Magic Johnson Publicly Announces His HIV Status (1991)
On Nov. 7, 1991, Magic Johnson announced that he is HIV positive, and retired from professional basketball to pursue an HIV advocacy agenda. What was the biggest takeaway from Johnson's reveal so early in the epidemic? It helped raise awareness that everyone was vulnerable to HIV -- especially those communities where HIV was previously not believed to be a problem, including heterosexual men, African-American communities and the sports world. With HIV in the late '80s and early '90s being associated almost exclusively with gay, white men and intravenous drug users, to see a healthy, straight, black man infected through heterosexual sex was a wake-up call for many people to begin some very difficult, but very necessary, conversations.
"For the kids -- that's why I am going to be a spokesperson for this HIV virus," Magic said on the day of his historic disclosure. "Because I want them to understand that safe sex is the way to go. I think sometimes we think, 'Well, only gay people can get it.' 'It's not going to happen to me.' Well, here I am saying, 'It can happen to anybody.'"
Two years ago, in 2011, many marked the 20-year anniversary of his announcement by looking at what his admission meant for the community. TheBody.com's own Kellee Terrell wrote: "It's quite disheartening that Magic's message of 'black straight men can contract HIV through heterosexual sex' has gotten buried in our own homophobic rhetoric." With many years passing since a major celebrity has spoken about their HIV-positive status, many feel that the lack of a major public figure to speak for the disease has led to a malaise in activism. And, no, Magic Johnson is NOT cured of HIV.