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Christine Peterson, The Daily Campus: Lecture focuses on 30 years of AIDS virus (First of series of 4 on John-Manuel Andriote)

Lecture focuses on 30 years of AIDS virus (First of series of 4 on John-Manuel Andriote)
by Christine Peterson, October 5, 2011


the author has misspelt john’s name throughout the article. i have corrected it.


AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency syndrome, is defined as the final stage of the HIV virus in which the immune system undergoes severe damage. Over the past 30 years where the disease has emerged as a deadly enemy, the World Health Organization estimates that a total of 25 million people have died from this affliction. That’s without taking into account the over 30 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS throughout the world.

On Oct. 5, 2011, the Rainbow Center hosted another “Out to Lunch” lecture, featuring John Manual Andriote and his presentation entitled “Canaries in a Coal Mine: 30 Years of AIDS in America’s GayCommunities.”

Andriote is a Connecticut native. He began reporting on AIDS and HIV in 1986, and based on his 25 years specializing on this epidemic, he discussed how and why gay American men are the most affected by this virus (nearly two-thirds of all diagnosed HIV infections result from male homosexual activities), as well as their role as advocates against HIV/AIDS.

With the second edition of his book, “Victory Deferred,” released this past week, Andrioter continued his presentation by explaining how the history of this disease has shaped the present view of gays in present-day America.

“When Rock Hudson came out and told the media that he had HIV, people began to realize that anybody could get the disease, and it intrigued me as a journalist and a gay man,” Andrioter said.

This was the 1980s, when the disease was new and running rampant throughout the country.

“I was 26 and my peers were dying from this dreaded, terrifying disease,” he said.

It was during this time that Andriote began writing freelance articles about the issue. He said he wanted to fight the stigma that is attached to someone who is gay or a lesbian. This disease did not help the stigma. Middle class men suddenly were becoming impoverished and experienced what poor people had to live with. Charity programs, even Meals-on-Wheels, were not designed for professional young men, nor were they were not meant for men at 30 years old.

“People were calling for quarantines. ‘Round up the gays and put them on an island,'” he said.

People were frightened and confused, and the gay community had the constant reminder of the disease hanging over its head.

There was no help – not from the government or from the state – when the disease was in its infantile stages. This required the gay community to come together. They created buddy programs where volunteers would go to someone’s home to help clean and cook, or even just to be a friend.

The first and one of the most famous, gay activist groups called ACT UP, which was founded in 1987, fought to make the first HIV treatment available to everyone.

“Their first mission was to put drugs in bodies,” Andrioter said.

The big question at the time was who controlled the flow of the medication: the government or the people? There was a huge confrontation at the time of who would live and who would die, and whose decision was it?

“It was during the Regan administration when the Christian right-wing government didn’t like the idea of doing anything,” Andriote said.

Andrioter said he felt there was a rash of hypocrisy in America for these unChristian attitudes toward gays.

“The gays were blamed for the moral breakdown of the country, and they had their own disease,” he said. “And in this dark time, gay people really organized and mounted this community-level response…to take care of one another. Some of the best and brightest wound up in Washington organizing a political response.”

They had to, because it wasn’t until six years later, after thousands had died of HIV/AIDS, that the government approved any money for the fight at all. And it wasn’t until 1990 that the government passed the federal act to ensure any help at all. Andrioter commented on the fact that, while so many in the country were preaching traditional values, the gay community was actually living them.

“I feel like I’ve lived in a time of giants; these amazing men and women who had come out and risked so much because they were speaking out about this injustice being down to fellow Americans and neighbors,” Andriote said.

People always concentrate on the death, disease, and fear that accompanies the AIDS epidemic, but Andrioter requested people to realize the other side of it, which is the extraordinary level of heroism.

“Vive la revolution,” he said. “It’s a good thing when Americans speak up about this injustice.”

It is important for the reality of this disease to be made public because gay males are the ones who suffer most.


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