Growing up in SoCal, where the initial major outbreak of HIV occured centered on the bath houses of West Hollywood, I watched the news coverage as the disease progressed over the first year. For a few months, HIV took on the name “Gay Cancer.” There was no name for the virus or disease yet. That’s what the media landed on. Gay Cancer.
The new epidemic had all the best components for the making of a rigid hateful stigma. The prejudice of homosexuality as an immoral, hedonistic activity was already in play. Disneyland cast members (as everyone who works there is named) regularly split up gay couples slow dancing at the Tomorrowland dance floor, as an example of how homosexuals were treated in SoCal. So when a new deadly disease killing gay men rolled in, the already existing stigmatization of homosexuality was amplified a billion-fold.
This immoral lifestyle has brought down upon us a New Black Plague! That right there is how the AIDS outbreak was perceived.
So here’s a story from my high school years about how goofy things got with the AIDS outbreak, at the very beginning in “Ground Zero” sunny SoCal.
Vintage clothes rock. I’ve always liked hitting thrift stores for vintage surf threads. One day back in high school (mid-80s) while visiting my best gal with my new stash of Hang Ten shirts, her dad warned me not to buy used clothes because of AIDS. He asked me to leave my Goodwill bag outside.
Never mind that most infectious viruses break apart when exposed to light. It’s why getting herpes from a gas station toilet seat is so hilarious. Not possible. But this is how much of a public scare AIDS was, laden with misinfornation and fear mongering. My best gal’s dad was not a hateful or unintelligent man. He was caught up in the fearful hype of a new deadly disesse.
Used clothes could be carrying the Gay Cancer. Amazing.
The misconceptions and misinformation… it created a culture of fear, prejudice, and mistrust in SoCal… I remember it well. It sucked.
Things are much better now, in terms of stigma and fear. AIDS isn’t associated with homosexuality by default. AIDS affects everyone, and anyone can contract the disease.
It isn’t immoral. It isn’t caused by any “lifestyle.” It isn’t a mark of societal shame. It isn’t a death sentence. It’s a disease.
So, for World AIDS Day, that’s my story to share. Compared to mid-80s Southern California, things are better. I am confident things continue to get better.