Thirty Years Ago, It Was a Death Sentence

When HIV/AIDS first came to the attention of the public in the early 1980s, it was baffling the medical community. The first recorded cases were arising amongst gay men, but in July of 1982, there were reports of Haitians and hemophiliacs displaying the same symptoms. While the discovery of HIV/AIDS transmission being something that anyone could suffer helped destigmatize the disease to an extent, there was still the perception of it as a ‘gay disease.’

In the early 1980s, homosexuality was still being viewed as an ‘affliction’ despite the listing for homosexuality being removed from the DSM II (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual) by the American Psychiatric Association in 1974. It was no longer a mental illness; now it was just perversity on the part of those who were living a gay lifestyle. With the discovery of HIV/AIDS coming so soon on the heels of the first active gay movements, the correlation drawn was greatly underlined by the rising social tension.

What About Now?

Some thirty years later, we’re living in a world where HIV/AIDS is no longer the immediate death sentence it once was. Antiretroviral treatment is available for HIV positive individuals to keep the virus under control and preserving the integrity of the immune system. It’s now entirely possible for someone to be HIV positive and live a long, healthy life with proper medical care and personal treatment.

An additional change is still forthcoming in how homosexuality is perceived. Positive changes, such as gay marriage now being legal in 37 states, rise by the month, but there is still a great divide in how the public feels about it. Why is this so important to the HIV/AIDS discussion? Think back to the 1980s when HIV/AIDS was largely dismissed by the public as ‘a gay disease.’ With a stigma still attached to the illness, many people are afraid to admit their HIV status or even to seek out testing.

Stigma Still Exists: Has Anything Changed?

Until education is spread worldwide, there will be discrimination and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. Now, however, there is support available. Support groups, government organizations and activists are pushing to bring the HIV/AIDS conversation into the open. With new ARV drugs being developed, combinations discovered and the awareness of transmission allowing people to be safe, it’s no longer the monster it was in the 1980s.

Homosexuality may still carry a stigma, but there is now support for individuals who are questioning their sexuality and their gender identity. It is possible to live a full, healthy and happy life while being HIV positive. With the improvement in medication and continued research into a possible cure for HIV/AIDS and the social shift towards tolerance and acceptance of non-heterosexual lifestyles, we are working towards abolishing that stigma forever.