Main | Wednesday, April 23, 2014

30 Years Ago Today

"First, the probable cause of AIDS has been found: a variant of a known human cancer virus. Second, not only has the agent been identified, but a new process has been developed to mass produce this virus. Thirdly, with the discovery of both the virus and this new process, we now have a blood test for AIDS. With a blood test, we can identify AIDS victims with essentially 100% certainty." - Margaret Heckler, Health & Human Services Secretary for the Reagan administration, announcing 30 years ago today that the virus which causes AIDS had been identified.

MSNBC reports on the mistakes that were made that morning:
Her hastily arranged press conference was full of blunders—she jumped the gun by two months because of a press leak, claimed U.S. credit for what was largely a French discovery, misidentified the newly discovered virus, and wrongly predicted that a vaccine would be ready within two years (we still don’t have one). Yet the announcement had epochal impact. It revealed the source of what would soon become one of the worst plagues in human history, and it sparked scientific and social revolutions that are still playing out today. Three years earlier, in the spring of 1981, a ghastly new disease had exploded in the gay communities of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. It eviscerated people’s immune systems, allowing normally harmless pathogens to consume them. Though initially dismissed as a “gay plague,” it had begun killing hemophiliacs and injection drug users, as well as their partners and newborns, and it was spreading worldwide.
I was 24 years old on that day and I remember a flurry of excited phone calls with friends. I also vividly recall being at Orlando's Parliament House that night, where beloved drag performer Miss P led the audience in a celebratory group toast. As we held up our cocktails, Miss P gave us our line: "Here's to SCIENCE. And FUCK Ronald Reagan." Heckler's promise of an imminent vaccine, a promise that cruelly resurfaced so many time over the following decades, brought so much giddy happiness to the room that night. Miss P died of AIDS in 2004. There's a wonderful mural of her at the entrance to the Parliament House disco. 

But still, 30 years later, here's to science.

And fuck Ronald Reagan.

RELATED: See this great obit for Miss P by the Orlando Sentinel.

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