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13 Moments in Black Celebrity HIV/AIDS Activism

February 7, 2013


Magic Johnson

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.'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.

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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Peter (Atlanta,Georgia.) Sat., Dec. 28, 2013 at 12:37 pm UTC
The Comment Marvelyn Brown made was really quite stupid. She initially thought only Gay Men and Africans were susceptible or at risk for HIV. Ignorance.
My problem with her and many others is that African Americans see themselves as superior and different from Africans just because they were born in America. If HIV doesn't kill you, Ignorance will.
And what is it about Africans that makes them more at risk.... same thing ignorance and poverty. We Blacks in America are just as vulnerable as African Blacks.
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Comment by: AnAppealToCommonSense (USA) Fri., Feb. 15, 2013 at 4:06 am UTC
Hi. I don't think Nelson Mandela should be included in this list. While his struggle against apartheid was admirable and he had an enormous task of uniting the nation once elected, one of the biggest problems of his presidency was ignoring the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa. If you're going to include a former or current African president, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia is a better choice, as he was the first to publicly admit to his son having died of AIDS and has been involved in HIV/AIDS work since. I'd say Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, too, but his recent stances on condoms and homosexuality are negating his past leadership (Kaunda, along with Festus Mogae, back gay rights). And I'd also say that 46664 is nowhere near as important as the work Zachie Achmat with Treatment Action Campaign (I know he's considered "colored" in SA, so I'm thinking he must have some black ancestry) or the late Winston Zulu in Zambia, both widely known HIV/AIDS activists. If this is only about Black Americans, then why is Nelson Mandela included? Again, I admire the man for much of his work, but he's already received enough accolades, and his inclusion comes at the expense of others who are more deserving of praise in this topic.
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