30 Years of HIV
33 years ago, on July 3, 1981, the New York Times first reported on AIDS. Back then, they didn’t call it AIDS. It didn’t have a name yet though it clearly had an existence.
32 years ago, on September 24, 1982, the CDC used the term AIDS for the first time.
30 years ago, just four days ago marking April 23, 1984, scientists revealed that the cause of AIDS was HIV, a retrovirus that infects cells in the immune system. This discovery led to the creation of a blood test that could detect HIV, saving countless lives and giving answers to people who had been suffering the effects of the virus. 30 years ago, the Secretary of Health and Human Services thought we’d have a vaccine within two years.
Next year, it will be the 30 year anniversary of Ryan White and the death of Rock Hudson. Two years from now will be the 30th anniversary of Cleve Jones making the first square in the AIDS quilt. 2018 will mark the 30th World AIDS Day on December 1st. We will keep hitting 30th anniversaries until the calender shifts a decade and we start seeing the 40th anniversary articles for HIV/AIDS.
I came of age in an HIV-cognizant world. I was ten and in summer camp when I first heard about HIV. The swim counselor was reading an article, talking about it with a fellow counselor, while my friends and I shared a single bowl of vanilla ice cream, passing around a spoon. It was the afternoon, almost time for camp to end for the day, and I asked my mother about it when I got home. She told me I didn’t need to worry; that it was a disease that only affected older, gay men. That’s what we thought back in 1984.
I remember my first cheek swab test. I remember taking a boyfriend for his first cheek swab test. HIV used to be in the forefront of my mind; it used to be in the forefront of everyone’s mind. I feel as if we’ve come a long way from when Pedro Zamora was on The Real World; when Elizabeth Glaser was on the cover of People magazine. When Rent was on Broadway and Philadelphia was in the theaters. Not a long way in the sense of progress — though there has certainly been medical advances — but a long way from when the media was continuously reminding us not only to be mindful of our health, but that there were people around us living with HIV/AIDS. Where did the media coverage go? The storylines that educated the public? Why are the articles all clumped around World AIDS Day or Youth AIDS Day or these 30-year anniversaries?
Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe it’s just the circle I move inside. Maybe if I were younger, it would be all around me, a constant discussion.
Where were you when you first learned about HIV/AIDS?