I wasn’t sure what to think about this exhibit when I first read the early press materials, but it made me think of how little we hear about AIDS in the news recently. While a cure for AIDS isn’t imminent, it’s certainly not front page news as often as it used to be. I also realized how little I knew about the history of HIV and AIDS although the Patient Zero/And the Band Played On controversy makes for an interesting read.
I am too young to remember the early years of the AIDS epidemic, but I remember it being A Thing while in school. My first clear AIDS-related memory? Ryan White and Magic Johnson.*** I remember thinking he was going to die like the next day. That’s what I understood AIDS to be at that time. There was a lot of scaring going on from teachers, news… I can’t imagine if the internet had been prevalent. But at the same time, AIDS was already changing by then and that’s what scared people. It was no longer a “Gay Cancer” Anyone could get it. I think that’s what scared so many at the time. While Ryan White’s story was a sad one, it’s the reason he’s still a name.
“Some people feel that because [Johnson] has lived on, they can have certain behaviors and live on, too,” said Amelia Williamson, president of the Beverly Hills-based Magic Johnson Foundation. “But his message is, ‘Follow my lead. Don’t make same mistakes I made.’” …. “HIV is not a death sentence, but it’s a life sentence,” said Hydeia Broadbent, 28, who was born HIV-positive to an intravenous drug user. “You’ll be taking pills forever, going to the doctor and fighting for insurance forever.” abc News
“The results were anything but routine. The results not only changed a league, a franchise, a city, and a man. It changed the world.” Rick Weinberg
That was all the 90s though. This exhibit covers 1981-1985, a time when I was barely in school, let alone learning about a sexually transmitted disease. Besides the disease, this exhibit also showed me an NYC long gone. I don’t remember NYC being the “world capital” of the AIDS epidemic, but I also don’t remember bathhouses such as the St. Marks Baths being common. (Interesting read (PDF) on the legal battle around their closures in 1985.) NYC has changed a lot and while the drop in the number of AIDS can be tied to increased spending on research, but I wonder how much it has also decreased due to the change in times. Or maybe times wouldn’t have changed without the AIDS epidemic?
I walked through the exhibit’s galleries and wanted to go back. I was actually one of those pains who kept going forward and backward through the exhibit trying to take it all in, read it all. Digest it all. It was impossible. This happened during my lifetime, yet it was foreign to me. I said as much to a colleague who is a bit older and remembers it well. It was interesting to go through the exhibit with someone who’d lived through it and also to hear the thoughts of others present for the opening. Everyone seemed to have their own story.
“Forty years into the epidemic, people have forgotten or do not know about the US Government’s silence about AIDS.” The Incidental Economist
That was eye-opening to me. My eyes opened, and tears leaked out. While AIDS in New York opened my eyes on an educational level, Children with AIDS (where the header image/quote is from) just made me cry. Children aren’t supposed to die. That doesn’t happen, except when it does. Painfully, but amazingly recorded in an interview with Yaffa.
“My hope is that the spirit and memory of these children with AIDS will live on and not be forgotten.”
*** Actually in reading back I realized I also knew about Arthur Ashe, the Ray brothers and Elizabeth Glaser, but those don’t stick in my brain the way Magic & Ryan White did. I had to Google them and then went Oh…yeah…. I knew about Keith Haring, but only recently, and I’m pretty sure I had no idea the Brady Bunch dad or Liberace had AIDS though.
I have a lot of reading to do.
New books on Mt. TBR: And the Band Played On and Death of the Good Doctor.