I remember only too well when AIDS first impacted on my world and came into the public eye.
In 1981 I was 19 and there was talk in the gay clubs and pubs where I lived of a disease originating in monkeys that was killing Americans. I remember there was a lone American visiting for professional reasons and he was considered as guilty by association, just because of his accent. I look back with shame now on how people were afraid to approach him and how the treatment he received was similar to that in the dark ages a leper might have expected, minus the bell to ring and the calling out of the phrase “unclean”.
Over the next couple of years, probably longer, as it took time for information and knowledge to disseminate. The names of those who had contracted the condition made it appeared to be an illness that blighted the pretty boys and those who had the biggest cocks.
Of course, that is not true. It’s just where I lived there was a small gay circle and once infected those who were sexually promiscuous and practised unsafe sex were the first to be hit and through them as HIV spread rapidly.
There was too little information and it was too late, that was part of the problem. The other problem was a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) mentality. People thought it wouldn’t happen where they lived or to them as it was affecting other parts of the globe. In the 1980s the world was getting smaller and people travelled for work, holiday and to play in the gay hot-spots.
For me, it was the indiscriminate nature of the illness. There were personal losses of people I knew.
In the media, the death of Rock Hudson seemed to have an impact. In the USA I recall a movement quilting and marking the lives of the victims they knew in this way. There were powerful images of the time where over vast areas these quilts were laid out with loved ones present.
There was a TV program about a man called Terry Madeley. In interviews in 1987, he was the first in the UK to speak openly about his fight with AIDS. A year later a program about his fight for death with dignity was aired on 1st December 1988 World AIDS day. It was titled Remember Terry and 29 years ago today, I still do. He had died in the previous October and I recall an image broadcast at the funeral in a crematorium of a hand through the curtain wearing a diamante glove waving goodbye. He appeared to have such strength of character and good humour for those snippets to stay with me.
To be in 2017 when there is a more positive outlook – I can’t help pausing to consider and remember all of those who do not have the opportunity to share today.
This article was first published in 2017 and has been updated with links.
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