What day IS it anyway? Forgetting can be dangerous
By Tim Gay
Dec. 1, 2004. The New York Times Page 1 stories ranged from the demolition of Fallujah to the court-recommended annual $5.6 billion increase for New York Citys public schools.
Caroline Kennedys planned garage sale made the front page, with full-color photos of Jackie Os horses matching luggage set.
Editorials commented on the inhuman treatment of Guantanamo Bay prisoners, nuclear development in Iran and a salute to Tom
Ridge as the best secretary of Homeland Security this country has ever known.
Page 1 of the Metro section examined a proposed expansion for the New Jersey Turnpike. Another story noted that Suffolk County prosecutors presented a stronger case in the Daniel Pelosi murder trial.
There wasnt a single story about AIDS on World AIDS Day.
Well, thats not quite true. Page B-2s Public Lives column featured the headline Helping Life Into the World, Then Trying To Save It. In the third paragraph we find that Dr. Allan Rosenfield, dean at Columbia Universitys Mailman School for Public Health, is increasingly involved in one of the toughest battles on earth, the battle against the global AIDS pandemic.
Deeper in the story we read that Dr. Rosenfield has four decades of experience as a proponent of womens health issues, leading up to his work with women and AIDS in Africa and Asia.
So, the only story remotely related to World AIDS Day in the New York Times was cloaked in secrecy.
Through the years the compilation of New York City statistics has become numbing. Today, one out of three gay men of color is H.I.V. positive. AIDS is the number one cause of death for black and Hispanic women of childbearing age. H.I.V.-positive African-American women outnumber positive white women by 10 to 1. H.I.V. rates among gay men under 30 have increased annually for several years, partly because of crystal and other party drugs, and partly because some young men think the disease is treatable. Re-infection among positive people appears to be producing untreatable strains of the virus.
Oct. 15 marked the 20th anniversary of my first lovers death. Michael Collins was a Methodist minister, and when we met in 1978, the gay world was a big bright welcoming party where everyone was beautiful. He was from Oregon and moved here in 1977. I was from Missouri, and came here because I fell in love with Michael. By the time we separated in the fall of 1982, eight or nine friends of ours had died. Then, the following spring, Michael told me he had AIDS. I became a part of the care family who took care of Michael and his last lover, Doug.
There werent many treatment options back then. A.Z.T. was years away, and the protease inhibitors came 11 years after Michaels death. There was care from concerned nurses and doctors. However, many hospitals isolated us and made visitors wear masks and gloves.
Outside of the hospitals, we encountered a sometimes hostile, oftentimes indifferent world. Landlords were evicting us. Dentists wouldnt fill our teeth. More money was spent on military bands in 1982 than on AIDS research and treatment. The Centers for Disease Control simply kept death statistics in four distinct categories: gays, intravenous drug users, hemophiliacs and Haitians. The C.D.C. wasnt concerned about bisexuals or gays who used intravenous drugs.
Then came the homophobia and the lies. I think it was 1983 when Geraldo Rivera exposed the truth about AIDS and Haitians San Francisco and New York gay men on vacation spread it through sex with young boys. President Reagan couldnt murmur the A word until 1987. And throughout the 1980s, The New York Times obituaries obfuscated any reference to AIDS by attributing cause of death to Latin-named diseases like pneumocystis carnii pneumonia and cytomegalo-virus.
Back then, the New York Times editors expunged the L and G words, not to mention the Big A, lest an editor be reprimanded by a grande dame named Ochs or Sulzberger.
In the 21st century, B and T have joined the L and G words, and no one cowers from saying AIDS. But has AIDS awareness simply gone out of vogue?
On World AIDS Day, I happened to hear Arthur Webb of the Village Center for Care discussing World AIDS day in a radio interview. He noted that H.I.V. infection is increasing among people over 50. I think he said there were 4,000 cases of over-50-year-olds with H.I.V. in New York City.
Shocking, I thought, that people over 50 would do such things! And then I remembered that in 2005 I too will be 50. Could I, who somehow stayed negative in the 80s and walked a careful line throughout the years, become positive?
In a word, yes.
It happened to three friends in the past 10 years. One had been drinking heavily. Another thought he couldnt get it if he were on top during sex. And the third said it was a Cole Porter just one of those things encounter, and we werent thinking too clearly.
I met a 23-year-old man who was recently diagnosed as H.I.V. positive. He was born in 1981, the same year that Charles died. I cant remember Charles last name, but he came from Texas with his sister, and they lived in a La Bohemia-like walkup apartment with French doors for windows on Bleecker St. They were actors who survived though catering and performing singing telegrams.
In the summer of 1981, Charles developed a rare cancer on the back of his throat. He died in November. Such diseases were lumped together under GRID for Gay-Related Immunodeficiency. All that was renamed AIDS in 1982, and by then it became evident that Charles died of Kaposis sarcoma.
The irony was that Charles had only made love to two or three men in his life. He defied the gay norms of the time because he refused to have sex on the first, second or third dates. Charles simply said he was saving himself for that special guy.
After Charles, Michael, Doug and hundreds more died in the early 80s, H.I.V./AIDS became a struggle, a cause and a goal for a cure. Weve held countless marches, auctions, concerts and celebrity events. We established World AIDS Day to draw everyones attention to the global and local impact of this disease.
Yet the message somehow doesnt make it. It didnt reach the 23-year-old, or my three friends, or the hundreds if not thousands who will become positive in New York City this year.
And then The New York Times forgot to tell us what day it was.