World AIDS Day has been held on the first of December every year since 1988. Today, according to the official site, there are approximately 34 million people living with HIV.
Despite scientific advances that have led to more effective HIV treatments, as well as improvements on our understanding of the virus, many argue that awareness is also about remembering past victims.
Thirty-four years ago, as shown in A Timeline of AIDS, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the first official reporting of what we now know as the AIDS epidemic. The remainder of the decade was marked by stigma and terror, which made the public reluctant to support those affected.
Many survivors of the epidemic have told their stories in a variety of mediums; one recent platform is a thread on Reddit, created in February 2015.
One user wrote, “It was flat out scary. every guy you met was like a possible time bomb. especially the early period when we knew very little about it – didn’t know if you could get it by kissing, by holding hands…
“then lots of your friends or friends of friends get sick and sicker and then die. and you never ever quit being really really fucking pissed off about the whole thing. i’m alive today due to sheer randomness.”
Another comment reads, “I lost ALL of my friends from back then. I was attending a funeral about every 12-16 days. There were no tests available and no treatments. You didn’t know you had it until you started getting sick, and at that point, you’d only have a few weeks to a few months left before you died…
“Back then, every ache, every pain, every upset stomach…all made you wonder if you were infected. It was scary as hell.
One user remembered a discussion with Cleve Jones, founder of the NAMES project and the AIDS Quilt. They reported that Jones said, “If you were living in the Castro in San Francisco, everyone in the neighborhood was gay… So it wasn’t just your friends that were dying, it was your whole neighborhood. One day your mailman would be replaced, the next day that flower shop was gone…
“You wouldn’t be invited to the funeral, so it was just like people were disappearing.”
The top post on the thread, by a 62-year-old gay man called VillageGuy, expresses gratitude for the lesbian community for their support during the crisis. He wrote, “They were not directly affected by the spread of the virus. But so many of them jumped on the bandwagon right at the beginning, gave everything they had helping out wherever they could and in many cases, led the way when things got really bad in the mid- to late 80’s.”
The full Reddit thread can be found here.