Was it terrifying? Oh, it was. It was absolutely terrifying. Which is one of the things that drives me crazy about HIV educators, they run around saying fear-based education doesn’t work, and shame and guilt don’t work, and I’m like, oh no, I was there in the mid-’80s, and we were all terrified and deeply ashamed of some of the behaviors people engaged in that kind of laid out the welcome mat, or created the disease settings, that allowed AIDS to explode throughout the population. That did change everyone’s behavior. That fear and that shame worked like fucking gangbusters. It was rooted in reality. AIDS was legitimately terrifying then.
Have you been following this bacterial meningitis outbreak among gay men in New York City? Speaking of scary, yes I have!
Does that in any way remind you of the ’80s? What’s interesting is the alacrity, the response from health officials to get out in front of it. … The same health agencies—new officials, same agencies—that were so slow to respond to HIV, so slow to warn people, have been out there saying, “Let’s have an abundance of caution this time,” instead of an abundance of apathy.
That’s what we didn’t see, we didn’t see health officials get out in front of it and speak directly and bluntly to gay men the way N.Y.C. health officials are now speaking bluntly to gay men.
The slowness of the response is what led to so many thousands of people getting infected and ending up dead.
That’s a sign of the times, right? Yeah, it’s a sign of the times in so many different ways. That we learned the lessons of HIV, and that gay people are more valued now. The reason why the response was so slow to HIV is because health officials, the media, politicians, they didn’t care whether gay men lived or died, but now they do. And that’s different and that’s gratifying.
David Accomazzo is an editor at the Boulder Weekly, where this interview first appeared.
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