And the Band Played on

Good Essays



AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is related to HIV, but they are not one in the same. A person has AIDS only in the final stages of HIV, after the immune system becomes unable to defend itself against foreign bacteria, other viruses, and fungi, and allows for the development of certain cancers. The world first became aware of AIDS in the early 1980s. Growing numbers of gay men in New York and California were developing rare types of pneumonia and cancer, and a wasting disease was spreading in Uganda. Doctors reported AIDS symptoms under different names, including “gay-related immune deficiency” and “slim,” but by 1985, they reported them all over the world.
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The AIDS panic seems unbelievable in retrospect but was all too real in the 80s; people were forced off their jobs, children were barred from schools, and anyone who belonged to the "4-H club" (homosexuals, hard-drug users, hemophiliacs, and -- incredibly -- Haitians) were treated like pariahs. The secrecy and denial in dealing with the crisis helped it to spread persistent.

Shilts was equally angry at the Reagan administration, which preached moral clichés while withholding desperately needed funds for medical research; the radical gay community which refused to acknowledge its own responsibility for the sexually immoral behavior that helped spread the disease like wildfire, and those in the medical community who played grandstanding politics and plain old-fashioned spite while patients were dying all around them. And then of course there was the media, which treated this puzzling, terrifying new disease -- which for two years after its discovery didn 't even have a name -- as something the "general public" didn 't have to be concerned about, until heterosexual men and women began to be infected.

But there were also the heroes -- the physicians who devoted their days and nights to treating their patients, gay men like Larry Kramer who refused to let the gay community sweep the problem under the rug, Rock Hudson, whose up-front honesty and admission of his illness shocked the American public and helped to bring AIDS out of the
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