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U.S. News

California: Bay Area Reporter Obituaries Go Online

December 8, 2009

Marking World AIDS Day, thousands of obituaries published since 1980 in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR) were put online for the first time, courtesy of San Francisco's GLBT Historical Society (GHS).

The Web site "provides the faces and the stories to the great tragedy that swept our community over the 1980s and 1990s [and] to this day," said Paul Boneberg, GHS' executive director. "I think it's hard for people who didn't live through it to understand the breadth and magnitude of this mass death."

On Nov. 16, 1989, BAR published "AIDS Deaths," an eight-page section filled with small photographs of community members who had died of HIV/AIDS in the previous year. In just one week in July 1992, the paper ran 16 obituaries. Many death notices during this time indicated how quickly AIDS killed, with some periods of illness spanning only a few months.

"In those days there were a lot of gay men who came to San Francisco to escape their families of origin, and often the BAR obituary was the only public sign of where they had gone or what had happened to them," said Ralph Buchbalter, who writes about life in the city during the 1980s.

With the advent of highly active antiretroviral therapy, the tide appeared to turn, and on its Aug. 13, 1998, edition BAR ran the front-page headline "No Obits." The paper was careful to note that no obituaries had been submitted, not that no one had died.

Tom Burtch, the GHS volunteer who spent about three years scanning the obituaries from BAR's archives, said they give people "an ability to remember people and keep their memories alive." The project is ongoing.

To view the archives, visit

Back to other news for December 2009

Adapted from:
Bay Area Reporter (San Francisco)
11.26.2009; Seth Hemmelgarn

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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