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AIDS in New York: A Biography

July 2
Michael Bennett, creator of A Chorus Line, dies. “AIDS set the theater back 40 years in terms of wiping out a whole layer of creativity,” says Charles Kaiser, author of The Gay Metropolis, a history of gay life in the city.

Equity Fights AIDS is founded and merges with Broadway Cares five years later. The group has since raised more than $100 million.

New AIDS cases in NYC: 5,216.
Deaths so far: 9,756.


DC Comics introduces Extraño, a gay superhero who contracts HIV after he’s bitten by the villain Hemo-Goblin.

Cosmo says women can have unprotected sex with an HIV-positive man without fear. “Most heterosexuals are not at risk,” the magazine says, adding that it’s impossible to transmit HIV in the “missionary position.”

May 26
At Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s insistence, the CDC mails out 107 million copies of the brochure “Understanding AIDS.”

September 15
ACT UP protests MoMA’s show of graphic photos of people with AIDS by celebrated photographer Nicholas Nixon, who was neither gay nor afflicted. “The artist makes people with AIDS look like freaks, like sickly, helpless ‘victims,’ in the most fatalistic sense of the word,” Michael Kimmelman writes in the Times.

November 7
To stem the epidemic among IV drug users—who will dominate new AIDS cases over the next decade— the city approves a hypodermic needle exchange in the downtown headquarters of the Health Department. Users are admitted only upon agreeing to seek treatment. (The program would close in 1990.)

New AIDS cases in NYC: 6,445.
Deaths so far: 13,990.


March 9
Robert Mapplethorpe dies.

March 11
AIDS on Park Avenue: The Times runs a story about Alison Gertz, 23, an Upper East Sider. “They tested her for everything,” says her mother. “But they never tested her for AIDS because nobody thought a heterosexual woman who’s not a drug user would get it. We subsequently learned that she’d gotten it from a good friend, who she’d only slept with once.” She dies in 1992.

May 10
The fashion world gets involved: Susanne Bartsch hosts the Love Ball at Roseland, which raises more than $300,000 for Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA).

August 10
Keith Haring reveals he has HIV. Prices for his art soar as collectors anticipate his death (in 1990).

August 18
More promising AZT news causes stock in manufacturer Burroughs Wellcome to jump 32 percent.

September 14
Seven ACT UP members infiltrate the Stock Exchange and chain themselves to the VIP balcony. Above the trading floor a banner unfurls: SELL WELLCOME. Four days later, the company lowers the price of AZT, to $6,400 per year.

December 1
Alvin Ailey dies.

December 10
Public opinion begins to turn against ACT UP after the St. Patrick’s Cathedral demonstration, where one protester snapped a communion wafer and tossed it at Cardinal John O’Connor.

New AIDS cases in NYC: 6,871.
Deaths so far: 19,241.


New Yorkers meet Marisol and Julio, two Latino lovers grappling with sex in the age of AIDS—in an ongoing comic strip plastered in subways.

May 11
Longtime Companion, the first feature film about AIDS, is released. During shooting, a key actor, Peter Evans, dies of AIDS, and director Norman Rene tests positive. The lover of writer Craig Lucas helps Rene fudge insurance forms so he won’t get fired.

August 18
Congress passes the Ryan White CARE Act, a five-year emergency-relief fund named for the hemophiliac teenager with AIDS, from Indiana, who died in April.

New AIDS cases in NYC: 7,752.
Deaths so far: 24,835.


February 27
The New York City Board of Education votes to make condoms available in high schools, sparking an outcry among religious conservatives. Three years later, the tide turns and condoms are no longer offered.

June 2
At the Tony Awards, Jeremy Irons debuts the red ribbon.

August 8
Tom Duane, an openly gay candidate in a close race for a West Side City Council seat, reveals he has HIV after opponent Liz Abzug comes out as a lesbian. Duane says he’s not on medication, has no symptoms, rises at 6:30 a.m., and rarely goes to bed before midnight, living on “stress and coffee—the candidate’s best friend.” In November, he becomes the first openly HIV-positive candidate in the country to win public office.

November 7
Magic Johnson announces he’s HIV-positive and decides to retire from basketball.

New AIDS cases in NYC: 9,072.
Deaths so far: 31,202.

ACT UP takes on Grand Central, 1991.  


ACT UP’s brain trust abandons street tactics to form Treatment Action Group, aimed at overhauling federal AIDS research. With backing from major donors and researchers, the group will become a force in national AIDS policy.

April 9
Mayor David Dinkins names Ronald Johnson of the Minority Task Force on AIDS as the first citywide coordinator of AIDS policy. Johnson’s now at GMHC.