Temple University has discovered a way to eliminate the virus from cells
Anti LGBT Protest in San Francisco. Creative Commons License attribution to:
The elimination of HIV/AIDS will transform society. It would be a historic moment in medicine and give us a chance to examine ourselves and the history of tolerance toward the disease and those at high risk for contracting HIV.
I am part of GenX and graduated from high school in 1985 and from college in 1994. I have lived my entire adult life under the threat of infection from HIV. In the early 1990s I lost several friends to the disease. I had one very harrowing experience in 1990 being tested for HIV and being certain that I was infected. It turns out I was not infected.
HIV/AIDS has had such an impact on our culture and how we interact with others. As much as my daughter cannot know what it was like to live before digital and the Internet of Things, I can barely remember a world without AIDS. I remember the terror in the early and mid 80s. I remember the pain of shunning and the pain of discrimination of those with the disease. I remember taking the blood test and feelings of dread waiting for the outcome.
I also remember my first HIV test. I joined the Air Force in 1986. I went up to Spokane, Washington about 100 miles from my home town. To join the military, you must first go through an induction center. The induction center tests your fitness to serve and is also where you give your oath before formally joining the armed services. After I was asked if I had smoked marijuana, the interviewer asked me if I was homosexual. I thought this was an odd question. I did not know that homosexuals were barred from military service. I am heterosexual and answered as such. The interviewer informed me that I would have to take “an AIDs test” to make sure I was not “a homosexual”. I had mixed feelings about the test. Two of my closest friends from high school had outed themselves as gay and one had joined the Army.
My thoughts ran to my Army friend. How did he feel that the service he swore to give his life to, the constitution he swore to uphold, denied him his basic right to pursue happiness? I have not asked him that question yet. We are still close friends. He is someone I admire for being true to who he is.
My own experiences growing up with the spectre of HIV/AIDS is closely tied to the history of tolerance in this country toward the LGBT community. The first cases made the headlines in 1981. The first cases were linked to gay men in San Francisco and New York City. The CDC originally thought that being gay was a component for the disease. In 1982, the CDC discovered that other clusters of disease outside the gay community were developing and then named the disease AIDs.
That did not stop the public perception in the US that HIV/AIDs was a disease with moral baggage. HIV positive students were denied access to classes, family members were abandoned to the care of hospitals were staff were often afraid to interact with the infected. Gay awareness was raised through pride marches and a concerted public and political campaign on the part of the gay community to reverse the stigma of both being gay and being infected with HIV.
1989 was a watershed year when Magic Johnson declared that he was HIV positive. HIV had now gone mainstream. Actors, athletes and other persons of note were diagnosed with HIV. This disease was now as much a heterosexual disease as much as a homosexual disease. It has been a long time since HIV was a death sentence. While HIV/AIDs is certainly something to be taken seriously and managed, those that are infected face less shunning that the first cases. Having been one of the generations that lived through the scourge, I hope we remember the intolerance this disease caused and how that intolerance led to abusive policies and inhibited research. In the age when super-viruses and pandemics are announced almost yearly, it is important to remember the lessons of HIV/AIDs and practice compassion and acceptance.