Freak Out (not the song)


Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, lots of people freaked out about HIV/AIDS. They wanted gay men isolated, they wanted quarantine, they wanted no public contact. They wanted to know who every person was that might have come into contact with an infected person (contact tracing). It was/is very hard to contract HIV, and casual contact did not/does not spread it. Most people were not in danger of infection. Still, they panicked.
Now, many people (generally Trump supporters) are blasé about a virus that is infinitely easier to spread, and has a much shorter incubation time. Where HIV might take a 5 to 10 years to kill you, Covid-19 can do it in days or weeks.
From 1987 through 1995, over 41,000 people died of HIV/AIDS in the United States. For much of that time, calls for punitive action by the government against gay men were common.
In the past 8 months or so, Covid-19 has killed over 220,000 Americans.
Trump and his supporters don’t seem to be very concerned.
Reagan’s people laughed when asked about HIV. Trump’s people have said they aren’t going to be able to control the virus. Trump himself said “it is what it is”.
41,000 in 8 years, vs. 220,000 in about as many months.
Difficult to get, vs. very easy to get.
Freak out, vs. “It’s the flu!”
“oh my God, I’m going to get AIDS from the toilet seat!”, vs. “I’m not wearing a damn mask!”
“Ryan White can’t attend school because he’s a hemopheliac and got AIDS from a blood transfusion, and he can’t be near my kids!”, vs. “get those kids back in school!”
Has a large percentage of this country simply gone insane?

The things I didn’t know

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howtosurviveaplague_aidsribbonOn Friday, November 30, I attended a special showing of the documentary “How to survive a plague”, shown in Fresno.  Using archival video, the film showcases the efforts of ACT UP and TAG during the early years in the battle against AIDS.

I think what amazes me the most is how much of this battle I was oblivious to, even though I was a young adult at the time.  I recognized some of the media coverage of events from having seen it on television while it was happening, but I was unaware, even as recently as Thursday last, that most of the impetuous that drove research was due to pressure imposed by these groups.

Presented in a chronological progression, the challenges faced by those infected, as the community struggled to deal with this mysterious new killer, are laid out for the viewer.  The continuing dismissal by those in power of the victims of this illness, the slow movement in funding and research as the death toll climbed, and the clear impression given by many that those infected with HIV simply got what they deserved, are all things of which I was aware.

What I didn’t know, and now completely changes my outlook on a history that I lived through, is how the protests and actions of ACT UP and TAG were instrumental in forcing government and the pharmaceutical industry to respond.  It becomes clear that thousands, hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even millions more would have died without the concerted efforts of a relatively few people, many of whom were also suffering from AIDS.


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