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AIDS in New York: A Biography


A 1983 march in the West Village.  

Patrick Buchanan calls on Mayor Koch to cancel the Gay Pride Parade as a health threat. Koch orders extra cops to protect marchers.

August 6
Club fixture Klaus Nomi is among the first downtown celebrities to die.

September 30
New York State sues a West 12th Street co-op for trying to evict Dr. Joseph Sonnabend for treating AIDS patients. He later receives $10,000 and a new lease.

December 31
The city has spent a total of $24,500 on AIDS since the crisis started.

New AIDS cases in NYC: 1,096.
Deaths so far: 864.


January 12
The State Health Department urges dentists to wear gowns, masks, rubber gloves, and eye goggles.

April 23
Failing to give the French credit, U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Margaret Heckler announces that Dr. Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute has isolated the virus that causes AIDS. It is named HTLV-III.

Late 1984
Tests for the virus are newly available, and novelist Edmund White gets one with his lover. “I’ll be positive, you’ll be negative, and within six months you will have broken up with me,” he recalls telling his partner. “That’s what happened.” In 1997, White will publish The Farewell Symphony, about outliving friends.

New AIDS cases in NYC: 1,841.
Deaths so far: 1,960.


March 10
The first big season for plays about AIDS: William M. Hoffman’s As Is premieres, followed on April 21 by Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart.

July 25
Amid a flurry of rumors, Rock Hudson’s spokesman reveals that the actor has AIDS.

September 9
Queens parents launch a school boycott after the city allows a second-grader with AIDS to attend classes.

September 19
AIDS fund-raising becomes a cause celeb: Dr. Mathilde Krim, grande (and very influential) dame of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, co-hosts the first Hollywood benefit with Elizabeth Taylor. Rod Stewart and Bette Midler attend.

October 2
Rock Hudson dies, after his rapid decline becomes a nationally televised spectacle.

October 5
To ease paranoia over AIDS in schools, the chancellor says all classrooms will stock alcohol-dipped cotton swabs.

Safe-sex outreach in the baths, before they closed.  

October 25
Against Koch’s recommendation, New York State urges local health officials to padlock gay baths and sex clubs. A month later the Mine Shaft is shuttered, followed by Plato’s Retreat, a straight swingers’ club.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation holds its first protest, targeting the Post for its AIDS coverage.

December 15
In a poll, 37 percent of Americans have a “less favorable” attitude toward gays since AIDS. Only 2 percent were more sympathetic.

New AIDS cases in NYC: 2,871.
Deaths so far: 3,766.


The birth of a legendary logo: silence = death stickers begin popping up. “We were very conscious of making it ‘yuppie graphics,’ ” recalls Avram Finkelstein, a member of the anonymous collective that created it. “We were using Gill Sans Serif. At the time, that was the typeface.”

April 19
The International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses rules that the AIDS-causing virus should be called human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

July 4
During the rededication of the Statue of Liberty, Bob Hope jokes, “I just heard the Statue of Liberty has AIDS. Nobody knows if she got it from the mouth of the Hudson or the Staten Island Fairy.”

May 20
At GMHC’s first AIDS Walk in New York, 4,500-plus participants raise $710,000.

August 2
Roy Cohn dies of AIDS, asserting to the last that he has liver cancer.

September 29
Early results show that the drug AZT can slow down progress of HIV. Jubilation breaks out—prematurely. “After six years of having nothing to do for people but hold their hands and watch them die, I got my patients on it ASAP,” recalls Dr. Howard Grossman. “We didn’t know that AZT on its own is only good for six months before resistance sets in.”

New AIDS cases in NYC: 4,217.
Deaths so far: 6,458.


February 4
Liberace dies.

March 19
The FDA approves AZT as the first antiretroviral drug for AIDS. But at $12,000 a year, it’s one of the costliest drugs in history.

March 24
A new phase of activism: The first ACT UP demonstration protests the FDA’s slow speed in approving AIDS drugs, which could take nine years. Traffic is stopped, demonstrators are arrested, and an effigy of the FDA head—provided by the Public Theater’s Joe Papp—is burned. Soon after, the FDA says it will cut two years off the process.

May 31
President Reagan first mentions AIDS, six and a half years into his presidency.

June 2
Mayor Koch calls for mandatory HIV testing for visitors and immigrants to the U.S. Those with HIV should be denied entry, he says.


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