I have been fighting with my internet connection since Thursday. It works, but it’s been s—l—o—w. I wasn’t even able to read blogs until yesterday. I just got access to my own dashboard, so I’m posting now while the posting’s good.
Of course, this is one of those posts I really wanted to do. Today is World AIDS Day, the day set aside for remembrance and reflection of the lives lost to HIV/AIDS, the progress we’ve made in battling this horrible disease, and the long road still ahead. I hit puberty about the same time AIDS became a mainstream public issue (but still a few years before Ronald Reagan acknowledged its existence), so this issue has always hit home with me.
I remember Rock Hudson, and the pictures of his gaunt and dying face on the cover of People. I remember Elizabeth Glaser being interviewed with her husband, Paul Michael, on TV. I remember when every celebrity at every awards show began wearing a red ribbon on their breast. I remember being stunned into silence when I saw the AIDS memorial quilt spread out on the mall in Washington, D.C. All of a sudden, it wasn’t a disease anymore: It was a holocaust.
I don’t want to think about these things; they make me so furious. Read the late Randy Shilts brilliant history of the early years of the epidemic, And the Band Played On. It will move you to action like nothing else. It will also piss you off. If there had been more money and more research done in the early years, then maybe–just maybe, mind you–this thing could’ve been stopped. But see, in the early days, it was only killing gay men. Who cared about them, right? From the first cases in the late 70s, mainstream media either ignored the epidemic or treated it as a “gay” disease (one of the early names of HIV/AIDS was GRID, Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). Then it spread to drug addicts and Haitian immigrants, who were not exactly the target demographic for most polititians and media outlets. Then children with hemophilia started coming down with AIDS. But resistance, bigotry, and ignorance were the name of the game for many years. Thousands and thousands of people had to die before the President of the United States would even say the name of the disease in public. The Red Cross resisted testing its blood supply, even after everyone knew it was a blood-borne disease. People only started really caring when a former movie idol and a white woman and her children got the disease. By then, of course, it was too goddamn late.
In 1985, Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight rerecorded a Burt Bacharach tune, and the proceeds from the sales went to AIDS research. (The original version of this song was recorded by Rod Stewart and used in one of my all-time favorite bad movies, Night Shift.) It’s a sappy, sentimental song. To be honest, I never liked it that much. But it marked a shift in how HIV/AIDS was treated in the mainstream. Finally, it was being treated like a cause. It’s not a good song, but it did some very good things. And it’s heart was always in the right place.