing an immediate boost in federal funding for AIDS research.

A year later, Vaid was a lead organizer in a large series of demonstrations in Sacramento, California in October 1991, following  Governor Pete Wilson’s veto of legislation that would have extended human rights protections to gay men and lesbians in the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Assembly Bill 101, which was sponsored by Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman of Los Angeles, would have amended state regulations to prohibit job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, according to The New York Times.  Initially, Wilson indicated that he would sign the bill into law if the state assembly and senate passed it.  But when the bill landed on his desk, he decided to veto it, stating that the amendment was unnecessary because existing laws, policies and court opinions provided many of the same protections.

According to Vaid, the gay and lesbian community was so angry with Wilson, that it was reminiscent of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York’s Greenwich Village and the response to the 1978 assassination of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk.

“People are calling it Stonewall II,” she told the NY Times.

Vaid joined other LGBTQ leaders in Sacramento to speak before about 4,000 demonstrators furious about the governor’s veto, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“This is our response to the bigots of the world … people like [Rep. William] Dannemeyer who call us ‘revolting,’” Vaid told the crowd. “Revolting? You bet we are!”

Dannemeyer was an Orange County Congressman infamous in progressive political circles for vilifying environmentalists, blurring the line between Church and State, and, most notably, pushing for a quarantine of AIDS patients and a reinstatement of state anti-sodomy laws.

According to the LA Times, Dannemeyer was fond of saying, ad nauseam, “God’s plan for man is Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Dannemeyer found a formidable opponent in Vaid, whom journalist Karen Ocamb called “a short, thin, proud lesbian of South Indian heritage who exuded the perfume of power.”

Born in 1958 in New Delhi, India, Vaid immigrated with her parents to the United States when she was eight years old.  A self-described odd child, Vaid was a voracious reader whose bedroom wall included a poster of Martin Luther King, Jr.  At the age of 11, she participated in a Vietnam War protest, the first of many political demonstrations.

By the age of 25, Vaid had her law degree from Northeastern University in Boston, where she cofounded the Boston Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance.  She began working as a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Prisons Project in Washington, D.C., according to the American Immigration Law Foundation.

A year into her position with the ACLU and newly aware of the spread of HIV among incarcerated individuals, Vaid initiated a project to help prisoners living with HIV.

Around this time, Vaid withdrew from her Indian culture and family events as she began to come out as a lesbian.  In an interview with Progressive, she recalled the difficulty of navigating the meaning of her sexual identity combined with her heritage without having any South Asian role models. Then, while she was attending a women’s music festival, another attendee approached her to ask if she was Indian.

“And we were hugging and practically crying because it was so remarkable to meet another one,” Vaid told Anne-Marie Cusak of the Progressive. “We thought we were the only ones.”

In 1985, Vaid became a member of the Board of Directors for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and then in 1986 became the organization’s director of public information.  In this role, she established the NGLTF as a trusted source of information on issues concerning gay and lesbian rights.

Vaid became executive director of NGLTF’s Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. in 1989.  She initiated major fund-raising and public outreach programs that resulted in the threefold increase of the organization’s operating budget.

She also co-founded the NGLTF’s Creating Change conference, which drew attention to gay and lesbian issues during the 1988 and 1992 presidential campaigns.  At the foundation of Vaid’s work was her belief that the more gays and lesbians were seen by the media as ordinary citizens participating in society, the fewer barriers there would be to achieving equal rights.

Vaid resigned from the NGLTF in late 1992 in order to work on her book, Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation, which was published in 1995. She returned to the NGLTF’s Policy Institute in 1997.

Seventeen years later, she would write another book, Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics (2012), and dedicate it to her partner, Kate Clinton.

About Vaid’s book, playwright Tony Kushner said, “It’s more than a fantastically-useful roadmap through the convulsive politics of these perilous times, more than the fearless analytical acumen and the clear-eyed, mature, impassioned perspectives available on every page.  People in the LGBT community, people everywhere who are struggling to assimilate this era’s unnerving contiguity of hope and despair will find what’s written here indispensable.”

After George H.W. Bush’s death in 2018, Vaid reflected on the former president’s achievements, and lack thereof, during AIDS crisis in an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered.  She credited activists for pressuring Bush to take actions like signing the Ryan White CARE Act, suggesting that little would have been done otherwise.

“The fact is that we were doing our best and hardest work in our community to build social services, to fight discrimination,” Vaid told NPR’s Ailsa Chang. “People were being rejected at hospitals. People were being turned away from mortuaries. We were dealing with that while dealing with loss. So I think what could have been done was done because of the activism. And more could have been done had the White House not been, frankly, bad on issues affecting LGBT people because they had bias.”

In a June 2019 article for The Nation to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Vaid urged the LGBT community to again come together for “an escalated response … one grounded in protest.”

“Stonewall’s 50th anniversary presents the LGBTQ movement with a choice: merely to celebrate this sanitized, marketed reenactment of a revolutionary moment or to remember and rebuild our movement on Stonewall’s militant foundation — on fierce protest against the state, and as outsiders to a system with little to lose and everything to gain,” she wrote.

Vaid credited every achievement in the fight for LGBTQ rights to “messy, massive, persistent protest,” and fiercely believed that there remained much to fight for.

“Senseless laws criminalize people with HIV, immigrants, women, transgender people, and protesters against the Trump regime,” she wrote.  “They prevent people of color from voting; and new court decisions rig the system to maintain control for an oligarchy. This moment requires an escalated response from us, one grounded in protest.”

In a tribute to Vaid in the Washington Blade, journalist Karen Ocamb recalled seeing the activist icon on the LGBT news program Gay USA, where she appeared as a guest just months before her death.

“She talked about the National LGBTQ+ Women’s Survey, an American LGBTQ+ Museum — and about fighting breast cancer,” Ocamb wrote.  “Urv seemed upbeat but a burdened aura of mortality cloaked her Zoom appearance.  She seemed determined to approach death as she had lived — educating people about our ongoing fight for liberation and, with a deep, broad smile and thoughtful eyes, telling the truth about her own humanity.”

Steve Pieters & Jessica Chastain 2
July 8, 2023
Pioneering AIDS Activist Rev. Stephen Pieters Dies

Rev. Stephen Pieters, who emerged as a national spokesman for those facing AIDS in a 1985 interview with televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, dies in Los Angles from complications of gastrointestinal cancer.  He was 71.

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A long-time activist in the HIV/AIDS and recovery communities, Rev. Pieters was a pastor and later a field director for the AIDS Ministry for the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) denomination, according to the Los Angeles Blade.

In October 1985, Rev. Pieters agreed to be interviewed by Pentecostal televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, of the Charlotte-based PTL Television Network, about what it was like to live with AIDS. Bakker was then at her peak popularity, with more than 13 million viewers.

Rev. Pieters said his friends tried to dissuade him from doing the interview.  Bakker and her then-husband, Jim, were influential leaders of a conservative Christian movement which promoted ideas sharply at odds with the LGBTQ community.  But he saw the show, Tammy’s House Party, as a chance to discuss AIDS and spirituality before an audience he would normally never encounter.

His instincts proved to be right. From the start of the interview and throughout, Bakker showed empathy and asked him thoughtful questions about his life.

“The 25-minute segment became a watershed in public perceptions about AIDS,” wrote Brian Murphy in The Washington Post.  “Rev. Pieters also emerged as an eloquent and nationally renowned spokesman for those facing AIDS, which at the time was considered not only a likely death sentence but also put patients at high risk for experiencing shame and humiliation.”

Prior to his diagnosis with AIDS, Rev. Pieters was a leading gay rights activist and served as the pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Hartford, Connecticut.  According to his biography in the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, he resigned his position in Hartford in 1982 and moved to Los Angeles, where he began to experience a series of illnesses that were diagnosed as AIDS-Related Complex (“ARC”).

In April, 1984, after being diagnosed with AIDS/Kaposi’s Sarcoma and stage-four lymphoma, he was told by one health professional that he could expect to die within the year.

But he lived to see 1985, and became “patient number 1” on the first anti-viral drug trial, taking Suramin for a total of 39 weeks. While on Suramin, both cancers went into remission, but the drug was highly toxic and was soon discontinued as a treatment for AIDS-related illnesses.

For the next 11 years, Rev. Pieters served as Field Director of AIDS Ministry for the MCC denomination. He traveled the world, teaching and preaching about hope, grief, and surviving AIDS. He also volunteered as a chaplain at an AIDS hospice in Los Angeles.

In 1993, Pieters was one of twelve invited guests at a Prayer Breakfast at the White House with U.S. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and National AIDS Policy Coordinator Kristine Gebbie prior to World AIDS Day. The President talked about Rev. Pieters in his World AIDS Day speech.

He served on the Los Angeles AIDS Task Force, as well as the Boards of Directors of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) and the AIDS National Interfaith Network. He was featured in Life, Time, and Omni magazines, as well as the Los Angeles Times. He regularly appeared on CNN, and was profiled by Jane Pauley to mark the 10th anniversary of the first diagnosis of AIDS.

In 2007, and over the next six years Rev. Pieters battled a number of illnesses, including pancreatitis, which nearly killed him in 2012.  At the time of his death, he was writing his memoirs for a book titled My Journey Through AIDS (I Keep on Dancing).

Dr. Pieters’s interview with Tammy Faye Bakker was recreated in the 2021 film The Eyes of Tammy Faye.  Click here to hear an audio recording of actor Jessica Chastain, who portrayed Tammy Faye Bakker in the film, talking about Dr. Pieters and his impact.

Yellow River
December 10, 2023
Chinese AIDS Activist Gao Yaojie Dies at 95

Dr. Gao Yaojie, a medical worker who raised awareness about HIV/AIDS in rural China in the 1990s and early 2000s as government forces tried to restrict her actions, dies in exile in New York City.  She was 95.

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In the mid-1990s, retired gynecologist Dr. Gao Yaojie was providing medical care in a small village in rural China when one of her patients, a woman who was exhibiting advanced AIDS symptoms, tested positive for HIV.

Chinese officials had long held that HIV and AIDS was not a problem, because the country banned the importation of blood products.  So Dr. Gao reached out to someone who might give her the hard truth about AIDS in China, Dr. Wang Shuping, a researcher who was testing blood donations for hepatitis C and HIV.  Dr. Wang had found HIV in the blood supply, but her warnings to local officials were dismissed.

Drs. Gao and Wang decided to team up and launch a campaign to educate rural residents about HIV and AIDS, and the dangers inherent in the for-profit blood centers that paid for their plasma donations.

While Dr. Wang worked behind the scenes gathering facts and information, Dr. Gao became the public face of AIDS awareness in China, daring to publicly challenge China’s health system and government.  This proved to be a very dangerous endeavor.

Dr. Gao travelled to remote villages from her home in Zhengzhou, providing rudimentary medicine for fever, diarrhea and other symptoms of AIDS.  According to The New York Times, her stops included a village school where 20 children were left without parents due to AIDS.  She said she once came across a toddler who was clinging to the feet of his mother, who had hanged herself after her husband died of AIDS.  Dr. Gao also spent considerable time leafleting bus stations, health clinics and sex parlors with educational material about HIV/AIDS.

While Dr. Gao’s work on AIDS education in rural China later earned her international acclaim from world leaders including Hillary Clinton, her rising profile meant she also came under close state surveillance.  Chinese officials forbid her to grant interviews, but she would still find ways to share her experiences dispensing healthcare and information in rural China.

Her cohort Dr. Wang also found ways to continue their work.  After party officials shut down her research clinic, Dr. Wang took on a new job in Beijing as assistant to the chair of China’s National Committee on HIV/AIDS.  Her position allowed her to continue her medical research on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in China and keep Dr. Gao up-to-date on the latest information to share with rural residents.

In April 1996, all the donation clinics in China were abruptly shut down, without any notice to donors that they had been exposed to HIV through the clinics’ unhygienic practices.  Later that year, clinics reopened with HIV testing for previous donors.  And still, Chinese leaders would not acknowledge the prevalence of HIV in the country’s blood supply or the existence of an AIDS crisis among its rural citizens.

In spite of this, word got out to the rest of the world that China was experiencing an AIDS crisis.  The epidemic in China was unique in that it was associated with the “bloodheads,” the commercial blood donation sites that proliferated in China after its 1986 ban on the importation of blood products.

On August 8, 2001, Chinese officials finally acknowledged that the country had been unsuccessful in quarantining itself against HIV, and announced a publicity campaign to educate its citizens about HIV and AIDS. However, Chinese officials claimed that the major causes of HIV transmission in China were drug use and sexual contact.  Drs. Gao and Wang disputed this, making the research-supported claim that the country’s blood products industry was to blame.

“I visited so many provinces, cities, and counties, and met with thousands of AIDS patients. But I never saw a drug user and found that sexually transmitted cases accounted for less than 10%,” Dr. Gao told Radio Free Asia. “There is a 100% certainty that transmission is occurring through blood transfusions.”

Disputing the government’s official position on the health crisis was dangerous.  Under Communist Party rule, Dr. Gao was able to continue providing care to people living with HIV and AIDS in rural China, and she was able to write books about it.  But government officials heavily edited her work and kept a close eye on her public presence.

Officials refused to issue Dr. Gao a passport in 2001 to travel to the U.S. to be honored by the Global Health Council with the “Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights.”  In 2003, government officials would again refuse to allow Dr. Gao to travel abroad to accept the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, which was presented at an event in Manila, Philippines.

In 2007, the Vital Voices Global Partnership invited Dr. Gao to Washington, DC to receive the Global Women’s Leadership Award for Human Rights at a March event.  On February 1, as Dr. Gao was leaving for Beijing to pick up her travel visa, she was intercepted by officers and placed under house arrest, according to The New York Times.  Officials turned off her phone service and prevented family members and friends from visiting her. Under duress from a party official who came to her apartment three times a day, Dr. Gao agreed to decline the invitation.

Dr. Gao didn’t realize that her house arrest was receiving worldwide attention in the media and many were outraged at China’s treatment of the 80-year-old activist.  Hillary Clinton, who was then the Senator from New York and a co-founder of the nonprofit women’s advocacy group Vital Voices, wrote a letter to then-President Hu Jintao, urging him to allow Dr. Gao to come to the U.S. to accept the honor that her organization wanted to bestow.  A few days later, he relented under the pressure.

In early March 2007, Dr. Gao made her first trip to the U.S. and was honored in Washington, DC.  At the Vital Voices Awards event, she expressed concern that when she returned to China, she would be targeted by government officials for criticizing their handling of the AIDS epidemic.

Later the same year, she received another honor, the Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award from the New York Academy of Sciences.

In August 2009, at the age of 82, Dr. Gao fled China with the help of the Chinese rights watchdog China Aid Association, and received political asylum in the U.S.  She settled in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, where she restored her writings to their pre-censored state and arranged to have them published.

For many years, she was visited by Chinese students and others who were aware of her human rights achievements.  In March 2019, Hillary Clinton — who called Dr. Gao “simply one of the bravest people I know” — came to the doctor’s Harlem apartment for a visit.

“We’ve met many times over the years, including my first trip to China as secretary of state,” Clinton posted on Facebook after visiting Dr. Gao in New York City.

Dr. Gao’s “end-of-life” statement included her wish to be cremated and her ashes to be scattered in China’s Yellow River with no ceremony.  Originating in the Bayan Har Mountains in western China, the river flows through nine provinces of China and empties into the Bohai Sea in the east.  The Yellow River basin is known as the birthplace of ancient Chinese civilization, earning the name as “the Mother River.”

“I want to float eastwards down the Yellow River, and basically disappear from this world,” she said.

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