Body Positive Marks 15th Anniversary
It was the end of 1987, one of the most tumultuous years in the history of the AIDS epidemic. AIDS had made its mysterious first appearance only six years before, and the discovery of HIV had happened only three years before. Years of government neglect and societal indifference had allowed the epidemic to spiral out of control. And rather than trying to help those living with -- and dying from -- HIV/AIDS, the US had descended into an AIDS hysteria full of (unfounded) fear of transmission through casual contact and heightened hostility towards groups such as injecting drug users, gay men, and people of color.
Against this backdrop, the PWA ("People With AIDS") self-empowerment movement reached new heights over the course of 1987. In March, an address by author-activist Larry Kramer at the New York Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center led to the launch of the radical protest group the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (better known by the acronym ACT UP). In October, a massive gay and lesbian March on Washington included the first unfolding of the full AIDS Memorial Quilt, which stretched across most of the National Mall. And in November, Michael Hirsh and a group of other New Yorkers living with HIV founded Body Positive, both the agency and the magazine.
Body Positive was designed to be "the first local organization specifically setup to serve seropositive people who remain healthy." The agency was launched with a Treatments Committee, a Psychological Services Committee, a Social Committee, and a Media/Advocacy Committee. The first issue of Body Positive magazine in December 1987 featured such stories as "What to Do If You Have No Symptoms," "Your Status Under the Law," and several moving first-person stories. A "Safer Sex Funnies" cartoon showed a person in a bedroom wearing a full-body diving suit telling their partner: "Darling! I'm ready for bed now!"
The early issues of Body Positive reflect a combination of both anger and hope. Anger was manifested in the form of acute political awareness and advocacy for the rights of people with HIV. For instance, an issue in 1988 offered a guide to "where the candidates stand on AIDS" in that year's presidential election.
The hope in the early issues is both encouraging and saddening. Issue 3 in February 1988 quoted a doctor as saying "My guess is that within 12 to 18 months, we will be able to arrest the disease at whatever stage it's at, except for people who are extremely sick. Also, by that time, we will be able to restore immune function back towards normal." Yet we now know that it would take another eight years, until the summer of 1996, before proof would emerge of the effectiveness of combination antiretroviral therapy which, of course, is still far from being a cure.
As throughout Body Positive's history, the main emphasis in the early years was on providing support and education. Early articles discuss such themes as "A Practical Guide to Telling Your Parents," "How to Reduce Stress," and "Food for Life." Within five months of its founding, Body Positive provided a network of 16 ongoing support groups (and a waiting list of 150 people), a series of monthly public forums, and regular social events (the first-ever was a Valentine's Day party in 1988). Then, as now, the agency relied heavily on its volunteers, people who "believe in this effort and want to help make a difference."
This "Body Positive model" has been maintained largely intact until the present day, and a consolidation with the People with AIDS Coalition (PWAC) of New York added a Helpline, the Spanish-language magazine SIDAahora, and other programs. Likewise, we still offer support groups, treatment education, peer outreach, social events, and of course, Body Positive magazine. And most of all, we still live by the words of our Creed, published monthly in these pages, that "You are not alone."
For a complete history of Body Positive from 1987-1999, visit www.thebody.com/bp/jul99/forces_bpos.html.
Raymond A. Smith, Ph.D., is editor of Body Positive magazine.
This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.