February 4, 2013
Before Beyoncé and the Super Bowl took over the Internet yesterday, many people's social media was wall-to-wall Koch over the weekend. The three-time former Mayor of New York City passed away at the age of 88 on February 1st.
At first reaction was solemn. RIP punctuated the twittersphere. But by midday on Friday indifference was giving way to grievances. Those who lived in the Big Apple through the earliest day of the AIDS crisis were starting to share their uneasiness around the silence regarding Koch's dismal record on HIV/AIDS, and young people, many of whom were remembering the characterization of the former Mayor in Short Bus were hashtagging their confusion. Wasn't Koch the closeted mayor who turned his back on AIDS?
Before going to print on Sunday, The New York Times added Koch's inaction record around AIDS to the obituary it had quickly published online that failed to mention the pandemic that killed many on Koch's watch. For NYMAG.com David France wrote what he learned about Koch while making How to Survive a Plague. Buzzfeed's Saeed Jones put together a slide show of art in response to Koch's failure to lead when people needed him the most.
On Saturday, an AIDS activist on Facebook posted that they were sick of gay people speaking ill of Koch when the current generation of queers that he knew were doing so little around HIV. And while they had a point, the major difference is, Koch had the power and the resources at his disposal to curb the harm of HIV/AIDS and he did nothing. Meanwhile, those who were dying and had little power fought for their lives, and the lives of loved ones.
The lethargy and apathy we may see now around HIV/AIDS is in part of Koch's legacy. People in power like Koch and Reagan made it okay to say and do nothing for so long. Speaking up about their inaction may seem disrespectful, but it is how we honor the 1.7 million people who have been infected with HIV in the US since 1981.