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Three Decades of HIV/AIDS, Part Two

Ignorance, Fear and Hysteria (1985-1990) and Activism (1990-1995)

By Bob Frascino, M.D.

June 30, 2011

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Lyndon LaRouche sponsored a California ballot initiative calling for AIDS quarantines. Fear became woven into the subtext of American pop culture. Fatal Attraction, a film that screamed "screw around and it will come back to kill you" was a box office hit. In a nod to the dangers of sex, the producers of the James Bond movies decided the super-spy would bed only one woman per picture.

James Bond.

In 1986 Surgeon General C. Everett Koop issued a message to every U.S. household.

Understanding AIDS.

His call to action recommending that sex education begin at the earliest grade possible backfired and outraged his conservative base. The report stated "It is time to put self-defeating attitudes aside and recognize that we are fighting a disease, not people." He was the very first government official to tackle the problem. Unfortunately most Americans were not ready to face this reality head on.

In 1987, six years after the discovery of HIV/AIDS, President Reagan finally uttered the word "AIDS" for the first time in public. The FDA approved AZT, the first AIDS drug, at a cost of more than $10,000 per year, making it the most expensive drug in history. Also in 1987, Liberace died.


And AIDS activism was born as Larry Kramer founded ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).

HIV/AIDS Activism.

Meanwhile three young brothers, all hemophiliacs infected with HIV, returned to school after being banned for a year. Shortly thereafter their home was burned to the ground by arsonists. 1987 must also be remembered as the year the Helms Amendment was passed by Congress. It prohibited federal dollars for most AIDS-education efforts, effectively blocking almost all effective HIV prevention for many years.

Jessie Helms.

By 1988 there were 82,764 AIDS cases with 46,344 AIDS deaths. Among them Wayland Flowers.

Wayland Flowers.

Robert Mapplethorpe and Amanda Blake succumbed to AIDS the following year.

Robert Mapplethorpe.

Amanda Blake.

By 1991 AIDS cases had skyrocketed to 161,073 with 100,813 lives prematurely snuffed out. These included Keith Haring, Halston and Ryan White.

Keith Haring.


Ryan White.

Hysteria, fear and ignorance were now rampant. It took fearless leaders in the entertainment industry, such as Elizabeth Taylor and Elton John, using their celebrity to get out important messages, such as "you can't get it from kissing." The purveyors of pop culture were beginning to understand that where governmental policy (or indifference) had failed, powerful messages in the media could succeed.

Liz Taylor.

Steve and I have a larger-than-life portrait of Liz adorning one of the guest rooms in our home. It's personally signed by Ms. Taylor and is a constant reminder to us of her courage and compassion. (Sure, we could have arranged for a portrait of Elton, but let's face it, Liz is way more glamorous, right?)

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See Also
Three Decades of HIV/AIDS: Are You Ready to Dance?
Three Decades of HIV/AIDS, Part Three
20 Years of Magic: How One Man's HIV Disclosure Inspired Others
More on the 30th Anniversary of AIDS


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Life, Love, Sex, HIV and Other Unscheduled Events

Bob Frascino, M.D., was President and Founder of The Robert James Frascino AIDS Foundation. He had been an outspoken, popular expert in's "Ask the Experts" forums on safe sex and fatigue/anemia since 2000. Once a Fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Frascino served as Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Division of Immunology, Rheumatology, and Allergy, at Stanford University Medical Center from 1983 until 2001. He was a member of the American Academy of HIV Medicine and had also been a distinguished member of the executive boards of numerous state and regional associations.

We're inexpressibly saddened to share the news that Dr. Frascino passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011. Click here to read more and to share your thoughts.

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