Fighting Stigma For 30 Years: The Faces Of HIV And AIDS
On a December 2010 NPR segment, Dr. Sohail Rana, a professor of pediatrics and child health at Howard University, said those suffering from HIV and AIDS still face stigma similar to that of those who suffered from the virus 30 years ago. Furthermore, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found "substantial shares" of Americans still report discomfort at the thought of interacting with persons infected with the virus.
Yet the same Kaiser Family Foundation study suggested there have been improvements, too. The percentage of Americans who say they consider AIDS a "punishment" declined from nearly half of those surveyed in 1987 to 16 percent of survey participants today.
For the 30th anniversary of the first diagnosed case of HIV / AIDS, take a look at some of the individuals who became faces of the disease and helped shed light on living a life with the virus:
- In 1982, the Centers for Disease Control identified a man who could be linked to approximately 40 of the first 248 cases of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. Five years later, Gaetan Dugas was publicly identified after the release of Randy Shilts' book, "And the Band Played On." A study released in 2007 suggested the disease came to the U.S. much earlier, via a Haitian immigrant in 1969.
- In 1985, actor Rock Hudson told the world he was dying of AIDS. At the time, only about 10,000 people throughout the country and dependent areas had been diagnosed with the virus. Hudson's confession has been credited for providing a "face" for the disease. He died the following October.
- Indiana teen Ryan White, who contracted the HIV virus via a blood transfusion, fought his way into a public school in 1985 after concerns from parents and and students kept him home. White passed away in 1990. That same year, Congress passed the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, which provides funding for HIV care, education and prevention.
- Three brothers were prohibited from attending a Florida public school in 1986 due to having contracted the HIV virus. The Ray brothers -- Ricky, Robert and Randy -- all had hemophilia and were said to have contracted the virus through blood treatments for the condition. The family eventually won its court case against the De Soto County School Board.
- Though he'd worked for a variety of AIDS-related projects during the 1980s, it wasn't until February 1987 that Chris Brownlie discovered he'd contracted the virus himself. Co-founder of the AIDS Hospice Foundation, Brownlie's work helped open the first Los Angeles AIDS hospice facility. He died in 1989.
- Magic Johnson announced in 1991 he'd been diagnosed with the HIV virus and would be retiring from his basketball career. Since then, Johnson has worked to dispel myths about the disease, including that it's only a "gay man's disease." In 2008, two Minneapolis radio hosts said on air they believed Johnson had faked the disease; the hosts later apologized for their comments.
- Greg Louganis suffered a concussion and laceration when he hit his head on the diving board while competing in the 1988 Olympic games. In 1994, when Louganis confessed he had HIV, many wondered if his '88 injury might have put other divers at risk of contracting the virus. Nearly all of Louganis' athletic sponsors dropped him after news of his diagnosis broke.
- Randy Shilts, journalist and author of "And the Band Played On" -- the book that identified Gaetan Dugas as "Patient Zero," chronicled the early history of the AIDS epidemic and criticized lawmakers for not taking the disease seriously -- died from complications of AIDS in 1994.
- This June, author Larry Kramer's play "The Normal Heart" won the 2011 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. The show chronicles the early stages of the AIDS epidemic. In his acceptance speech, Kramer spoke to the gay community, calling the play "our history." Said Kramer, "I could not have written it had not so many of us needlessly died. Learn from it and carry on the fight."