Doyle Center Hosts World AIDS Day

Raising awareness of AIDS and mourning those who have died


Morgan Fuerstenberg graphic

Dr. Pip Gordon gave an informative PowerPoint presentation to commemorate the 40th year since Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome was first identified as a bloodborne virus. The presentation took place from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Doyle Center on Dec. 2. 

World AIDS Day, designated on Dec. 1 every year since 1988, is an international day dedicated to mourning those who have died of the virus and to raising awareness of AIDS, which is caused by the spread of a Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection.

Gordon handed out a prose poem written by Fran Lebowitz, presented as dispatches concerning metropolitan life in 1987, a time when the AIDS crisis was spreading rapidly. Lebowitz implemented “gallows humor” or intentionally dark humor. The poem shows the severity of the impact of AIDS and at the time the poem was written, individuals with AIDS were given death sentences when they were diagnosed, because the virus was so far advanced in the individual’s system by the time symptoms occurred. The poetry was in response to the crisis that felt apocalyptic. 

AIDS is zoonotic, or an infectious disease that can be transmitted between species like animals to humans. AIDS has affected the human genome for about 150 years. It can be traced back to one specific species of primate with Simian immunodeficiency virus, which is still in present day Cameroon on the West African Coast. In the early 1900s, colonialism led to the spread of the virus to the human genome. At that time, the virus’ effect on the body was referred to as “the wasting disease,” as medical professionals at the time tried to combat it and watched many people die from what seemed to be nothing.

Gordon explained, “Since sexual fluid, seminal fluids and bodily fluids are created from your bloodstream, it’s carried as a sexually transmitted disease. Once that it is in your system, it basically wipes (white blood cells) out entirely.” Within two months of contracting HIV, symptoms like a bad flu, swollen lymph nodes, achiness and feverishness occur. After that, an HIV-positive person can go years without any symptoms, but viruses or infections the human species have long since overcome can turn deadly. 

For example, humans have developed a strong response that keeps pneumocystis bacteria from overpopulating our lungs, but when deadly outbreaks of pneumocystis pneumonia, a serious infection that causes inflammation and fluid buildup in the lungs, happened in Los Angeles and San Francisco around the early 1980s, it took two years for scientists to develop a test and find that the virus was bloodborne. That was two years in the U.S., when people who were immunodeficient couldn’t be treated and were dying of AIDS. MedlinePlus defines immunodeficiency disorders as, “Occurr(ing) when the body’s immune response is reduced or absent.” 

Two changes in the way scientists approached the treatment of AIDS have greatly affected the way we talk about it: Prep, a drug that significantly lowers the chance of getting HIV during high-risk exposure, and the development of the new vaccine technology, mRNA, which works with your DNA code to not let the virus in. With these advancements, people personally impacted by the virus can feel more confident engaging in queer relationships and can significantly reduce the risk of new HIV infections. 

The vaccine advancement of utilizing mRNA has been in development for at least 20 years and there is hope that this type of vaccine can combat HIV. Along with Prep, a treatment that can be used by HIV-negative people to protect themselves, those who are HIV-positive can also take antiretroviral treatment to reduce the viral load so much in the body that the possibility of passing HIV on to a sexual partner is drastically reduced. 

Gordon also talked about “Tales of the City,” a novel series written by Armistead Maupin, which began in 1978. “Tales of the City” is set in 1970s San Francisco and follows the residents of a small apartment complex. By the time the sixth novel could be written, the book was taken by sadness in the wake of a series of deaths in characters. Maupin decided to stop writing the series when a main character contracted AIDS and there seemed to be no hope for the character, which reflected the realism of AIDS in the late 1980s through the early 1990s. The sixth book in the series was finally published in 2007, titled “Michael Tolliver Lives.” In 2019, the narrative continued with Michael Tolliver on a specific antiviral treatment while his boyfriend used Prep. Over the span of 40 years, the narrative of what having HIV means has changed. 

To combat the stigma the LGBTQIA+ community faces regarding AIDS, Gordon said, “The global profile is in the name … It’s Human Immuno deficiency virus. It affects all of us.”