Being 44, I was not even sexually active when the AIDS crisis was in full swing. Graduating from high school in 92 and not being sexually active until 24, I didn't worry about HIV/AIDS. But to be honest, maybe that's one of the reasons I was not sexually active earlier, the fear of HIV/AIDS.
When talking with older friends, I've heard them tell the stories of losing loves and relatives to AIDS. I don't have that personal connection to AIDS related deaths. I think a lot of us do not have that personal history of death as now our friends and exes are living without that threat, without the worry of dieing from HIV/AIDS, but more worried about health care costs. It's no longer a death sentence for us here in the United States which is an amazing thing, but it is still a diesase.
When were you diagnosed as having contracted HIV?
It was 1994. I’d come home to Indiana after all of the the friends I knew had died — I thought it best to come home and face what future I had left in a familiar place.
I met my lover, and we started an upholstery business. It did well, and we finished raising his two children and my nephew.
My lover became ill in 1994. We were both diagnosed as being positive, and both given a year to live. He died in 1996.
What are some of your memories of those early days of the pandemic?
I was living in Dallas. I was was young, and doing the party life. I’d moved there in 1975. In 1981 I started hearing rumors of gay men becoming ill . It was no one I knew, so didn’t pay much attention. But later that year my roommate became ill, was hospitalized, and died overnight. It became very confusing.
After my roommate’s passing, many friends started passing and the gay community became frightened and targeted by the straight community. There’s something about that combination that has always put the backbone in the gay community — it was clear that we weren’t going to get help from the general public. Medical staff looked like they had just stepped out of a space ship, in some areas it was a problem to even have funeral services.
It took time, but with the support of some wonderful nurses and doctors, the gay community eventually had the time and space to fight for better medications, and better health care and disability.
What was the political climate at that time?
Many were fighting for their lives, and living very short lives, and taking their own lives in what they thought to be a dignified way — it was heart breaking. As far as I know, Ronald Reagan or his administration never once mentioned the pandemic that ravaged the world during his time in office.
The treatment landscape for HIV has evolved over the years. Do you think it’s important that young gay guys understand our community’s past experience with this virus?
It’s very important — not just that young people know the history of this disease, but how they’re able to live with the freedoms they have.
You can go on any hook-up site and put in your profile that you’ve been tested or that you’re on PrEP and no one questions you, they’re ready to hook-up . You put on your profile that you’re positive, and it’s no thanks. Honesty is not welcome.
The stigma of this virus is still hurting us.
We do need to remember our history. We need to remember it so it does not repeat itself. We need to realize what previous generations went through to help us get where we are today. Today, the fight involves pills and making sure costs are covered by health insurance. But as Dyer said, the HIV/AIDS stigma is still there.
Content republished with permission from Gareth Johnson
Originally from Australia, Gareth now lives in London. A non-smoker who loves to laugh, Gareth writes about all aspects of the LGBTQ experiences, with a particular passion for travel, sport, and films.