The Beginning of AIDS in New York

The Beginning of AIDS in New York
Gay Pride Day, July 1, 1985. Owen Franken/CORBIS

Gay Pride Day, July 1, 1985. Owen Franken/CORBIS

On June 5, 1981, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published its first national notice about cases of what would come to be known as AIDS. In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (a national publication of public health information and recommendations) published that day, the CDC noted that five previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles, ranging in age from 29 to 36, were being treated for a type of pneumonia usually associated with patients with compromised immune systems – two of the men had already died. You can read the laconic 1981 memo and editorial note here.

AIDS (which did not have a name at this early point) would become a pandemic affecting the nation and the world. In these earliest of years, it would ravage several population centers like our city, and particularly our neighborhoods, with acute dreadfulness. And though it disastrously affected this community, it also helped unite and galvanize it.

In 2013, The New-York Historical Society staged an exhibition called AIDS in New York: The First Five Years. N-YHS said that it would “explore the impact of the epidemic on personal lives, public health and medical practices, culture, and politics in New York City and the nation. Drawing from the archives of the New York Public Library, New York University, and the National Archive of LGBT History, the show will use posters, photographs, and artifacts to tell the story of the early years of AIDS in New York.”

AIDS Vigil NYC, 1983, via New York Historical Society

Several years ago, GVSHP co-hosted a discussion about a history of AIDS and its effects in the Village — click here to listen to the program, which included first-hand accounts from the medical professionals working St. Vincent’s Hospital and others during the initial outbreak in the early 1980s.

For more on AIDS and its impact upon our neighborhoods, click here.

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Drew was GVSHP's Director of Administration until March 2015.

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