I was living in the Castro in San Francisco in 1978 where optimism and liberation were in the air. Harvey Milk was an openly gay City Supervisor, gays and lesbians marched in the street for equal rights, and gay liberation was on display from Folsom Street to Golden Gate Park.
There was a real sense of belonging to a community. Our world shook when Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated by former Supervisor Dan White that year. Then it shook again when San Francisco became ground zero of the AIDS epidemic.
By 1985, the city was full of heartbreak and dying. My friends and I lived among it, terrified that we would be next. I was diagnosed with HIV that year, forever making 1985 a pivotal year.
Many of my friends who hadn’t been tested for HIV ended up in the ER at San Francisco General in respiratory failure. I was blindsided as an entire group of my friends and neighbors seemed to disappear overnight. There were no medical treatments, other than some antibiotics that seemed to prolong death for many.
For whatever reason, maybe by the grace of God, or good Italian food, I don’t know, I never got sick from HIV and I held on to hope for a better day. But my life and times would never be the same as it was back in 1978, before the shooting death of Harvey, when we felt liberated, before AIDS wiped out my entire phonebook.
In 2000, I moved to Los Angeles and was on effective medication that suppressed my virus. I couldn’t go back and look at the photos from my past; it was too painful. The photo box still sits in my closet. I lost 100 friends, literally.
Life in LA was cautiously optimistic for me. I was living pretty well, despite my diagnosis, and my fear of death had gone away.